You’re running late for dinner and swing into the nearest liquor store to grab a bottle of wine. You stare at the veritable wall of wine and turn to the assistant for help. They’re busy at check out and/or don’t look like they’re of legal drinking age themselves. You feel the minutes ticking away so grab a bottle of old faithful sauv blanc or cab sauv which invariable looks better than it tastes. Scenario sound familiar? As it turns out, you’re not alone.
When Tom Walenkamp went through the same situation, it was made more desperate by the fact that he’d left his date (their first) back at the BYO-only restaurant as he made a dash to the nearest bottle-O. That and a stint studying in France got him thinking about how we buy wine in Australia.
Fast forward a few months and Tom met sommelier Banjo Harris Plane. Over beer (funnily enough) they started brainstorming and landed on a concept that has become The Wine Gallery, the startup looking to become known as the Netflix or Spotify of wine.
Say what? We hear you…don’t get us wrong, we love all three things but don’t see how they fit together so recently sat down with Tom and asked him to tell us more. He starts by asking us to imagine that one day your best friend convinces you that you need to visit a wine consultant. You think: that’s weird, but what the heck…
During first session, your consultant asks you a bunch of questions about what food, cocktails, spices, etc. you like, and builds you a personal taste profile. They then send you on your way with three bottles of wine that they think you’ll love. But not just that, they tell you about the unique stories behind each bottle, what tastes to look out for, and what foods it will pair amazingly with.
A month later you book a follow-up session.
This time, you talk about what you liked and what wasn’t your cup of tea. They ponder your responses for a little while and then they select another three bottles that they think will be even better suited to you.
Over the next couple of months, your personal wine consultant builds a pretty good idea of what you like and only prescribes bottles they know you’ll adore. But they want to keep you on your toes, so they regularly throw in new types to try and learn about.
While this sounds excellent, we don’t actually all have a personal wine consultant handy. That’s where The Wine Gallery comes in. Customers start by taking an online quiz, and after being sent their initial three wines they provide feedback on what they liked and what they didn’t, this is used to select the next three bottles, and so on. That’s where the Netflix ‘recommended for you’ comparison comes from.
Tom started the company at Sydney tech startup space Fishburners two years ago. Initially it was launched as a subscription model while they developed the back-end. Since then they’ve moved into a warehouse space in Marrickville as well as rolled out the personalised technology that allows each order to be tailored to customer’s tastes.
The wines are selected by Co-Founder Banjo Harris Plane who knows a thing or two about vino having been named Australian Sommelier of the Year no less than three times. Banjo says that working in some of Australia’s top restaurants meant he had access to incredible wines though was only able to impart his passion and knowledge on a handful of customers at any one time. The Wine Gallery allows him to reach a larger, more diverse audience.
This is because the goal of the company isn’t just to ensure customers are drinking wine they love, but also to empower them with the know-how so they can feel confident and comfortable (or perhaps even smug) next time they’re facing that wall of wine in the bottle shop or extensive wine list. With each box of wine you also receive the winemaker’s story, tasting notes, food matches and a link to a matching recipe so you can learn as much about the wines as you like. Or you can just drink them. They’re happy either way.