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Written by Nikitas Magel   

NM:  How has Bottlenotes evolved?  What was your vision for it and how has it changed?

AR:  The vision was very different in the very beginning.  It really was this notion of a wine club solely.  I was running a wine club at Stanford Business School with a few hundred members and, in a peter pan sense, was disappointed with it ending — we had been exposed to new and exciting wines on a weekly basis, with wineries and importers coming to educate and entertain us with their products and we, the consumers, were learning as we went.  So, Bottlenotes.com was initially intended to be [primarily] a wine club, where we thought we would target different types of people who would be interested in the wine clubs that we offer.  [We still offer that, with personalized clubs] such as the Explorers Club (which is a term you now see all over the place, but I'll put a stake in the ground and say we named it first!), Limited Addictions™(our invitation-only, high-end club), and Pop! Champagne club.  We've put a ton of energy and thought into different sub-brands for the wine club, and really targeting the consumers for them psychographically.

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Overall, we have really evolved as a business model by listening to the customer.  So, if you had asked me three and half years ago if I would be running an e-commerce and media company, I would have laughed!  I mean, e-commerce is complicated enough!  But, truthfully, what we're trying to do now is still fulfill that critical role of serving as a wine marketing partner for certain wineries and importers, and a wine education and entertainment platform for consumers.  Even as the world has shifted, with online communities booming and with how we're all interacting in our daily lives [online and with mobile devices], the way [Bottlenotes] can add the most value to our consumer is still by providing with great wine club memberships, with great vetted boutique and estate wines from around the world.  People frequently comment that every time they open a bottle of our wines, it's delicious — we pre-vet them and we're interested only in direct-selling great wine.

But the content that we've been creating since the beginning has always been intended as a customer retention tool, to keep people coming back for more, because there are millions of people who sell wine and have wine clubs, and so even though ours are personalized, we wanted to keep Bottlenotes interesting, sticky, and different.  And lo and behold, the content that we create that turned into a great customer acquisition engine, and that in and of itself has been a pretty fun and neat product to see evolve.

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NM:  And I'm guessing this all makes wine all the less intimidating, especially for the demographic you're targeting who aren't quite wine experts.

AR:  Absolutely!  The reason we're doing all these things is to educate new and intermediate wine enthusiasts about wine in an unintimidating way, by demystifying the wine world.  I'm not a Master Sommelier; I'm not pretending to be, though I admire friends who are and know their knowledge is unbelievably deep.  I have a good palate and I trust my palate, but what I love about wine is that it's a never ending, ever evolving subject that no matter how much I study, there's just an endless amount to go, so much still to learn, and it would take more than a lifetime to master it all.  That's one of the many things I love about it, that it's an ongoing opportunity and challenge.  And I think that as I and my team have amassed an enormous amount of [wine] knowledge, we want to share it in bite-size, approachable ways.

NM:  You mentioned that you pre-vet the wines you sell.  Can you say more about that?

AR:  We taste wine at Bottlenotes as a team.  And in the beginning, when we didn't have any 'street cred,' people asked us, "Well, who is tasting with you?"  Now, given that our whole schtick is to be the trust source of wine information for new-to-intermediate wine enthusiasts, we have a team of great palates as well as esteemed advisory board members who sometimes taste with us and whom are also phenomenal resources.  We're targeting people who really love wine, are knowledgeable about wine, and have tasted a lot of wine, and so we're vetting the wine that we find interesting and, most importantly, that our customers (by completing a personal taste profile) tell us that they're going to like.  So, we're looking for boutique and estate wines, and wines that receive an internal average score of over 6.5 out of 10 points — and we rate on all the traditional metrics: color, aroma, taste, body, mouthfeel, etc.  And we reach out to suppliers we're interested in having, and have now gotten to the point where we have a lot of inbound requests.  Of course, we're not the Wine Spectator; we're not receiving 5,000 samples a month that a team of twenty has to taste through.  But, even though we're small, we're still choosy.  And we're in the wine marketing business — if we don't feel passionately about it, we're not going do as effective a job in marketing [the wines].



 

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