IT’S BEEN NEARLY six years since Rowan Gormley, a South African who first built his reputation in private equity, decided it was time to get back into the wine business. Having founded and run what would become Virgin Wines, he knew there was a very real market in wine, despite various protestations from the established trade.
“It was around 2008,” he says. “Lehman’s had just gone bust, countries were going bankrupt and I just thought: We can’t do what everybody else is doing. It has to be radical, it has to be different.”
So he set up Naked Wines, an online retailer with a difference. It is a social site: Customers are invited to rate the wines they have tasted, post comments and interact with fellow drinkers as well as the winemakers.
Three Naked Wines worth seeking out . It also serves as a crowdfunding option for independent producers. If customers like the wines, they can become “wine angels”—a monthly payment of £20 lets you order bottles at a discount from winemakers while allowing Naked Wines to plan its investment in them. The premise is that by directly funding the winemaker, the company removes the middleman and marketing costs—savings that are then passed on to the consumer.
- Critics point out that by listing exclusive wines from relatively unknown winemakers, buyers don’t have a fair price comparison. I would add that they are also placing a lot of trust in Naked Wines’ assessment of its stock.
But that hasn’t seemed to have hindered customers’ interest. With 150,000 “angels” across the world, the Norwich, England-based company has a turnover of more than £40 million and ships over 10 million bottles of wine a year.
Last June, Naked Wines moved into Napa, opening a winery for 25 winemakers. And last month, the company set up its second base in California. They also have operations in Australia.
“Wine as a product has legs,” Mr. Gormley says. “The next stage for wine is when consumers get away from fear and away from what other people think about me because of the wine I drink. There is a whole level of wine consumption to come. It will become much more adventurous.”
“The next stage for wine is when consumers get away from fear and away from what other people think about me because of the wine I drink”
By Will Lyons
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