Napa’s tech-driven wine club sales exceed 700,000 cases

Philip James, a computer chemist by training, and Erik Steigler in 2015 founded Penrose Hill Ltd., which operates the subscription wine club now called Firstleaf.

The company’s business model is to tailor expedition recommendations based on members’ taste preferences, ratings of wines already tried, budget and timing of how often they want to get wine. Firstleaf said on its LinkedIn profile that it has more than 150,000 active members.

The company said it sold more than 700,000 cases of 12 bottles of wine last year, and nearly a million consumers have tried the club since its launch.

Firstleaf said it works with winemakers in 12 countries on five continents, then blends its own wines in Napa Valley. The society offers its members wines for around $15 a bottle, according to its website.

James got into the wine business in 2005 after earning an MBA from Columbia University. Through a friend, he was asked to run The Wine Messenger, a small New York state wine importer that sells direct to consumer, according to an interview in Authority Magazine and LinkedIn profile. of James.

During his nearly two years there, he launched Snooth Media, which has grown into an extensive wine review and portfolio of lifestyle sites. In 2010 he quit after founding wine club Lot18 and was CEO there for nearly four years.

Firstleaf raised $10.9 million in funding in 2017 and 2018, plus a seed round, according to funding tracker Crunchbase.

Napa returned to the Inc. 5000 list of fast-growing companies this year, ranking 1,725 ​​with revenue growth of 357% from 2018 to last year, the list’s main ranking indicator. The Napa Company debuted on the list last year at No. 1,020, with revenue growth of 473% in 2017-20.

“Firstleaf’s expertise in winemaking and technology enables us to offer the best wine selections for every consumer, from beginners to experts,” James said in an announcement regarding Firstleaf’s return to the Inc. 5000 list. “We look forward to continuing to grow in this $70 billion wine market and offering wine personalized to individual tastes.”

Firstleaf was named one of the “World’s Most Innovative Companies” by Fast Company magazine in the Data Science category and was recognized as one of the Top 50 Wineries by Wine Business Monthly. Last year, the company was named Wine Company of the Year in the Winemaker Challenge International competition, judged by professional producers.

Company officials could not be reached for this story.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before joining the Business Journal in 1999, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. Contact him at [email protected] or 707-521-4256.

Correction, August 24, 2022: Firstleaf offers subscribers the wines it produces. The original version of the story stated that the club was a third-party supplier, sourcing wines from other winemakers.

Elisha A. Tilghman