Top drop, top return? New wine group gives customers the chance to invest in vineyards

A new business model for wine is turning customers into angel investors, encouraging them to invest in a $1.5 million trust fund designed to help independent winemakers crack the market.

Naked Wines, which launches in Australia on July 1, was founded in the United Kingdom in 2008 by Rowan Gormley, former chief executive of Virgin Wines and Virgin Money.

Over the next year, Naked Wines will invest $1.5 million in Australian vineyards. The company aims to help fund up to 20 independent winemakers looking for their big break.

Consumers with a penchant for wine are encouraged to invest in these winemakers as “angels”, and, in return, enjoy discounts of up to 50% on premium wines.

Angels pay a monthly subscription towards Naked Wines, which goes towards improving the service, but are able to redeem their monthly fee for a reduced rate on any purchases.

By doing this, Naked Wines says it “counters the creative stifling that the extreme consolidation at the retail end of market has generated”.

Angels also have the opportunity to meet the winemakers.

“[I have] witnessed the growth and dominance of the big supermarket chains, their increase in private label brands and the boom in discount distressed stock suppliers,” Naked Wines Australia managing director Luke Jecks says.

“I knew winemakers were getting fewer opportunities and customers were getting fewer choices. The Australian wine industry needed a rapid change.”

“I turned to my good friend and entrepreneur, Rowan Gormley, who was already successfully leading the way with change and success in the UK, and fell in love with the Naked Wines model.”

“I’m so excited to be bringing it to Australia to ensure our talented winemakers are not left behind, and Australian consumers can connect with the real stars of the industry.”

Naked Wines aims to directly connect the consumer with the winemaker, thus “stripping out all the fluff”, such as marketing.

The website allows customers to interact directly with one another and with the winemakers.

Customers are encouraged to build a profile, make friends, upload content, and integrate their ratings with their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Naked Wines also has an iPhone app with videos, tasting notes, shareable deals, and the ability to chat to the winemaker about the wine they are drinking.

Naked Wines Australia already has several projects on the go, including:

  • Sam Plunkett, a winemaker from the Strathbogie Ranges in Victoria, who set up his own label after his wine was named Best Shiraz in Australia in 2010.
  • Husband-and-wife team Rebecca and Adrian Santolin, who met while working in the wine industry and created their own label, Boy Meets Girl.
  • Former Craggy Range winemaker Rod Easthope, who wants to produce an exclusive range of wines under his own name at scale.

This article first appeared on StartupSmart.


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