The Wine Gallery was founded in 2015 out of a frustration cofounder Tom Walenkamp thought he couldn’t be alone in facing: understanding the language of wine is complicated. When should you have red and when is white best? Which kind of wine pairs well with what sort of meal? What’s the difference between grapes? Does price really indicate quality?
To answer those questions for everyone else who had them but had no one to ask, Walenkamp enlisted award-winning Melbourne sommelier Banjo Harris Plane and The Wine Gallery was born.
The idea was simple – rather than replicating the liquor store experience, where consumers are presented with shelf upon shelf of wine boasting labels they don’t understand, the platform would stock a strictly limited selection.
Users could then browse wines according to food, tastes, season, or mood, with these core categories then broken down further according to the type of food to be enjoyed along with the wine, for example.
Once these selections were made, the platform presents a couple of bottles, giving the user a little bit of information about each.
“The response was great; we could tell straightaway that there was a huge demand for a wine startup that focused on wine discovery and exploration in a non-pretentious, easy to access manner,” Walenkamp said.
According to Walenkamp, the bulk of the startup’s first customers came through its Instagram account, the biggest wine-focused account in Australia.
As it grew, the cofounders began seeing demand for a more extensive offering, with a subscription service at the top of the must-have list.
“Once they got to know our brand, trust our wine curation and experience our customer service they were asking if we could just send the new and exciting bottles that we thought they would like each month,” Walenkamp said.
This service was fully personalised from the start, with Walenkamp and Plane making all the individual wine selections for each member as a recommendation engine was being built in the background.
As the recommendation engine now works, a user would sign on and complete a ‘wine palate’ quiz to start building their ‘personal taste profile’. As they receive and provide their ratings and feedback on their personalised selection each month, the algorithm collects this data to influence the next month’s selections.
“It works through the intelligent tagging of each bottle’s individual characteristics and mapping these to the customer quiz answers and ongoing ratings of each bottle they taste. We tag each bottle with approximately 20 to 30 different characteristics, from fruit flavours to production methods and everything in between,” Walenkamp explained.
The key to this remains the selection of The Wine Gallery’s full range by Plane, who also includes in each monthly box for subscribers tasting notes, the history of the winemaker, food pairing tips, and a link matching the wine to a recipe.
A monthly subscription will set customers back $69 for three bottles, with $9 shipping.
More than two years on from launch, Walenkamp said the breadth of subscribers the startup has brought on is diverse – perhaps reflecting the fact The Wine Gallery looks to make wine accessible to all.
“I know all the theory says you should have customer personas and target markets, but we have never managed to pin down exactly one persona. We get customers from all demographics and all walks of life from across Australia,” Walenkamp said.
“And these days we’re growing almost exclusively through word-of-mouth and friend referrals, which of course we love, because it means we can focus continually improving customer experience.”
Despite the growth of other startups in the space, Vinomofo chief among them, Walenkamp said the local bottle shop remains his biggest competition.
“Customers have been buying wine this way for decades and there’s a lot inertia there [but] we provide a level of personalisation, discovery of interesting new bottles and education that just can’t be catered for in your local shop,” he said.
Image: Tom Walenkamp and Banjo Harris Plane. Source: Supplied.