The rise of no-name designers


TWO years ago Bill Small toiled at one of New Zealand’s largest wineries, “pushing numbers around spreadsheets” and dreaming of striking out on his own. Today he and his wife, Claudia, make six wines, including three sorts of Sauvignon Blanc, under their own label. They sell them through Naked Wines, a four-year-old company that claims to be Britain’s fastest-growing online wine seller. Most would-be winemakers must flatter distributors, schmooze potential investors and beg for social-media attention. “We don’t do that shoe leather,” says Mr Small.

Like any online vendor Naked Wines bypasses middlemen and shares the savings with customers. But this is trickier for wines than it is for books. How do you convince oenophiles that they are buying fine vintages for plonk prices? Especially when the same bottle is not for sale at the local off-licence? Naked Wines’ answer is to seek out gifted unknowns, provide a stage and draw an audience. The idea is to create cachet without the slog of building brands.