It’s been an incredible year for many eCommerce wine retailers as COVID shutdowns drove consumers to purchase online. We reached out to “Agent Rhone” (aka Mike Meisner) at Wine Spies which has had an incredible lineup of wine deals this past year. We wanted to find out a little more about their “covert” operation, the impact of COVID, and their view on the future of online wine retail.
We also wanted to have this message self-destruct after reading. Unfortunately, risk management told us that created too much liability. No fun.
What’s your backstory?
Hi, I’m Agent Rhone. I have been working in the wine industry for about ten years. Started as a marketing consultant for wineries before moving into the direct-to-consumer space five years ago. I worked for a Wine Spies competitor for a while and joined in late 2019.
How did Wine Spies get started?
Wine Spies was started by Jason Seeber (aka “Agent Red”) in 2007. He had seen the success of early flash sale sites like GILT and when his partner, who was very into wine, suggested there should be something similar in the wine eCommerce space, the idea clicked. From there they spun up a website and started knocking on doors of wineries. You can read more about it here.
What is your philosophy on finding and selecting the bottles you offer? What makes Wine Spies unique?
I think our philosophy centers around finding the best deal on the best possible wine. Early on there was this idea that we were dishing off sub-par wines; “seconds” that the winery couldn’t sell. That’s really not the case. We taste thousands of wines and the primary decider is “does it taste good”? We need to be proud to offer it. Trust is everything in this industry. And eventually, wineries realized that they get their wine featured in front of tens of thousands of email subscribers in an instant – it’s basically free press. Plus they can move a significant amount of wine in one day with us. There’s something like 800 wineries in Napa, and every one of them makes a $100 Cabernet. But guess what? They can’t always sell it. The industry is quite rooted in agriculture and has never really been an early adopter of technology. So they have trouble marketing their wines. That’s where we come in.
Can you tell us about a couple of your favorite deals you offered over the years?
We really stepped up our game in the past two years in terms of the wines we sell. We brought on a new wine buyer who has deep connections in the industry. I think some of the standouts for me include the King Coal blend by Charles Smith, Anthem’s Mt. Veeder Cabernet, and some of the wines we sold from Mastro Scheidt who is the epitome of a boutique, small-time, honest winemaker creating killer wines that you just cannot find in stores.
What is your favorite wine buying tip or advice for consumers?
Just take a shot at some wines you wouldn’t have normally tried. Haven’t had a Rioja or Burgundy? Take a flyer on one and see what you think. We get sucked into habits of drinking the same style again and again. Especially when living in wine country where it’s Napa Cab all day, every day. I think it helps to explore, especially imports.
What bottle has had a lasting impression on you?
I don’t recall the exact wine, but we went to Bounty Hunter years ago and my boss at the time ordered this very old Riesling – maybe 20 years age on it. That really blew my mind because it had so much vibrant life and complexity. I had never had an aged white before; it was definitely an epiphany-type moment. Plus, it was not even that expensive!
How did the Covid pandemic impact business from both a sales and operations perspective?
COVID absolutely blew us up – sales through the roof. Everyone started shifting their buying habits to online, and we grew immensely last year.
What do you think the future looks like for Wine Spies and wine eCommerce in general?
Our future is bright. Our growth has been astonishing the past two years. Just recently we purchased an 18,000 sq. ft. warehouse/office in Petaluma which is the first new space we’ve had in over ten years. Last year, we rolled out the Locker program, which lets you build a case over time. So you can checkout with one or two bottles, add them to your locker, and when you get a full case you choose to ship it at your convenience. That’s the first of its kind in the wine industry and people LOVE it.
We also have a new site rolling out shortly, with some very cool features that we’ve been working hard on. Still under wraps, so I can’t disclose much, but I think it will help us level up big time. As for general eCommerce, the industry has grown leaps and bounds with COVID. We got something like ten years of growth across all eCommerce in one year. There’s still a ton of room for huge growth and I think we’ll see a lot more niche-focused shops coming into the picture (natural wine, for example, has been on a tear).
Thank you, Agent Rhone!
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