A new wine sales platform is very clear about what it’s not. “We are not trying to reinvent wine sales with an algorithm or magic quiz,” said Logan Lee about Wine Awesomeness, the New York City-based startup that he founded with Dale Slear. Neither is the company, which launched in 201, attempting to offer a huge selection like Wine.com, nor trying to reinvent delivery with a Drizly-style service.
The site offers a subscription service aimed at the millennial generation, with six packs of featured wines costing between $45.00 and $75.00 each month, including shipping. Consumers can also buy directly, with close to 80% of Wine Awesomeness’s sales made through its internet site. The company works with a handful of distributors to sell the same wines, primarily through retail in the Northeast, and it fulfils orders for the New Republic’s wine club. It also publishes a monthly magazine called TheBacklabel, shipped to club members with the wines.
Logan is proud of the fact that his team doesn’t have a traditional wine industry background. He also points out that, at 34 years old, he is the grandfather in the office. Wine Awesomeness was created with an initial investment of $250,000 from a media company Logan met at Texas music festival SXSW, specifically to serve millennials. To date Wine Awesomeness has raised $1.5m in angel investor funding.
Sixty-five percent of Wine Awesomeness’ customers are 25 to 34 years old. According to Logan, 60% to 65% of them are female, which is consistent with who has been doing most of the day-to-day wine buying for decades. The editor of TheBackLabel is Alexandra Pastron. Logan notes that catering to the female buyer wasn’t intentional, but adds that many retail sites can be very male focused.
Inside the site
Wine Awesomeness features what Logan calls “wine partnership wines”. For instance, the South African Lekker Grenache and Merlot rosé was specifically created by Wine Awesomeness together with the producer. He added he wouldn’t consider any of the wines sold by the company to be either bulk juice or private label. When asked to compare Wine Awesomeness’ sales format to the winery direct and direct import structure used by some importers and successful chains such as Total Wine & More, Logan said his company’s point of difference was focusing on a handful of wines and delving into the back-story of the producer. This background is provided, literally, on the back label of the wine, as well as in TheBackLabel.
Logan added that 95% of the platform’s revenue comes from partnership wine sales — through the online wine club and shop as well as traditional retail — so the magazine doesn’t need advertising revenue. The average size of the publication is approximately 24 pages and it includes original content from the editors and 20 freelancers based around the world.
Logan lamented how many wines are filtered through the USA’s three-tier system and arrive on the shelves without any detailed information about the producer. He said his partnership brands are about bringing the romance back to the wine sales business that has gone missing, thanks to corporate importers and miles of compliance issues.
Along with a curated selection of wines, Wine Awesomeness aims to provide an educational and experiential customer experience. This might include tasting notes, or suggestions about what music to listen to when drinking the wines.
The millennial market
Millennials are willing to spend a little more than other generations on wine, hence the $15.00 to $20.00 price point for Wine Awesomeness’s selections. The target audience is also more invested in experiences, according to Logan. So while the taste of a Georgian orange wine might not rate a 10, the experience of doing so may. In this way, the selection dovetails nicely with the contemporary anti-establishment fad, as followed by some big-name sommeliers. Logan added that the company works with sommeliers and “influencers” to source wines, as well as going on buying trips.
Wine Awesomeness, which currently sells wines to 40 states, quickly jumped on the direct-to-consumer (DtC) bandwagon and opened up sales in as many states as legally possible. It also warehouses wines on both coasts.
Logan said that the company’s compliance structure was inspired by California, where he the three-tier system tends to be more streamlined than in other states and has become easier to navigate in recent years. Hopefully, this lighter administrative load will give more new wine sales platforms better access to the market.