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CellarTracker wine app grew during the pandemic. Here’s what’s next


Eric LeVine is the founder and CEO at CellarTracker. He visits his Seattle cellar.

Talia Levine

There was no internet before there was FacebookCellarTracker existed.

Eric LeVine former MicrosoftAn employee fell in love wine during a bike trip to Italy. In 2003, he created the site for himself and then released it to public one year later. His day job was ended in 2005.

CellarTracker saw its growth explode during the Covid-19 crisis, when wine stores went online and wine consumers searched for places that could help them learn about wine. CNBC caught up with LeVine for the inside story on the app’s beginnings — and how CellarTracker’s founder sees his prospects for the future.

CellarTracker is a site where you can search wine varietals online and then buy bottles from other sites like Vivino. LeVine didn’t place e-commerce at the top of his priorities. The app was designed to help wine lovers manage their wine inventory, determine when they should open bottles, and plan for what the next step is.

This seemed exactly what the users desired. CellarTracker has 11 million unique users annually. Tens of thousands of people pay to use the service which provides 9 million wine reviews for almost 4,000,000 different wines.

It’s growing along with other wine-oriented businesses as online shoppers increase their spending.

CellarTracker took an unknown amount from angel investors in November 2020 and began a new path.

LeVine stated that “what I am trying to do right now is a startup.” In 2021, there were 13 employees in the company, up from 4 in 2014. There are also new hires in engineering, marketing and data science. LeVine indicated that he would like to try new things and find more revenue.

Gone digital

It is perfect timing. During the pandemic, wine industry has gone digital. According to an analysis, even after lockdowns were in place, U.S. wine consumption declined by 1% to 2020, compared with the same period a year earlier. estimateInternational Organization of Vine and Wine. Rob McMillan founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division, stated that in November online channels accounted for over 9% U.S. wineries total sales. This is up from the 2% recorded in April 2020. In five years, he said it could reach 20% of all wineries’ sales.

The tasting rooms were shut down by wineries in March 2020. People also stopped going to restaurants. These two events took away the revenue streams that wineries had taken for granted.

Michael Kennedy, the founder of Component winery in Napa Valley, and Bordeaux, said that “almost overnight we went from having a great start to a difficult year to actually losing all our restaurant, hotel, and wine shop businesses overnight.”

Wineries with larger wineries used traditional distribution channels to transport their wine directly to the grocery stores. In smaller areas, foot traffic has declined. However, customers continue to shop in supermarkets via delivery services like Instacart.

Some wineries have their wine clubs that ship bottles directly to members. There was also a small number of wineries that did not diversify to make the most of digital sales. Pierre Rogers, the managing partner, stated that Yahyn was an online wine retailer. It started in 2019 but struggled with answering calls from wineries. However, it suddenly began receiving 15 inquiries per semaine in March and April 2020.

The wine industry saw a boom in investment. Venture capital and private equity are bringing capital into this space. I’ve seen it in the last year and a half, two years,” said Irv Goldman, CEO of Acker Merrall & Condit, a company that holds wine auctions and maintains a New York shop. Between February 2020 and August 2021 the website had twice as many visitors.

The online wine club is another development. WincDebuted at the New York Stock Exchange on November 1, and Vintage Wine EstatesAfter merging with a company that was specifically for acquisitions, the Nasdaq Composite began trading a group of wineries in June.

“If you didn’t do well in the pandemic, you made some mistakes because it was a good time to be a wine retailer,” said Gary Westby, the Champagne buyer at K&L Wine Merchants, which has three California stores.

Some investors doubt their chances of success in the wine market. But entrepreneurs are more optimistic. Heini Zachariassen is the founder of Vivino. Vivino allows customers to search for wine online by taking photos and scanning labels using their smartphones. Vivino is a popular online wine retailer with over 55 million customers. announcedAn $155 million round of funding was launched in February by an investor at the estimated valuationFrom $500m to $1 Billion

CellarTracker: What next?

CellarTracker has not yet joined the Vivino League. In the nine years since its inception, CellarTracker’s website has not seen much change. Its background is a combination of light yellow, burgundy and blue. The text uses the long-standing Microsoft fonts Georgia and Verdana. In 2014, the company launched its mobile apps. On the homepage, you can see LeVine’s private cellar.

Profil pages of individual wines show user-generated “community taste notes”, scores on the 100-point scale and percentages consumed. You can view other popular wines, add and remove wine from your cellar, make public or private comments, upload images of labels, send food pairing suggestions, or even post label photos.

Prior to the 2012 redesign, notifications were absent, as well as no hovering over small wines with miniature profiles. Side panels that contained rich information did not appear next to search results. LeVine created a traditional mode to allow users access the older interface. This was done in order to please those who are not open to change.

He said, “We have people like, Don’t ever remove the classic site, and don’t modify a thing’.” It’s not uncommon for a small group of people to be like these. Listening to only those people might mean they will be the only ones using this site one day.

The site is well-known to the old guard, but it doesn’t attract millions of people each month. The site isn’t doing anything with data that can be replicated by other companies.

CellarTracker’s worth is acknowledged by many others. LeVine stated that he has exited nine joint ventures and acquisitions after realizing the value of CellarTracker.

He decided instead to invest outside capital in CellarTracker, which he did under his terms. Brad Goldberg was the former general manager for Microsoft’s Search Business. LeVine met Goldberg in 1997.

Eric Hullander was the first data scientist hired by the company in 2021. started making observationsHow long wine can mature. Numerous data scientists are employed by large social media networks like Facebook or Microsoft’s LinkedIn to analyze and develop features based on data.

LeVine explained that LeVine is creating an advisory group from wineries so they can figure out their needs, such as presence on the site or information for consumers.

Retailers are another option. CellarTracker users have scores and more reviews than professionals critics. These can provide context that could help online retailers.

The company is keen to continue with caution to protect the reputation of the site as a wine geek productivity app.

“No creepy sh**, in a nutshell,” LeVine said. When you take a broad view of technology and social media, it’s clear that there is a lot of companies who do very creepy things to our data. It’s not happening.

CellarTracker is actually too quiet.

LeVine explained that if Levine emails people two times a year it is a lot. We’ll do more and allow people to turn it up or down.

CellarTracker updates are less frequent due to the relative absence of nudging.

Jackson Rohrbaugh is a Master Sommier and President of Crunchy Red Fruit’s online wine club in Seattle. He uses an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of his collection, but he also visits CellarTracker for tasting notes.

He said, “There are times when it’s super useful.” It’s a great community, which has come together to offer these interesting notes on wine. He reads reviews skeptically. Sometimes, people may appear experts, but in reality, they’re not.

However, this doesn’t mean wine lovers can’t be judged the same as critics. A 2016 Vox analysisCellarTracker user wine scores were positive in correlation to scores published by Jancis Robinson (International Wine Cellar and Wine Advocate)

Rohrbaugh also has reservations about scoring high marks from critics. Rohrbaugh said they could try five wine in one go, but that isn’t how many people consume wine.

Critics can be of value, even though there are so many options available for consumers. Subscribers pay for the ability to hear from critics.

Tim Komada was the founding partner and managing director of Venture firm Deep Fork Capital. Tim used to subscribe to Wine Spectator as well as Wine Advocate but he decided not anymore. Instead, he now subscribes to CellarTracker every year.

He wrote an email saying that he was more inclined to trust CT’s wine rating system and the community ratings system, than he is to publish a single critic’s score/rating.

Komada moved from San Francisco to Philadelphia just before the pandemic.

He said, “If it isn’t there, it just completely loses track of it.”

CellarTracker helps you find the bottles and determine how valuable they are.

He stated, “I mean this not in a bad manner, but it kinda reminds me Craigslist, versus the rest of us who have come against it.” It’s there. It is the industry standard. Functional enough. There have been other companies who raised billions of dollars to do similar things. CellarTracker survived and prospered.”

Vintrust, which Komada founded in 2003 and that stored wine for collectors as well as helped them manage their inventory, was not able to survive. Vintrust is the successor to it. shut downCellarTracker had been its consumer storage business since 2009. However, LeVine was initially interested in purchasing CellarTracker in 2009. Komada stated that he prefers organic growth.

Party of regret

Friends and family gathered in Seattle’s Bisato Italian Restaurant to mark the 50th anniversary of LeVine, and Suzi, respectively. LeVine, his former Microsoft colleague, had already ordered several bottles of Barolo & Burgundy wines to ensure that people didn’t go home empty-handed. LeVine got to talk with Goldberg later in the evening.

LeVine was trying to decide what to do next after he had received an offer to buy the company’s control. LeVine told Goldberg that they should meet up and found a place to sit together. Goldberg informed LeVine that he’d advised CEOs in the past and would be happy to assist.

LeVine, Goldberg spoke for several hours about their plans two days later over coffee. Goldberg stated that LeVine was “clear” about what he desired.

LeVine stated, “I was so careful.” I saw many other things go wrong because of my ambition. CellarTracker failed because it didn’t have enough ambition.

Goldberg, the wine entrepreneur, and Russ Morgan brought Russ Morgan into their business. Russ Morgan had previously worked as a manager at Goldberg. AmazonMicrosoft. Later, Morgan joined CellarTracker as the operating chief. LeVine was offered a variety of choices by Goldberg, which included an investment. He chose that option.

An 18-year old company might not have found institutional venture funding too risky. Goldberg says that it was better to have cultural alignment from individual investors. In his fifteen years of CellarTracker, he has published 185 tasting note.

Goldberg indicated that it is possible to simplify existing functions for members who are new to the system, as well as make them more useful for those searching for what products to buy. If the initiatives prove successful, more can be added. Goldberg stated that the company may be able to take in more external money over time.

LeVine declared, “I want CellarTracker be thriving 10, 20, or 40 years from now.”

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