The wine club with a difference
February 6, 2013 | By:

When you become an Angel with Naked Wines, you join a community of wine lovers and your purchases help to fund independent winemakers. By David Jones

Wine bottles-generic-620 BigstockWith vouchers from wine clubs already littering the doormat, you could be forgiven for ignoring one of the latest. But with an attractive online farmers’ market model and various awards, Naked Wines may be worth investigating, particularly if you’re interested in discovering independent wines on your own terms.

“We wanted to create an online community for wine drinkers and winemakers,” says co-founder Ben Hopkins. “A community where people can genuinely understand where the wine has come from and find out why winemakers are so passionate about what they do.”

Ben was one of 12 people who set out in December 2008 to “discover the world’s most talented winemakers and set them up in business”. Led by a recent inductee to our readership, 50-year-old former Virgin Wines CEO Rowan Gormley, their intention was to position Naked Wines apart from the herd and couple this with an active online community.

How Naked Wines works

Customers who sign up to be a Naked Wines ‘Angel’ pay £20 a month to fund independent winemakers. The company sources exclusive wines at preferential prices and returns these savings to its customers. The monthly payment remains in the Angel’s account for use on purchases. They also benefit from discounts of 25 per cent or more.

Moreover, the social model provides a forum for wine drinkers to discern which wine is right for them. Talented winemakers can reach an audience that is often corralled for multi-nationals.

Angels who are particularly interactive can apply to become ‘Archangels’, a group that is invited to events and issued with tasting packs in order to determine which new winemakers can get in on the action.

£2m a month for small winemakers

It is an innovative take, currently attracting £2 million a month to fund the untapped talent of winemakers who don’t have the resources to effectively market themselves. But how do we know if their wines are any good?

Naked Wines’ philosophy is ‘it’s what’s under the label that counts’. Ben says: “I think the market has been very dependent on customers being told what to buy, by people who supposedly know what they’re talking about.”

True, but these “people” are experts, right?

Yes, but Ben argues that, since the Seventies, the majority of British wine drinkers (which he distinguishes from ‘wine lovers’) have become used to adopting other people’s opinions. Marketers, with their press jaunts, and retailers, with an eye on the buyers’ credulity, can exploit this state of affairs. It removes the onus from drinkers to choose the wine they prefer.

Cultural wine-drinking differences

In Spain, Italy or France, for example, families habitually talk about wine over lunch and dinner. It is embedded within a loquacious and engaged culture. It’s egalitarian. In Britain, attitudes are often dictated by experts telling us which region harvests the best grapes.

“People should be comfortable and proud to share the wine they like with friends, and feel secure that what they like is important too,” says Ben.

And for high50 members in particular? We’re a busy lot, after all.

“They’re tired of being sold to,” he replies. “Naked Wines provides access to information, rather than bombarding you with it.”

To nail the point, he asks: “Who better to ask what tastes good with wine than the person who made the wine?”

It’s an interesting thought. Do we want to keep opening magazines, visiting the supermarket and switching on the TV to be told what to enjoy?

Or do we want to find out and discover? Can we still discover? Could you go on to the Naked Wines website and ask a winemaker what meat, herb or sauce would bring out the passion in their produce?

Or look through the opinions of other wine drinkers – not lovers – and begin to form your own? Or if the social aspect affronted our time-poor schedules, phone their helpline?

While we know Ben is a businessman, and businessmen are out to make money, his enthusiasm for Naked Wines’ rather democratic community model is one that in principle looks good to high50.

So far, 40 boutique winemakers have been funded, providing up to 300 types of wine with a core price range of £8 to £12 (undiscounted.) The company’s ‘virtuous circle’ of customer investment–winemaker funding–customer discount has attracted 100,000 Angels.

We may be wine drinkers and our opinions far from expert, but we’re attracted to the idea of joining them – and nurturing a few authentic notes of our own.