S.F. tech companies shake up wine-buying experience

Buying wine can be an intensely sensory experience. It may require an afternoon in Napa Valley, lingering over a bottle or a flight of tastings, pausing with each sip as a sommelier details aromas of blueberry and hints of graham cracker. You may buy a bottle or a case, or be pressured into signing up for a monthly wine club.

Or, you could just go online.

There’s a big, uncorked world of wine out there, full of vineyards and wineries that may not have large signs on the highway or a row of bottles in the supermarket. Bay Area startups are developing new websites and apps to help connect wine drinkers with little-known wines, and make the experience of wine drinking a bit more accessible to the average consumer on a budget.

Rowan Gormley founded San Francisco-based NakedWines.com in 2008, creating what is essentially a crowdfunding site to help individual winemakers market and sell their wine. The company last week announced a $10 million investment from WIV Wein International AG, a global direct wine seller. With the new funding, NakedWines.com plans to help more startup wine ventures across the U.S. and Australia get the funding they need to deliver their Merlots and Pinots to the world.

The website is a platform for customers to invest in independent winemakers, and in exchange get discounted bottles of wine at 60 percent less than the retail price. The way Gormely puts it:  “We’re in business to make rich people’s wines affordable to normal people.”

South San Francisco-based Wineflite got into the online wine business to help California vinters sell more wine to international travelers. Tourists who use the website can buy bottles at a winery or tasting room and leave them there for Wineflite to pick and up and ship to their home – wherever home may be. The idea is to encourage tourists to buy dozens of bottles — not just one or two — because they won’t have to lug the wine around in their suitcases. The company works with wineries across the West Coast, as well as Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa.

And in 2011, San Francisco entrepreneur Alex Fishman launched a wine app that aims to answer questions like: What was that rosé that I tried last year and loved? Do I even like Russian wines? And what the heck is Chianti?

The app, Delectable Wine, is available for iOS only, but has more than a million users. Last week the company released an upgrade with features such as personalized wine recommendations and maps of Wine Country. With the label recognition feature, users can take a picture of a bottle and the app will cross check it against a database of 2 million wines, categorize and store it.


Photo from Facebook.com/delectable

Heather Somerville Heather Somerville (266 Posts)

Heather Somerville is a business reporter covering venture capital and startups for the Bay Area News Group.