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Thursday, January 9, 2014, 11:50 am

Investor acquires The Winetasting Network

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    NAPA — A St. Louis-based investment group acquired The Winetasting Network intellectual property and wine inventory from 1-800-Flowers and plans to bring back the Ambrosia brand as an e-tailer of luxury wine and related gifts.

    Winetasting.com by The Wine Tasting NetworkThe new owner, TSG, LLC, plans to build the staff in Napa to about a half-dozen, starting with Peter Downey, the remaining employee and continuing as sales director. Carle Place, N.Y.-based 1-800-Flowers had been selling off pieces of the business over the past two years. Then last May, General Manager Chris Edwards was indicted in federal court on fraud charges.

    The acquisition, completed at the end of last year, included 140 domain names, including existing wine and gift website winetasting.com and “flash” wine sale site napaconnection.com as well as ambrosia.com, and 256,000 bottles of wine. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

    “My three passions are wine, technology and business, and it brought it all together,” said Steve Schepman, TSG managing partner and new top executive of The Winetasting Network.

    The business will continue to be based at 578 Gateway Dr., and orders will still be fulfilled by Napa-based WineDirect.

    But in the second quarter, Mr. Schepman plans to reintroduce the Ambrosia name as an online retailer of luxury-priced wine and gifts, starting with selections already in inventory. Ambrosia was a name used in the early days of the company for the catalog of fine wines compiled by founder Leslie Berglund. She started it in 1991, and it acquired was by 1-800-Flowers in 2004. The gift company added Geerlings & Wade, retailer of wine and related products, to the wine gifts business in 2009.

    Saying it was battered by the consumer-spending reverberations of the economic recession, 1-800-Flowers started selling aspects that weren’t related to gourmet foods and gift baskets. In September 2011, sold the fulfillment side of The Winetasting Network for $12 million. The sale of the e-commerce and procurement part of the wine business was expected to result in a loss of $2.3 million, $1.5 million after taxes, according to a Sept. 13 regulatory filing.

    Other partners in TSG include Ron King of Washington University’s Olin Business School; emergency physician Rob Poirer, also a Washington University School of Medicine assistant professor; and Bill Pruellage of New York-based investment firm Castle Harlan.

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