All about the nose: wine startup raises $2 million

Cara Waters
Banjo Harris Plane and Tom Walenkamp are teaming technology and wine.
Banjo Harris Plane and Tom Walenkamp are teaming technology and wine.  Photo: Wade Van Den Hoek

Banjo Harris Plane's palate and nose are highly sought after.

The former sommelier at top restaurant Attica and owner of Bar Liberty knows what he's talking about when it comes to wine and on Tuesday he secured $2 million in funding for his startup, The Wine Gallery.

The Wine Gallery hopes to take Harris Plane's skills to a broader audience by using technology to select wines tailored to customers tastes.

Harris Plane, 34 started the business with Tom Walenkamp, 33 and Humberto Moreira, 32 and the trio boot-strapped initially using about $70,000 in savings.

The Wine Gallery gives customers an initial wine palate quiz and then uses customer ratings and feedback to select wines tailored to customers' tastes.

"The whole basis of the mission of the company is opening up the world of wine to a broader section of the wine drinking market," Walenkamp says. "We want to be the largest pure play wine online retailer in the Australian market. We hope to achieve this vision by creating the very best experience we can by using technology in a way the industry hasn’t thought about."

While alcohol consumption is falling in Australia, online alcohol sales continue to grow with analysts Ibisworld predicting industry revenue will grow at an annualised 11.1 per cent over the five years through 2017-18 driving industry revenue to $446.4 million.

Online sales are expected to account for approximately 4 per cent of total liquor retail sales in the current year and The Wine Gallery has tapped into this demand with more than $2 million in revenue last year and attracting 100,000 subscribers, 10,000 of which are paid up.

Walenkamp says this growth attracted investors including lead investor Conrad Yiu, founder of online furniture retailer Temple & Webster, Robin McGowan and James Wakefield, founders of Insitchu and John Ratcliffe, former chief executive of Accolade Wines.

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"We were elated," he says. "There have been some more difficult experiences for e-commerce startups in the Australian market but our business model and our experience to date allowed us to show investors we were different. We were excited that despite a bit of noise in the market we were really happy to find quality investors."

Walenkamp says the startup is going to use the funding to invest further in technology, building its range and growing its team.

"We are going to double down on technology, we are going to expand our development team and be hopefully able to make better recommendations and create even more flexibility for our customers and power up our data analytic capabilities," he says.

"We are also going to be building our range. One of the things that has held us back is how many wines we could get on the site but we now have three containers loads of wine on the sea at the moment on its way to Sydney. Lastly we are just growing the team in terms of product design and operation."

The Wine Gallery's best selling product is still monthly wine subscriptions but Walenkamp says increasing numbers of customers are looking to use the technology for gifts or one off purchases.

"At the end of the day we are just trying to create a much bigger wine retail experience," he says.

"We are really happy with the customer demographic we are hitting. Our customers are mainly aged 25 to 40 and lots are female, they are really responding well to a non academic and non intimidating wine business and building a community around that. Our customers love sharing their unboxing of wines and what wines they are having that month and what they are pairing it with. It’s really the opposite of just drinking to get drunk."

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