New purveyors bare all at Nakedwines.com 

click to enlarge Online retailer Nakedwines.com also has a brick and mortar presence in Kenwood. - COURTESY NAKEDWINES.COM
  • COURTESY NAKEDWINES.COM
  • Online retailer Nakedwines.com also has a brick and mortar presence in Kenwood.
If you’re looking for the next best thing on your quest to learn about and discover new wines, then I’m here to tell you... it’s time to get naked.

No, not in your birthday suit, but with Nakedwines.com, an online wine retailer that is a crowd-funding platform designed to connect independent winemakers with wine drinkers. It was founded in the United Kingdom in 2008 by Rowan Gormley, the former CEO of Virgin Wines. They have quickly expanded globally and represent roughly 140 winemakers from around the world (including 35 from California) that are all funded by the company’s roughly 300,000 members, called “angels.” To call it a wine club is a bit token, but angels are asked to deposit $40 per month into an account to buy wine, which can be used to purchase individual bottles or cases, and they receive substantial discounts.

Angel funds are used to get winemakers off the ground with sourcing grapes, winemaking and producing, including bottling, marketing and distribution. Winemakers are regularly promoted on the website, and six pages of biographies are available for easy click-through reading, each with ratings and comments from other investors and tasters. It’s a win-win for both the consumer — who can discover new wines from passionate and skilled artisans — and the winemaker — who is able to produce wine with little investment or overhead while being directly linked to a large database of thirsty customers.

Scott Peterson, Kendall Jackson’s former winemaker, recently launched his own label with Nakedwines.com called Rox. He offers a 2013 Russian River Valley pinot noir to angels for $14.99 per bottle — the average wingless buyer’s price is $29.99. Amateur winemaker and former Nakedwines.com angel Tom Shula (a real estate broker by day) offers a 2013 Sonoma Coast merlot for $15.99 a bottle to angels. For mere mortals it’s $35.99.

Price, however, isn’t the main consideration for customers, who are often just learning about wine and are in it for many reasons, including the educational journey, says Nakedwines COO Benoit Vialle.

“You can always find cheaper wine. What our customers want is quality and authenticity, and to be educated about wine and wine buying in an approachable and easy to understand way,” Vialle said.

Customer feedback is invaluable and consumers are vital to partner winemakers. Nakedwines.com comments, ratings and buying data are regularly evaluated and used to direct future production decisions. Angels can also suggest winemakers or become one, as was the case with Shula. Ultimately, however, the decision on who gets funded lands squarely on Nakedwines.com’s chief winemaker Matt Parish.

“I used to work at a very big wine company and I’ve heard countless so-called experts postulate about what would be the next big thing in wine. By looking at our real customer preferences, we take out all the risky guesswork that those executive-types like to make. We just get to deliver what people want. Sometimes before they even know they want it,” Parish said.

Currently, the waiting list to become an angel is over 25,000 people deep. But that works out to be about a 30-day wait, according to Vialle. You don’t have to be an angel to buy wine on the site, although you won’t benefit from the deep discounts.

If you prefer to taste before you buy, Nakedwines.com does have a brick and mortar presence in Kenwood, where its local 30-plus California winemakers work their oenophile magic. Drop into the tasting room, open everyday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with music and cheese pairing offered Friday through Sunday.

Wines are presented and tasted under individual winemakers’ labels and there are often a few “naked” winemakers milling about the tasting room, fully clothed, of course. It is about the wine, after all.

IF YOU GO

Nakedwines.com Tasting Room

Where: 8450 Sonoma Highway‬, Kenwood

Contact: (707) 408-0011, www.nakedwines.com

Kimberley Lovato has been writing about travel, food and drink for the last 20 years and has never met a happy hour she didn’t like. She writes at www.kimberleylovato.com.

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