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Humble Grape aims to open 16 tech-focused wine bars

Published:  17 June, 2014

London-based wine business Humble Grape has set its sights on becoming the 'Starbucks of the wine world', complete with enhanced technology, and plans to open16 franchised wine bars.

London-based wine business Humble Grape has set its sights on becoming the 'Starbucks of the wine world', complete with enhanced technology, and plans to open 16 franchised wine bars.

Humble Grape is looking to build on its sales and wine events business by creating an "experimental wine bar with augmented reality to connect consumers and enhance their tasting experience", which it would then roll out..

Humble Grape founder James DawsonHumble Grape founder James DawsonHumble Grape founder James Dawson has ambitious plans for an enhanced technology-focused wine bar chain.

James Dawson founded the Humble Grape business in August 2009, initially looking to import small vineyard wines, mostly organic and biodynamic, from seven countries to sell to private clients. Then Dawson diversified to sell into the on-trade, and subsequently launched a pop-up wine events business.

The idea behind the wine and technology is that a customer sitting alone in one of Humble Grape's wine bars might fancy tasting a bottle that's slightly outside of their price range, or finding a drinking companion with similar taste who may be open to sharing a bottle. Technology helps them do it.

The first of these wine bars will be based in Shoreditch, London,and Dawson has raised £350,000 via Seedrs, and a further £125,000 from venture capital. The money will go towards hiring sales and event staff and developing at least the first phase of the technology.

Humble Grape has ambitious plans for its wine-bar concept

The wine bar model will then be rolled out to five to six venues built with self-funding, and then expand to 60 wine bars in six years, possibly through franchising. Dawson said it's not clear whether the outlets will be confined to London, the UK's larger cities or whether it will expand overseas. "We've not got that far yet," he said.

Dawson told that the wine trade currently "assumes knowledge" and it is looking to make choices around wine simpler through the use of apps and other technology it is developing. He said existing technology was "clunky and expensive". Apps will include beacon technology, timing and ask questions about emotions and experiences as well as more traditional preferences.

It will be able to suggest wines based on weather conditions in the local area, whether customers are just looking to have fun, impress clients or are on a romantic date, for example. It will be able to pair customers looking to share a similar bottle of wine. It will also be able to build profiles for people and make personal recommendations.

But Dawson is adamant that the technology must be "seamless" so that patrons who aren't interested in it can just enjoy the wine. He likened simplifying wine for consumers to how Starbucks simplified coffee, and is looking to make his brand humorous and relaxing, similar to how Nando's has done it.

Dawson, who has a finance background, said he had "been looking for a way to do something unique and interesting that will add value to the industry and do it differently".

The firm won a competition for wine and tech start-up firms at London Wine Fair earlier this month. 33Entrepreneurs, which describes itself as the world's first wine, gastronomy and tourism start-up accelerator, is seeking wine and tech start-ups throughout Europe. As part of the prize, the Humble Grape team will travel to Bordeaux in September to partake in an intensive week of meetings with press, mentors and investors  to work on its concepts.