|Not THAT Naked Wines. Courtesy clothing-optional Terra Cotta Inn|
I spoke with Naked Wines founder Rowan Gormley earlier this week about US Sen. Charles Schumer's proposal to let the US postal service ship wine. He's for it; so am I. Not only could it give competition to the arrogant, crappy wine delivery service from FedEx and UPS; it could help the struggling USPS generate revenue.
It's more interesting to chat with Gormley about his website's model for selling wine. Naked Wines.com is kind of like CellarTracker meets Kickstarter.
Every wine is listed by winemaker. Most wines list the region the grapes come from, but it's not the major selling point.
And Gormley says that's as it should be.
"The wine industry has made a living out of claiming that, 'This exclusive piece of soil and this microclimate makes these unique flavors'," Gormley says. "The truth is that the most famous regions are overpriced, and the least famous regions don't deserve their discounts. If you go to Lodi and you crop down and use the right amount of oak and time, you can produce a stunning wine. But you'll never get $100 for it because it's Lodi."
|Rowan Gormley, not naked|
"If you look at the restaurant business, 20 years ago the chef was a guy in a greasy apron behind swinging doors," Gormley says. "Now the chef is the restaurant. And people will drive 50 miles to go to the restaurant because Morimoto's there. I think the same thing will happen in the wine industry. The wine industry underpays the real talent, the winemakers and the growers, and they value marketing too much. If you go look in an winery carpark, the beaten up old truck, that's the winemaker. The shiny new BMW, that's the marketer."
It's interesting to read through the user reviews on the Naked Wines site. As with CellarTracker, while many people are positive, real consumers are far more likely to be negative than critics like the Wine Advocate, which rarely publishes scores below 87 anymore.
Just a couple random examples: "The wine was slightly bitter. Wasn't a hit with my husband or myself."
"Good initial flavor. Watered down after taste."
But the great majority of reviews are positive, and many of the winemakers respond to the customers who leave them, which is a lot more interaction than you get with most traditional wineries.
The business model is that consumers agree to spend $40 a month to become "angel investors," and then are able to buy wines at a much lower price. Some of that investment money goes to the winemakers to make the wines.
The winemakers are an interesting group: Randall Grahm is in there, but the majority are people who have or have had production jobs at wineries and are using this opportunity to make a little wine on their own.
It's an interesting startup, founded in the UK in 2008, and opened recently in the US. And as Gormley, a South African entrepreneur, points out, "It's not like a traditional club in which the club chooses what you get and when you get it."
I'm not sure why it's called Naked Wines. But it did give me an opportunity to run a photo from a wine-tasting promo at a nudist resort. And when you heard the name, that's what you were thinking, right?