North Bay Business Journal

Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 6:15 pm

Custom vintner leases former Blackstone Winery

4-year-old company has provided $5.5M to U.S. independent winemakers


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    Ken Deis

    Ken Deis, a winemaker with 37 years of experience with notable North Coast brands, is one of the independent producers at Naked Wines' new winery in Sonoma Valley. (credit: Naked Wines)

    SONOMA VALLEY — Naked Wines, which has blended the futures, club and crowdfunding models over its three-year history, today announced it has planted deep roots in California’s North Coast by leasing the Blackstone Winery to offer custom-winemaking services.

    Naked Wines (www.nakedwines.com, 800-673-4718), started in the United Kingdom but run from a 20-person Napa office, leased the 100,000-case-a-year winery from new owner Stonecushion Inc., part of the winery portfolio Ken and Diane Wilson of Healdsburg. Naked Wines has operations in Australia too.

    The company is offering custom crush at the 100,000-case-a-year winery in Kenwood for $100 a ton, which the company touts as much as one-10th the cost of some similar operations.

    Naked Wines said it plans to stop taking applications (suppliers@nakedwines.com) from experienced winemaker participants Aug. 6. But according to the company, most of the capacity is already reserved with the likes of Ken Deis. He has his own brand after four decades of making wine for Flora Springs Winery, Joseph Phelps Vineyards and Heitz Cellars.

    “We’re building a network of America’s most serious winemakers,” said Robin Langton, Naked Wines director of winemaking. ”This is an offer designed to grab the attention of experienced winemakers with impressive track records.”

    His own previous brand credits include Patz & Hall, Calera Wine, Vignobles Andre Lurton and Oyster Bay.

    Services at the Sonoma Valley winery range from crushing incoming grapes to postmalolactic fermentation.

    Naked Wines was started in October 2008, “when 12 friends quit their jobs in the middle of the recession to do things a little differently,” as the company tells it. Leading the business are Rowan Gormley, former chief executive officer of Virgin Wines and Virgin Money, and Ian West, a nonexecutive director who previously was managing director of British Sky Broadcasting Group plc, commonly called BSkyB.

    The approach is to find talented, undiscovered independent winemakers, pull together consumer “angels” — as in, angel investors — who are willing to contribute money, provide funds and resources to the winemakers to produce brands, acquire exclusive wines then sell them at special discounts to contributors and other shoppers on its website.

    Naked Wines said it has 200,000 customers, 100,000 of which are “angels” who have contributed more than $3 million a month. That money so far has has backed 50 winemakers, including $5.5 million to ones in the U.S.

    Sales top 10,000 bottles a month and have been more than doubling each year, according to the company. Sales last year were $40 million.

    Such successes have garnered accolades such as Innovator of the Year in 2011 from International Wine Challenge and The WorldPay Online Business of the Year also last year from National Business Awards UK.

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    1. July 25, 2012, 9:25 am

      by Bob Quail

      I wish this operation all the luck in the world, and at the custom crush price being quoted above, they shouldn’t have too much trouble filling their new space to capacity. However, it seems that the author needs to double check the math. 10,000 bottles a month, is only 833.33 cases a month or approximately 10,000 cases per year. Unless they are getting an amazing price for their wine (over $300 per bottle and $4,000 per case), generating $40 million in annual sales revenue from this operation, alone, seems unlikely.

    2. July 25, 2012, 9:36 am

      by Jeff Quackenbush, Business Journal Staff Reporter

      The sales figures are for the whole company. The Sonoma Valley winery is only part of it and is just getting under way.

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