Master of wine online
Buying a nice bottle of wine can be intimidating.
There are so many options—Cabernet, Chardonnay, Riesling, the list goes on and on—that people often get overwhelmed and simply give up. Who needs to worry about all that fancy wine stuff when you can just grab some beer and call it a night?
Well, thanks to a Quinlan graduate, buying quality wine just got a whole lot easier.
John Wilson (JD/MBA, 2009) and his brother Bob launched Winestyr.com in January 2012 to help folks navigate the tricky world of wine. The Chicago-based company sells wines from more than 40 small wineries around the United States, giving people access to top-notch wines that they can’t find at the corner market.
“Every single wine on our website is excellent,” Wilson said, adding that everything they offer is chosen by his brother (a certified wine specialist) and another member of the Winestyr team who has competed in international wine tastings.
But what really sets Winestyr (pronounced wine-ster) apart is how it connects buyers with boutique wineries around the country—wineries that until recently had no good way to sell their wines directly to consumers who live in other states.
For decades, wineries had to go through a three-tier sales system: They made the wine, then sold it to a wholesaler, who sold it to a retailer, who—finally—sold it to consumers. Wineries often made little profit from this setup, Wilson said, and many were locked out of the system entirely.
A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision changed all that. Forty states now allow direct-to-consumer wine sales. But as is often the case with liquor laws, the regulations are complicated and vary from state to state.
So Wilson set out to make sense of all the rules, studying statutes to find out which wineries can sell to certain states and ZIP codes—in essence becoming an expert in direct-to-consumer wine law.
“There are only a handful of people in the country that know this stuff,” he said, “and I’m one of them.”
Winestyr also stands out in how it pitches its wines to people. Gone are the snooty reviews that make little sense to the average drinker. In their place are suggestions for which wines to buy for certain occasions: For instance, buy this wine as a gift to impress your boss. Or buy this wine to drink with spicy foods or for a girls’ night in.
When Winestyr launched in early 2012, it was set up as a daily deals site. But by the end of the year, the site switched to a direct marketplace that lets wineries and their customers bypass the middleman. So far, Winestyr’s new formula is paying off.
"We have grown significantly over the course of 2013 and just finished a very strong fourth quarter," Wilson said. "Growth has been solid."
The wineries are loving the new setup too.
“We had one winery tell us they sold more wine in two days on our website than they had sold in the six months before that—from all their sales, not just from us,” he said.
So what’s next for Wilson and Winestyr?
The company plans to add more wineries to the site and create a section for user reviews and suggestions. They also plan to unveil a wine quiz that will help first time users get started picking their wines. As for Wilson, he and his wife just had their first child, and he’s looking forward to spending time with his new son.
Now that's an occasion worth celebrating.