When it comes to wines, there are both too many -- 250,000 globally -- and too few -- 250 in major retail outlets.
So what is a reasonably adventurous consumer supposed to do?
The guys behind Club W have a solution.
This startup, which launched in mid-February, introduces 12 new boutique wines every month. Most of these are from labels you will not have heard of, and every bottle is priced at $13.
You can purchase from three ($39) to eighteen bottles per month, and the wine is delivered to your doorstep. Shipping is free.
As for the choices of wines, Club W relies on sommeliers, including San Franciscans Andrew Freeman and Bianca Jimenez Rivera.
In order to customize its recommendations to you, Club W asks a set of questions designed to establish your palate profile.
These include how you like your coffee (strong and unsweetened or weak with cream and sugar?), as well as how you feel about salt, citrus, berries, and mushrooms and truffles.
These parallel the taste characteristics that differentiate one wine from another, without using well-worn words like oaky, buttery, or even less- accessible terms like tannins or acidity.
“The palate profile gives us a baseline to begin to personalize what we offer to people, “says co-founder Geoff McFarlane.
“We ask them to rate the wines once they’ve tried them,” adds co-founder Xander Oxman. “Once we understand why they gravitate to certain types of wines, we can refine the choices.”
So, Club W works a bit the way Netflix does, or Pandora.
Oxman says wine-drinkers tends to fall into about four or five general categories. “We think there is a huge opportunity for crowd-sourced intelligence here.”
Every bottle shipped is stamped with a QR code, which if you scan it with your phone takes you to a page explaining the story of that wine. There’s a video, around a minute long, text and photos.
“We try to tell the story behind the wines,” says MacFarlane. “That includes the design of the label, the juice in the bottle, it’s all someone’s form of art. We also recommend food pairings by images (chicken, salad, cheese, apple, fish). And we write sort of a ‘dating profile’ for a wine to let you know when and how to drink it.”
Of course, in a place like San Francisco, or New York, boutique wines are already widely available in small shops and restaurants, so Club W would seem to fine its main audience in places like the Midwest.
But so far, its early usage indicates 40 percent is in California. “It’s the convenience factor for people in urban settings,” says Oxman. “Right now we are seeing 300 signups per week, and we think 100,000 users is a feasible target.”
The company operates in 43 states plus the District of Columbia. It’s a third-party marketer that actually never takes legal possession (title) of the wine.
“Shipping wine is very heavily regulated, there is lots of red tape,” Oxman explains. “Our business model would not have been possible even two years ago. A ruling by Cal ABC (the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control) in November last year made what we do legal."
The Club W team recognized that liberalization of interstate commerce in wine was coming back in July 2011 and started beta testing with friends and family, while acquiring all the requisite licenses from states in order to become a legal third-party marketer.
The company’s team of eleven is split between here and Denver, and they are in the process of securing a Series A round of funding. They say they have Android and iOS apps under development.