Shedding wine's stuffy image

"Drink it daily, call it a juice cleanse," says the cheeky description for a white wine sold by online wine retailer Vinomofo, the latest entry to the wine scene here.

But instead of a grape juice, it is a 12-bottle case of 2015 Calmel & Joseph "Villa Blanche" Chardonnay. At what works out to be $23 a bottle, the French wine is being sold at 23 per cent off the recommended retail price on Vinomofo, which sells premium wines at wholesale prices.

Membership is free on the site, which delivers wines in cases of six or 12 bottles to your doorstep.

Cases contain either one type or a mix of different bottles. If you do not like the wines, it offers free returns.

Sales kicked off on Dec 6, with Singapore as the first Asian outpost of the brand that allows customers to buy wine at discounts ranging from 10 to 70 per cent.

The Australia- based company branched out to New Zealand in June this year.

Even the tasting notes are irreverent. The Villa Blanche Chardonnay would be described as a "pale and limpid green dress" in wine parlance.

But Vinomofo's far more casual take on it says: "We weren't exactly sure how a pale green dress should taste on the palate, but after tasting, we reckon you should match this tasty chardy with an open shirt, sensible hat and a cool, tropical breeze."

It is all part of the founders' move to "democratise" wine and open it up to everyone, taking it away from being stuffy and inaccessible to something for the everyman.

"It was about breaking down the conservative language that Australia had around wine and speaking to a new generation about it in real, plain language," says Mr Andre Eikmeier, 44, who co-founded Vinomofo with his brother-in-law, Mr Justin Dry, in 2011.

Both of them were in Singapore earlier this month for the launch of the website,

Mr Dry, 39, shares Mr Eikmeier's sentiments. Having studied wine in university and coming from a family whose ancestors planted the first shiraz vines in the Barossa Valley 150 years ago, he says walking into boutique wine shops 10 years ago felt like entering "elitist territory".

"If it was intimidating for me as someone who is passionate about wine, how does everyone else feel?" he says.

The self-confessed wine nerds tell The Sunday Times that they do not sell anything they would not drink themselves.

Hence, the wines curated for sale are from top wine-makers only, with less than 5 per cent of what they taste making the cut.

"It's not about dumbing it down, but speaking about wine like you might speak about food," Mr Eikmeier says.

"Also, you guys pay too much for wine here," Mr Dry says.

The wines on offer on the Singapore Vinomofo site range from $24 a bottle for a 12-bottle case of malbec from the Tulum Valley in Argentina to $90 a bottle for a six-bottle case of premium syrah from the Rhone Valley.

Working with logistics company Ninja Van, the deliveries are climate-controlled so that customers can enjoy the wines immediately upon delivery.

There are 40 to 50 wines on offer at any one time - with white, red and sparkling wines predominantly from Australia. But the company intends to increase the range to 100 eventually.

By buying directly from wineries and bypassing the middleman, prices are kept low.

The company's relationship with wineries also mean it gets special collaboration wines such as the Fanny Limehead Riesling 2016 by Penna Lane Wines in the Clare Valley and the multi-vintage sparkling wine Bisou Bisou Blanc de Blancs NV from De Bortoli, a third-generation wine-maker from the Yarra Valley.

Originally known as Vinomojo, the founders had to change the name to Vinomofo three days before the site's launch in 2011, after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from a similarly named company.

But the name change has won them fans.

"It became this symbol for making wine non-intimidating and accessible in every way," says Mr Eikmeier.

The model has worked so successfully in Vinomofo's home country and New Zealand that the site now has a 500,000 member base.

A recent injection of A$25 million (S$26 million) in funding from Blue Sky Venture Capital will also allow the company to scale up rapidly.

Singapore is the company's second stop after New Zealand and there are plans to expand to the United States and other parts of Asia.

Although just three weeks old here, it has already seen promising response, with $120,000 worth of wines sold in the first 24 hours of the launch and 5,000 sign-ups.

"We sold more wine in the first three days than we budgeted for the first three weeks," Mr Dry says.

This resulted in delivery delays, but the founders feel it is an indication of "very exciting days ahead for Vinomofo and Singapore".

This article was first published on December 25, 2016.
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