NakedWines may well be the biggest, most successful wine club. But it is also not your typical wine club.
Some might find it a little weird.
Founded by British entrepreneur Rowan Gormley in December 2008, Naked Wines “operates as a crowdfunded business that has grown to over 300,000 subscribers.
These subscribers, known as ‘angels,’ help fund more than 150 independent winemakers across 14 countries in exchange for access to exclusive wines at reduced prices.”
It was purchased in 2015 by Majestic Wines, the mega UK superstore. Majestic Wine trades from more than 200 outlets with 640,000 active customers. The firm said the combination would give Naked Wines access to a nationwide store network in the UK to allow a click-and-collect delivery option for its customers.
Founder Roman Gormley is no newcomer to online sales and wine clubs. He was a force behind Virgin Wines which was part of Virgin Air. He was pushed out at some point by the UK-based Laithwaite’s wine company.
Dont know any of the details, but it is interesting to note that the Laithwaite family now operates a major online wine retail site and wine club in the US and Australia. It also is the source of wines for a few airlines.
nakedwines.com has an office and warehouse in southern Napa and operates in both the UK and Australia.
Many wines are bottled in Kenwood in the Sonoma Valley and in Acampo which is near Lodi.
But let’s Enjoy a WTF pause here.
How does crowdfunding work, you ask? Well, each month subscribers deposit $40 into their account and they can apply funds from that account to purchase wines. Before you say, “This is stupid,” read on because there are a few steps along the way.
The first step is to sign up for the introductory 6-wine pack which costs $59.99 and includes shipping. You can look over a large list made up of specific winemakers around the world. Often, each will offer two or more wines.
The company is also very active in offering vouchers in mass marketing programs offering $100 off a case, billed as a “Discovery Case.” This case is sold at $79.99.
These are many established winemakers such as Daryl Groom, the Aussie, who came to turn Geyser Peak around years back. Rick Boyer, Ken Deis, Ernie Weir, Jonathan Maltus are other names very familiar to me.
Next, once your wines arrive, you rate them with tasting notes and that puts you on…a waiting list.
Not to worry, I was on a waiting list.
Amazingly, my prayers were soon answered and my name moved up that list rather quickly. Guess there’s plenty of room in angel land. The waiting game seems intended to make you feel fortunate to join.
Yes, I was an angel for only a few days. Though I was soon de-winged, over the next few weeks I somehow managed to purchase a case for $60 bucks. It was part of a holiday introductory deal.
So along with 6 other wines I obtained earlier, my experience with nakedwines is 18 different wines. I tasted wines from South Africa, Australia, France, Spain, Chile, Argentina and California.
First of all, I paid for the wines unlike most reviewers who get free samples. Then most of the published reviews are by “affiliates,” reviewers who may be paid a commission on sales.
All wines were sound, without defects, and most offer adequate varietal and/or regional character. This is not a snobby comment because, as you’ll read later, the imported wines travel long distances before being bottled.
The red wines emphasize fruitiness and show little or no oak influence. They lack complexity and should be consumed young. Only the Chilean Cabernet displayed youthful tannic edges. The rest lacked depth and flavor interest.
The 2 CA Chardonnays tended to be buttery with oak notes. Ordinary at best.
Wines I’d like to try again include the Spanish Tempranillo, South African Sauvignon Blanc (Carmen Stevens), Minervois (Darnault), and the Torrontes from Argentina.
Wines that I’d like to try from their stocks: Le Lastau St. Emilion, the Michaud Merlot from Columbia Valley, and Ken Deis Napa Cabernet.
Though two winemakers have lots of experience with sparkling wine, the so-called
“Champagne” from nakedwines is made by the easy and quick Charmat process, not the traditional Champagne method.
Other Things to Know
Nakedwines positions itself as a company that supports artisan winemakers. Big plus there. Not sure how it works. When do winemakers get paid, I wonder.
Nakedwines says it offers members the lowest possible prices by eliminating the middleman. But since 99% of its wines are sold to members, sorry to angels, the non-member”market price” is arbitrary and meaningless.
Nakedwines encourages interaction between angels and the winemakers. There is lots of activity on the website to verify this. No way to verify if the responses from winemakers are actually written by them or by another hired angel.
Members’ prices range from $9.99 to $29.99 a bottle.
There are about 200 wines available at any one time.
Members, angels, rate the wines they have bought, and group scores are posted.
Nakedwines has the option of substituting wines ordered with similar wines.
Nakedwines gives a free bottle for every case ordered.
Delivery is included in orders over $100. $9.99 for others.
Delivery was on time and the wines were shipped in a holiday themed box.
Nakedwines regularly offers $100 vouchers and coupons for the introductory case offer.
But here’s something BIG you need to know.
Nakedwines in the USA bottles its imported wines at several facilities in California. Yes, wines from Chile, South Africa, France and elsewhere are literally shipped to CA in containers. Then they are trucked to and bottled in places like Healdsburg and Kenwood in Sonoma and Acampo, Lodi’s neighbor.
This is one way to “keep prices down by saving on shipping,” explained a rep.
But really, a wine made in the hills of Argentina is somehow transported to Northern California for bottling? How long is the journey and in what size containers are questions coming to mind.
But it is not unique. Gallo imports New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and bottles the wine in Sonoma County. Smoking Loon bottles a Chilean Cabernet in Lodi.
Nakedwines has many wines coming from Germany, Chile, New Zealand and other regions which makes you hope it has good tracking as well as trucking systems.
However, it does raise all kinds of flags relating to quality control, authenticity, and methods used to protect the wines during shipping and trucking.
Finally Should You Go Naked?
Ultimately, it comes down to value. Since most wines are in the $9.99-$29.99 range, are they better values offered than what is widely available elsewhere?
Of the 18 I tasted, only 2 wines appealed to me as reasonably good deals: the Tempranillo and the Eponina Brut.
But there are others I am curious about.
Just not enough to join the club.