By Dawn Dolan
Katy Michaud is delighted to be the first winemaker from Washington selected to make a vintage for NakedWines.com, but just how does one get to be a winemaker for the crowdfunding wine platform?
According to Michaud, it can happen in a few ways. NakedWines.com’s Angel investors can make a request, and if there’s enough interest to support a particular winemaker, they will ask that winemaker if he or she can work on a project for them. If you are a high-profile winemaker, and your wines are well known and loved, you may also get asked directly from NakedWines.com to make a particular wine or vintage.
Lastly, Michaud said, that NakedWines.com scouts for solid, up and coming winemakers that they feel their Angels would enjoy having on board. This last method is how she was asked to make wine for the organization. “I got a call asking if I’d be interested in being their first Washington winemaker. I’d seen people talking about NakedWines.com on Facebook, so I tried to understand it as a company and it seemed really cool.”
Once she agreed, Michaud received a request to make a 2014 Columbia Valley Riesling. With her winemaking contacts and experience at Pacific Rim Wines, Washington’s second largest producer of wines, she was able to work out some vineyard lots in tanks that fit the taste profile she was shooting for.
“I was initially asked for 2,500 cases. A few months later they wanted to increase that number to 5,000.” Fortunately, given her access to many small lots of juice, Michaud was able to taste through samples and match the Riesling profile she’d already selected for presentation to NakedWines.com.
Her first release generated a high level of interest from the Angel community, with 82% of first time tasters saying they would purchase the Riesling again. Michaud was then asked to produce a 2015 vintage, and for this round, the request came in time for her to select vineyards before harvest. “Last year I needed a baseline to start with, so I created a Riesling with the residual sugar and acidity that most people want to see.”
Although the Angels did not get to weigh in on the initial offering, Michaud interacts with them frequently on the NakedWines.com website. “It is a big job responding and engaging with them as the Angels are all very passionate about wine,” said Michaud, “There are times when ten or twenty people are chiming in with their real-time metric, and I try to always keep this in mind. By using the international federation sweetness scale, people can understand better about where it [the wine] falls.” (The International Riesling Foundation has a Riesling Taste Profile scale, used on millions of wine bottles in the U.S.) Michaud plans to keep the wine similar stylistically for the 2015 vintage, but reduce the residual sugar slightly, thanks to feedback from the Angels.
Angels, regardless of their level of experience with wine, can respond to the winemaker in a semi-anonymous way. Michaud feels that the anonymity lends a level of freedom in their comments, without the extremes of either tip-toeing around questions or comments, or the flip side of posturing that can happen when people talk together from the winemaking world.
The ownership of the wine is somewhat undefined to Michaud. She feels that she owns the style of the wine, and even the direction of the package and labeling, but ultimately, the Angels own the wine as they “own” the company, and they paid for the grapes.
Michaud was happy to work on the artistic direction of the label as this was her first stint with the process of complete creative label development. In her opinion, the label and the wine go hand-in-hand in expressing the character and style of the wine. She was looking for a package that represented the wine, with clean lines, no rounded corners, and without being too fussy. “I’m not whimsical,” Michaud says, “so like the clean expression of Riesling, the label design had to be crisp.”
Michaud has now been asked to make a white wine for the second consecutive year, and she speculates whether there is interest from the Angels to make something wackier, or whether to stick to a more mainstream wine. “I have the ability to pitch different wines to see if they’d like me to make something else for them.” At some point she may submit samples of different wine varietals and styles to see if they make the NakedWines.com cut. Angels should stay tuned to see what else might be in this winemaker’s future.