Getting your hands on many of Europe’s top wines through regular channels – like retail or restaurants – can be tough. Quantities are limited, and allocations from distributors can be extreme. (Six bottles for all of Virginia?!)
Enter VinConnect, the brainchild of banker-turned-wine mogul Kevin Sidders.
After leaving the finance industry, he “spent time looking for something to do. I almost bought a wine business, but it didn’t work out. But since I was always was interested in the business of wine, I took a…course at UC Davis [that covered] everything but growing vines and farming.”
During those years, he was able to look at the business through the lens of both consumer and professional. Thanks to this perspective, Kevin asked a question that seemingly no one else had: Why don’t European wineries have mailing lists?
It was followed up by, “How do I make it work?”
A company was born.
VinConnect allows consumers to join the mailing list for any of nearly two dozen high-end estates in Europe. The producer contacts consumers directly with offers, while VinConnect serves as the middleman for logistics.
As Kevin describes it, “We are an extension of the winery, [creating] a link between winery and customer.” It’s a service the wineries appreciate.
“The idea of getting in touch directly with connoisseurs and wine lovers in the US appealed to me,” says Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel of Domaine Louis Michel & Fils. “The power of the internet helps us to do this more efficiently without any restrictions on time or distance.”
In addition, VinConnect eliminates the throwing darts approach of a more traditional retail email. Customers register only for the estates of interest to them, so the offers made by the estates go only to those predisposed to buy the wine.
“Customers are self-selecting,” Kevin says, “so the people a winery is selling to have already said, ‘Tell me your story.’”
Guillaume concurs. “We made one offer…a selections of wines…which are quite rare on the US market. We also included a new product, Premier Cru Séchets 2010. The feedback from subscribers was very positive.”
Of course, this becomes a two-way channel, with advantages for the customer as well. “For people who know the wineries and have an affinity for [their wine] can appreciate the provenance and [the opportunity to] directly support the winery,” Kevin says.
Davin McAndrews signed up for VinConnect in its early days. “I know my California and Australia wines pretty well. I am far less familiar with French and Italian wines,” which are the core of the VinConnect portfolio. “I like that they curate the options.”
In addition, VinConnect offers buyers the opportunity to research the wines before they purchase. “I like the shop from home option,” says Davin. “I’m busy, so it’s really easy to sit down, [read the reviews] and think it through before I pull the trigger.”
The company has signed up 800 customers, and the number of wineries has grown from two to 20 since the site launched in 2011.
VinConnect represents several of Europe’s powerhouse estates, including legendary Burgundy producers Clos de Tart and Vincent Girardin, Domaine Pegau from the Rhone Valley, Piedmont’s E. Pira, La Spinetta and Massolino estates, and Chianti’s Castello dei Rampolla, Ciacci Piccolomini and Le Macchiole.
Among the biggest challenges to starting was working with the winery and their importer to insure supply. “There were concerns about taking wine away from an importer,” he says. “It’s not the way business has been done, which creates the potential for risk.”
But for those that have signed up, the payoff is worth it. “VinConnect is modern and very efficient,” says Guillaume. “It’s a perfect way for me to sell directly to consumers abroad, with no intermediaries.”
More estates are seeing the appeal. Kevin says he is “having an ongoing conversation with dozens more wineries. We want to work with the best, most recognized, highly visible wineries. There’s no magic number we want to achieve.”
His ultimate vision, though, is for VinConnect to provide a meaningful experience for buyer and seller. “That’s my little contribution to global happiness.”