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Written by Nikitas Magel   

NM: Can you divulge some of the mystery behind The Wine Spies — specifically, the intrigue of how it all began, and the rationale behind its name?  And how does that all relate to how you personally became involved in the wine business?

AR: I was a beer drinker most of my adult life.  That was about the extent of my imbibing pleasures.  I was an infrequent wine drinker and when I did drink wine, it was [just simply] red or white, and I didn't really know much more than that.  But when I lived in Sonoma County, I had occasion to drive by a lot of wineries, and there was one winery in particular that I would drive by, because it was on the way to the state park that we would frequent.  It had an unusual name, and it was small and looked non-threatening — as compared to some of those gigantic castle-looking ones.  So, I decided to pop in.  And there in this little barn-like tasting room, I tasted through some really incredible wines, and had kind of an epiphany about wine: I realized that there was so much more to wine than just 'red and white.'  Essentially, I had my wine awakening there.

 

At the time, I was running a company that sold toys and games online.  [As a bit of background,] I've been in the commercial internet since the heyday, the very beginning of the commercial internet.  I had a web-development and strategy firm in the late '90s and early 2000, then got out and sold my company before the bubble burst.  But since then, I've worked on various projects, the most recent of which was the online toy and game site.  When I sold that, it was immediately apparent what was next; I knew I would getting into the wine business.
winespies
And I knew also that I would be doing this with my friend Agent White, who was a long time friend and a former contractor that I had hired when I ran my web development company.  He and I became fast friends way back then, in the late '90s, remained friends, and always knew that one day we would partner up on a business.  So I brought this idea to him — the idea being to sell one wine per day — and at that point we didn't really have a notion of brand or angle or spin.  We very quickly came up with a number of names.  And when we thought, "Okay, what is it that we're actually doing?… We're going to get out there, into the wine world, and we're going to uncover these gems of wines that are not widely available, that are not on the supermarket shelves."  That was another thing that I'd realized: you can go into Safeway or any other big grocery store where there's a ton of wine; but for every bottle that's sitting there, there are dozens and dozens more that you'll never find in a Safeway that are probably infinitely more interesting.  So, we threw out a bunch of names, and had an "ah ha!" moment when we threw out "The Wine Spies" name, and from there the brand name all came together.

 

We also looked at our own interest in wines.  Agent White had already been a pretty experienced wine drinker.  We're both under 40 [years of age], just barely; I'm about to turn 40.  Looking at those people who are in our age category, and younger, showed us that there are a lot of younger wine drinkers there.  So, in designing the brand, we thought we'd design for the so-called Millennial generation and slightly above.  But what we found was that we were actually serving wine drinkers of every age range, of every experience level, and that our brand, coincidentally and luckily for us, had a universal appeal.  It wasn't trying to be so tragically hip and cool that it would only appeal to a Millennial generation.  I think people that consider themselves aficionados or slightly snobby wine drinkers quickly realized that the substance of what we were offering is really what mattered.  And the spy thing is a lot of fun.  We have a lot of customers who give themselves agent names, and interact with us daily, who really are quite into the theme.  So it's a lot of fun.  When I'm talking to people, I am only Agent Red; I don't identify myself by my real name.  One of the cool things about that persona is that it's immediately disarming, which is great.  I tell them that I'm "Agent Red calling from The Wine Spies…" and then it's laughter, which is a really cool thing.  It's a great way to open a conversation.  Sometimes people are a little more serious, but in general, it's received in the spirit of fun.



 

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