Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Naked Wines press tasting: 'The next big thing is Burgundy, Bordeaux and Rhone'

Published:  15 September, 2023

From start-up to grown-up, Naked Wines’ press tasting in central London boasted a growing range of French classics to complement its portfolio of independent winemakers from across the world.

Since its split from Majestic in 2019, Naked Wines, led by wine director Ray O’Connor MW and buying director Matt Smith, has looked to re-establish itself as a solo entity with a serious portfolio.

“In the last 12 months, we’ve done a reasonable amount of work in France, which is still our biggest category,” said O’Connor.

“Wines that we haven’t traditionally sold much of, such as Burgundy, Northern Rhone and Bordeaux have been doing well for us, and we’ve expanded our range in those regions to fulfil those demands,” O’Connor added.

In typical Naked fashion, they have been going against the grain, diversifying their range in the complete opposite way to their competitors, which are more likely to target wines from lesser-known regions to improve diversification.

O’Connor continued: “Back in the day, we said that our model can’t change the economics of those Old World regions, but we can make a real difference with the likes of Chile and South Africa as a start-up, and now that we are sort of grown-up we are like, ‘you know what, some people just like to drink Bordeaux’. 

“Who would’ve thought it, the next big thing is Burgundy, Bordeaux and Rhone.”

The fact that Naked is looking towards French classics now, 15 years after it was first formed, is an indication of the company’s ethos of championing unique wines from independent winemakers.

“We’ve always been really strong in finding value in further-flung places and I suppose the other good thing about the model is that we can always involve our customers in decision-making. For example, taking capsules off our wine, we put that to a vote before we did it,” said Matt Smith.

Customer feedback has always been a large part of the Naked model, with members able to speak directly to winemakers, something which other retailers have been less willing to do. As a result, polarising reviews from members are not uncommon and are a welcome change from other wine e-commerce channels that implausibly have 5-star rated wines from top-to-toe.

O’Connor said: “We’ve also been turning up the noise around our ‘benchmarking’, which is something we’ve been doing since 2018. Basically, every single wine on the website says the ‘member price’ and then the ‘market price’, which essentially says what it's comparison wine would taste like.”

He continued: “So we taste wines blind with Chateauneuf du Pape, for example, and we don’t need to beat them, but we need to be on par with them. And it’s completely transparent, consumers can hover over and read about the wines we tasted against, where we bought them, Majestic, Berry Bros. and so on – we call it ‘radical transparency’.”

But do the likes of Berry Bros. & Rudd mind these sorts of price comparisons?

O’Connor replied: “They are all making a lot of money out of us, I think we spent £12,600 last year on this project, and we’ve never had any negative feedback from any other retailer. Every buying team will do some benchmarking, I guess the difference with us is that it’s more consumer-orientated, to show how we’ve arrived at our pricing.”

As well as improving its range of French classics, Naked has focused on improving its already impressive sustainability credentials over the past 18 months.

Luke Landers, senior sustainability manager, Naked Wines said: “Naked has always done things in a more sustainable way, but we weren’t as strategic or deliberate about it as we are now.

“The Naked model has always encouraged new initiatives. For example, trying lighter bottles wasn’t a hard sell at Naked, whereas it might’ve been somewhere else, because we understand all the benefits, it’s still all about the wine and that’s the key thing.”

O’Connor continued: “There was a need to formalise our sustainability model because we became a PLC, and you just had this ESG lens on you, so there was a need to summarise and report on it, but we were sort of already doing it, we shipped 250,000 bottles in bulk, so we were bottling closer to market, so we had that element too.

“And, of course, we’ve gone for lighter-weight bottles, capsule-less wines and we’ve increased our boxed wine range.”

However, sustainability can come in all shapes and sizes, For example, Naked’s Artelan high-altitude Tempranillo uses grapes from over 200 different growers. Normally, these grapes would go for 80 cents a kilo but Tao Platon, the winemaker, insists on paying around €1.20, providing the growers keep the vines in the ground and continue to grow and manage them. Initiatives like this are helping to sustain independent winemakers and the communities they operate in. 

Of course, Naked is not a charity, despite its many charitable initiatives, and the duty hikes will have an effect on all in the industry. Like many businesses, Naked has had to put up prices slightly, but this hasn’t put off customers.

Smith said: “We’ve told our winemakers about the duty impact, we’ve had to pass costs on to our customers because of the transparency in our cost chain, but our attrition figures are actually at a record low, so it’s really encouraging.”

O’Connor added: “We got more pulled-up by customers for having a go at the Chancellor, to be honest.”

Naked won’t be overhauling the range anytime soon either, to better align itself with the hikes, as has been the line with most retailers – quality will always take precedence.

Smith said: “There are quick wins we need to look at, such as making sure abv labelling is the lowest it can legally be, and exploring what can be reduced without compromising on quality. And, in terms of range development, I think the hikes at least come with a general consumer trend for lighter drinking.”

O’Connor concluded: “People know what they like to drink, and if we have put up costs by 50p or £1, then so does everyone else, it is just the way it is unfortunately.”