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A Venture Capitalist Walks Into A Winery…

on 09/09/14 at 11:27 am


indexJay Levy and Greg Scheinfeld didn’t have a famous winemaker. They didn’t have a winery. They didn’t even have a vineyard.

But Levy is co-founder and partner of Zelkova Ventures, a New York-based venture capital firm. And Scheinfeld is a financial industry refugee who built a new life in Napa working for the likes of Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Cakebread Cellars, and Vineyard 29.

Together, they saw an opportunity to build a lifestyle brand for the next generation of wine consumers, one that’s focused on the customer experience and modeled after the loyalty-building strategies of major market players like Zappos, Amazon, and Warby Parker.

Less than two years ago they launched Uproot Wines as a hybrid company that blends wine and ecommerce.

And it’s working, despite the notoriously low success rate of wine-based business initiatives.

What’s their secret?

They’re thinking about wine as a business, rather than a romantic ideal.

In practice, that means:

  • They’re delivering the kind of customer experience that their demographic has come to expect.
  • They’re working with marketing partners who don’t have preconceived ideas or biases of what a wine brand should be. That’s led to collateral like bottle labels that don’t even mention the name of the brand.
  • They’re building an ecommerce platform that handles the stickiest issues in their industry.

Here are five hands-on insights on what happens when wine meets venture capital.

Finding the Hole in the Market

By the time Levy and Scheinfeld were in their early 30s, they had become the de facto concierges for friends who were visiting Napa. They’d recommend restaurants; their friends loved them. They’d recommend activities, like balloon rides; friends thought they were fantastic. They’d recommend wineries, but that’s where the experience fell short.

“They thought the wineries weren’t giving them the treatment they deserved, because they were buying a few bottles of wine rather than cases and cases of it,” Levy said. “But our demographic is all about the experience, even for smaller purchases. It’s about brand loyalty built around lifestyle. When it came to the wine experience, we saw it as a huge opportunity.”