Napa’s Firstleaf grows startup wine club to 150,000-plus members
Philip James, a computational chemist by training, and Erik Steigler in 2015 started Penrose Hill Ltd., which operates the subscription wine club now called Firstleaf.
The venture’s business model is to tailor recommendations for shipments based on member taste preferences, ratings of previously tried wines, budget and schedule for how often they want to get wine. Firstleaf said on its LinkedIn profile that it has over 150,000 active members.
Firstleaf said it works with winemakers in 12 countries on five continents then blends its own wines in Napa Valley. The company offers its members wines at roughly $6–$13 a bottle, according to its website.
James got into the wine business in 2005 after graduating with an MBA from Columbia University. Through a friend he was asked to step into management of The Wine Messenger, a small New York state wine importer direct-to-consumer retailer, according to a June interview in Authority Magazine and James’s LinkedIn profile.
During his nearly two years there, he started Snooth Media, which grew to a large wine review and lifestyle portfolio of sites. In 2010 he left after founding wine club Lot18 and was CEO there for nearly four years.
Firstleaf raised $10.9 million in funding in 2017 and 2018, in addition to a seed round, according to venture backing tracker Crunchbase. The company has employees in 20 states and eight countries, James told the magazine.
The Napa company debuted this year at No. 1,020 on the Inc. 5000 national list of fast-growing companies with 473% revenue growth in 2017–2020, the magazine’s ranking period.
Company officials could not be reached for this story.
Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He has a degree from Walla Walla University. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-4256.
Correction, Aug. 24, 2022: Firstleaf is a first-party provider of wines to the club’s subscribers, rather than a third-party club, as originally stated in the story. First-party clubs offer wines that they produce, rather than wines made by other vintners.