THERE CAN be something very impersonal about buying a bottle of wine. You pull something off a shelf with a nice label and some fancy writing and take pot luck. Even if it’s delicious, you don’t really know a great deal about it. There may be a few uninformative notes on the back, perhaps a trawl through the internet can provide a few more clues but it is hard to get a sense where the wine came from or who made it.
That is why I have become a bit of a fan of Naked Wines, the upstart online wine merchant that has generated quite a following in just four years. If you have not come across it before, Naked Wines was founded by Rowan Gormley (ex Virgin Money) in 2008 in an attempt to change the whole winemaker/ merchant/consumer relationship, partly through its financial model and partly through clever use of the web. In doing so it achieves two things: first it sources some really rather tasty wines from small, independent winemakers. Second it supports young, newly established winemakers by buying their wine while still in barrel, thanks to cash from its subscribers, who deposit £20 a month.
Starting a wine business can be financial daunting for one simple reason – cash flow. In many cases you have to plant the vines, grow the grapes, harvest them, press them and turn them into wine before you can sell a single bottle. Naked allows winemakers to ease that burden. It now has 100,000 subscribers, meaning it has £2m a month to invest in early stage wine.
This enables young winemakers the chance to strike out on their own. Mike Paterson, for example, was a head winemaker at Jackson Estate. Naked invested £526,000 in his start up and he now has his own label Lay of the Land. I can attest to his Pinot Noir, which is remarkably delicious for a first vintage.
The other enjoyable part of Naked is its website, which connects you with both the winemakers, through their videos and contributions, and other wine drinkers who rate the wines. There is no hiding place here for the unpopular. Prices are discounted 25 per cent for subscribers (which now includes me). While the wine is not cheap, it still represents extremely good value, which is as it should be.
One for the weekend: Rod Easthope’s Hawkes Bay Pinot Gris 2012, £8.49. “Good weekend amusement”.
One To impress: Lay of the Land Pinot Noir 2011, £11.99. “I tasted this and fell in love. Would cost at least twice the price if it came from Burgundy”.
One to Keep: Balthazar of The Barossa 2007 Shiraz, £17.99. “Has the potential to go on improving for a decade”.
• Reader Offer: Naked Wines has five free pairs of tickets to offer City A.M. readers to its next tasting on 17 November at Lord’s Cricket Ground. The event will be an opportunity to taste some of its wines and speak to its winemakers. If you want to apply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org expressing your enthusiasm and we will draw the first five entries out of a champagne bucket.