Wine is a rich and complex field, one that is difficult to navigate unless you’ve worked in it or have studied it up and close out of self-interest. The average consumer wouldn’t have a clue how different grape varieties and wine regions would impact the flavour and cost of wine. If you’ve ever been to a bottle shop or boutique wine store and found yourself overwhelmed with the number of options available and the jargon used by salespeople, Sydney-based startup The Wine Gallery may just rock your world.
The Wine Gallery was founded by Sydney-based entrepreneur Tom Walenkamp, who roped in award-winning Melbourne-based sommelier, Banjo Harris Plane as a co-founder. They’ve been working behind the scenes over the past six months to create an online platform that simplifies the wine-buying process for casual or non-wine drinkers.
So how does it work? Well, once you go to thewinegallery.com.au, you can find out what wine to buy by selecting either ‘food’, ‘tastes’, ‘season’ or ‘mood’. If you ‘shop by food’, for instance, the website will offer you a number of food options to select. You simply choose what you’re planning to eat with the wine – like red meat, white meat, pizza, seafood, hot and spicy, lots of herbs, Italian, veggies, raw fish, antipasto, BBQ, Asian, cheese and dessert. Once you’ve selected what you’re eating, The Wine Gallery will present one, two or three wine options, with succinct information about it for the customer to make a quick purchasing decision. The process is the same if you shop by ‘mood’, ‘tastes’, or ‘season’ – just the categories are different.
The customer can purchase wine directly from the site and have it delivered in the standard timeframe (two to five days depending on the customer’s location) via AusPost or pay extra for an express delivery within Sydney’s CBD (one hour). The Wine Gallery has partnered with on-demand alcohol delivery startup Liquorun to help with express deliveries. Walenkamp told Startup Daily that Liquorun’s service is just a value add to the customer, and that The Wine Gallery doesn’t receive any commissions for linking customers to the service.
Altogether The Wine Gallery sells 20 wines, which may seem small at first, but when you consider the problem the startup is trying to solve – consumer confusion – limiting the number of options available is an important part of its value proposition. All wines are priced at $25 per bottle – if the customer purchases more than one bottle, the price of each bottle will drop a little.
Plane, who is also the co-founder if REAL Wines, which imports Austrian and Italian wines to restaurants and bars, is the one behind the wine recommendations on The Wine Gallery. He went through every category on the site and hand-selected which wine should come up in the results, depending on what the customer selects. Customers can therefore be at ease knowing recommendations are not randomised or influenced by a wine brand, but individually chosen by an industry expert.
Unsurprisingly, it was in France that Walenkamp came up with the idea for creating a platform that simplifies the wine buying experience. Shortly before, he decided to break free from corporate chains and pursue an MBA in France. He noticed that everyday French people had a nuanced understanding of wine – a stark contrast to Australians. They intuitively knew what wines went with what food, what mood, and what season.
This inspired Walenkamp to learn more about wine. To his surprise, it wasn’t rocket science. Walenkamp realised it was the wine industry – especially wine professionals and connoisseurs – that made wine intimidating for the average consumer.
Initially, Walenkamp started blogging about wine, and then decided to take things to the next level, knowing that Australians actually do love discovering new food and beverages. The success of cooking-related reality shows like Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules wouldn’t disprove that theory.
Late last year, Walenkamp’s friend suggested that he speak to Plane – who has worked as a head sommelier in some of Australia’s best restaurants, including Attica, Bentley and Quay – in case they were able to recognise synergies and work together on some level or another. They hit it off straight away; and The Wine Gallery was born.
“One of the things that really sold Banjo on the idea was pricing. Pricing in the wine industry can be an extremely confusing factor for a lot of people. A lot of people make the decision backwards – they pick what price they’re going you pay and select a bottle of wine based on that price. They end up judging the quality based on the price and then substantiating their own thoughts on whether it deserves it or not. A lot of mental bias is involved with that,” said Walenkamp.
“Basically what we’re saying is, we don’t want you to go through this process of picking the perfect wine for your situation and then being confused about so many pricing points. All 20 wines we sell are the same price.”
But what if people use The Wine Gallery to identify which wine is best suited to their circumstances and then purchase it elsewhere? Walenkamp said that the wines they sell can only be purchased in specialised boutique stores, and are not always available at local bottle shops. That said, he’s not too fazed about people not purchasing wine from the site. Given The Wine Gallery is still in its infancy, Walenkamp is happy for it to be a useful resource for Australians.
“We’re comfortable with [The Wine Gallery] being an information provider; it’s quite powerful so we don’t actually mind if people want to use that website as a tool to select the wine and go out to the local bottle shop and buy a similar wine. It’s most likely you won’t find our wine in your local bottle shop so if you want the recommended one, it’ll be a little difficult,” said Walenkamp.
“But we’re happy being the decision tool for the casual wine drinker. We would like to start a relationship with those people anyway and try and get them to use the site at a later stage.”
Aside from bottle shops, and to a certain extent, liquor delivery services like Jimmy Brings (a competitor of Liquorun), the only other company that Walenkamp sees as a potential competitor is Melbourne-based startup Vinomofo. Andre Eikmeier, Justin Dry and Leigh Morgan started the online wine company in 2011; it has since grown to a run-rate of over $30 million, with 318,000 members. However, The Wine Gallery and Vinomofo have very different approaches. Vinomofo does not simplify the wine buying process. It offers daily deals and quarterly subscriptions to people who are probably already well-versed in the world of wine. In fact, if you’re a wine novice, navigating Vinomofo’s site isn’t any less confusing than a bottle shop.
Interestingly, though, The Wine Gallery is considering offering a monthly subscription service – similar to Vinomofo – that sends four to six new wines to subscribers every month. Vinomofo, however, is less frequent in that it sends 12 wines to subscribers every three months. The first step to make this work would be to identify repeat customers and then advertise the subscription service to them. From a monetisation standpoint, subscriptions are certainly more compelling as it attracts recurring revenue.
The great thing about wine is that it’s the go-to gift for Australians at Christmas, Valentine’s Day anniversaries and other celebratory occasions. Many people make blind purchases when it comes to gifting wine; so The Wine Gallery has an opportunity to launch advertising campaigns and offer special deals on days like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, targeting people who have no idea what wine to give to their loved ones or colleagues. Vinomofo has done an excellent job at making wine drinking less a fancy, bourgeois activity to something that can be enjoyed by all Australians. By simplifying the buying process, The Wine Gallery makes wine even more accessible.
There are a number of growth strategies Walenkamp is considering – including strategic partnerships. Walenkamp said they want to first try partnering with online information providers like food blogs. One way in which this would work is, if there is a recipe presented on a blog, there can also be a ‘recommended wine to go with this dish’ section, powered by The Wine Gallery. These kinds of partnerships, especially in the online space, will help the startup draw more traffic to its site.
Walenkamp said they’re also interested in partnering with food providers and food menu aggregators like Menulog and Delivery Hero: “I know Jimmy Brings partners with Menulog and there are more boutique food delivery plays are popping up like BakeBox. I see great opportunity to partner with these [players]. Anything to do with recipe matching, we can do. That’s Banjo’s speciality.”
There is also opportunity for The Wine Gallery to partner with boutique BYO restaurants, and offer wine options to people who are looking to dine at those restaurants, depending on the type of food they offer.
When the startup takes off revenue-wise, Walenkamp said they might set up different physical hubs for people who live more than 5 kilometres from Sydney’s CDB. This way, the startup would be able to offer express deliveries to more customers.
In the meantime, The Wine Gallery will be focusing on Facebook advertising. Walenkamp spoke to the CEO of Los Angeles-based Club W, a wine subscription service which raised $12.6 million, who told him that Facebook advertising has been the company’s most successful marketing strategy. The Wine Gallery will also be looking to implement content marketing – both text and video-based – in the future.
The Wine Gallery has launched officially today. Those who struggle to decode wine lists, can see how it all works via thewinegallery.com.au.