Independent winemakers turn to crowdfunding

August 9, 2013 7:27:40 PM PDT
You've heard of indie rock-n-roll, and independent films. But now, the Bay Area's seeing the rise of indie winemakers. Like so many other entrepreneurs, they're turning to crowdfunding to get off the ground.

The labels are simple. The bottles, run of the mill. And the corks? Well, they're actually screw caps. But if you let that turn you off, you might be missing out.

"Instead of spending a fortune on fancy bottles and packaging and corks and all the rest, we put the money inside the bottle," said Rowan Gormley, founder of NakedWines.com.

Gormley wants you to forget everything you know about wine. NakedWines.com isn't a brand of wine. It's a winery where independent winemakers come to start their own brands.

"Every winemaker wants to set up their own business," Gormley said. "It's just like every chef wants to have their own restaurant. But it's tough to do."

Winemaker Jessica Tomei knows that firsthand. After years working at big wineries, she set out on her own and found she spent more time selling wine than making it.

"I had a bag on my shoulder, taking my wines out to, you know, different bottle shops and different restaurants," Tomei said.

NakedWines.com lets her sell online straight to the customer. It relies on a membership model, where people who agree to buy 40 bucks a month worth of wine can get it for about half price.

They call the members "angels," like angel investors, because they're providing the winemakers with startup money.

"NakedWines has made it so I'm able to spend more time in the vineyard and more time making wines," Tomei said.

For winemakers, being "naked" can be awfully liberating. But it also comes with a whole new level of accountability. With nothing between them and the customer, if they make a bad tasting bottle of wine, they'll be the first to hear about it.

"If they don't like something about the wine, they're telling me, if there's something that they love about the wine, they're telling me."

Reviews on the website mean the best wines rise to the top. Gormley hopes that'll make it a launching pad for the rock stars of the wine world.

"Twenty years ago, celebrity chefs didn't exist. And everyone came to the restaurant because of the restaurant," Gormley said. "Now the chef's out in front, people come to the restaurant for the chef. The same thing should happen in the wine business."


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