To kick off my new Wine Chat series please allow me to introduce the craft beer fanatic and startup whiz Michael Werner. Yes, you did read that right, my wine lover friends. I said the b-word. Michael co-founded the groundbreaking SYNEK company which is transforming the beer industry with its innovative countertop dispenser system. Proud owners of SYNEK units can enjoy a fresh glass of virtually any beer available on draft without having to trot down to the local pub (or bar for my dear American readers).
To complete the modernization of our home bars, the SYNEK team have now come up with Somm which works just like your own personal wine waiter. Using special 2.25 litre wine cartridges called Sylos, Somm ensures that you get a perfect pour with every glass of wine by chilling and aerating the wine just as the winemaker him/herself would serve it. Oh and did I mention it also cleans itself?! Time to sack the staff!
Wine Culturist: Beer is obviously a big part of your life. What wines do you like to drink when you’re not quaffing craft brews?
Michael Werner: Haha! Usually a cab or shiraz. I go for wines with a solid body and not too much dryness or intensely oaky and fruit-forward wines. My girlfriend tries to hold me to the rule “white when the sun is up, red when it’s down”, although she doesn’t always succeed!
Wine Culturist: Tell me about your background. Has Somm changed your attitude to wine?
Michael Werner: SYNEK was started around my two early passions: starting and building small businesses with vision, mission and purpose, and craft beer. I’ve been on the startup scene since I could pour the pitcher at the proverbial childhood lemonade stand. And then in my early twenties I developed a love for the art, history, craftsmanship, pride, and not-too-serious disposition of the fine people that start, own and manage craft breweries. They are small business owners who put their craft, their neighbors and local economy, the environment, and citizenship before money and business. Plus I enjoyed the complexity, quality, and deliciousness of craft beer!
During this period of my life, I also developed an interest and enjoyment with wine, but it was never front and center. SYNEK’s mantra is “Craftsmanship deserves to be shared”. There were natural parallels in taking our company from beer into wine, and most importantly the timing, climate, and demand by business partners and customers in the wine space is what brought us to Somm. That said, I am in no way falling out of love with craft beer, but I have found myself, just like our customers, curious about developing my wine palate. I enjoy spending quality time with my girlfriend and we actually drink wine more often than beer!
Wine Culturist: Apart from beer-loving wine converts like yourself, who is Somm for?
Michael Werner: Somm is for anyone interested in advancing their wine knowledge and palate in the most efficient and convenient way possible. Whether you’re a wine newbie or a sommelier, everyone who loves wine is interested in learning more about it, discovering the best wines, their own palate, the story behind the wine and vineyard, etc. These resources are scattered, fragmented, or incomplete right now, but Somm brings these all together.
Somm is a fantastic product both for gadget or tech-savvy Millennials who might be new to wine as well as those who know their Burgundy from their Bordeaux and are open to exploring the new age of the “Internet of Things”.
Somm is also for wineries. Somm allows them access to information about their demand and sales, plus a higher-quality, less expensive, and more eco-friendly way of packaging their wine. Similar to any big data company, we can collect and repackage data from Somm users to make wineries smarter, more efficient, and most importantly to help them offer even better wine. And what business in any industry isn’t interested in transporting and storing their product in a significantly more efficient, higher-quality, and eco-friendly way?
Wine Culturist: You say that Somm “learns your palate”. Tell me more about that.
Michael Werner: Just like Pandora for music or Netflix for entertainment, as you engage with Somm and rate wines based on their qualities Somm learns even your very minute preferences. Somm then begins to teach you about your palate and recommends wines based around it. Think of your Netflix selections and recommendations on Day 2 of your membership versus Day 200+. Somm not only helps you along your way, but further aggregates the profiles and styles of the entire Somm community. Somm can then make recommendations based on your similarities to other Somm owners. Plus this information tells our in-house sommeliers which wineries and wines to pursue more often.
Wine Culturist: You’re launching with a range of 30 wines. How did you choose the wines?
We deferred entirely to our team of in-house sommeliers led by Denise Mueller of St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Denise manages a wine bar, runs a wine school, and has several other wine-related certifications alongside the sommelier title. She was taxed with developing a selection that spanned all “palates, prices, and places”. We wanted to include everything from an everyday dinner wine costing $10-15/bottle to a special occasion $75-125+/bottle, from oaky cabernet to buttery chardonnay, and from Napa Valley to New Zealand. The important thing was to assuage any concerns that Somm purchasers may not have a “place to start”. So we have the 30 launch wines, and literally by the day we’ll add new wineries who’ll offer wines through Sylos in Somm.
Wine Culturist: Any ideas about what wines you’d like to include in the future?
Michael Werner: The technical answer is no. We’ll go where our community’s palate goes. On a personal side of things, though, I’d love to explore the new wines coming out of New Zealand and China. I’d love to have access to some of the more hard to find Pacific Northwest vineyards. From a varietal standpoint, I need to learn about my palate for white wines, specifically chardonnays. Up to now I have been developing my palate for cabs the “old school” way! My first initiative with Somm will be chardonnays.
Wine Culturist: Walk me through the process of creating Somm. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face during this period?
Michael Werner: Usually the toughest part of creating an innovative product like Somm is the technology, as well as the research and development. Fortunately since this is our second product focused on the beverage industry we already had most of that in place and we were able to apply a lot of the same tech.
What’s harder is crafting the right pitch for consumers. People in all walks of life can “understand” the product to some degree; it’s more about ‘what would make them purchase it?’ We’ve found that for the wine-literate, Somm’s main appeal is the discovery engine and extensive shelf-life. Somm allows you to drink as much or as little wine as you want without losing any quality after “opening” each 2.25 litre wine Sylo.
For younger people or those newer to wine, Somm’s main appeal is the connectivity and ability to fast-track the advancement of their wine knowledge and palate.
Wine Culturist: How is Somm different to other new wine gadgets like, for example, the Kuvée smart bottle?
Michael Werner: Somm is the first connected, all-in-one wine dispenser. There are apps and digital products that don’t actually serve wine and there are dispensers that don’t connect to anything digitally. The idea with Somm is to augment the entire wine experience from beginning to end, to bring wine into the 21st century while still being respectful and reverent to the tradition of winemaking and consumption.
No other company or product has our proprietary packaging technology (patent-pending multi-layer material), state of the art recommendation algorithm, or exclusive partnerships with industry leaders like JustWine and The Wine Tasting Network.
Unlike Somm, Kuvée does not integrate with an app or platform outside of the interface on the product. But more importantly, Kuvée doesn’t provide a perfect pour to the winemakers specifications (refrigerate, aerate, store), nor does it offer consumers the element of discovery which makes using Somm so enthralling and addictive!
Wine Culturist: How do you think Somm will change the wine industry?
We’re simply bringing in 21st century technology such as digital interaction, the recommendation engine and cutting-edge packaging which is more eco-friendly and dramatically increases shelf-life. Wine is fantastic; it’s perfect. We are changing the inefficiencies and expensive practices that create barriers for consumers and stop producers from growing. SYNEK’s mantra is “Craftsmanship deserves to be shared.” A wine producer shouldn’t have to miss out on a customer or dilute their quality to reach them. A consumer shouldn’t have to limit their selection or be overwhelmed to enjoy wine. We want wine to be the highest-quality and most accessible it can be.
Wine Culturist: Where are you in the development plan at the moment?
The dispenser is fully designed and ready for mass production. Same for the Sylos. We will simply use our current manufacturers, distribution channels, and warehouses that SYNEK has already in place thanks to the beer dispenser success. After raising a whopping $650,000 on Kickstarter to fund the creation of Synek, we decided to use the same funding model for Somm. After the crowdfunding campaign closes, we will begin working with our development team to build the mobile app and platform. We will also continue to expand our wine offering by partnering with more and larger wineries worldwide.
Tell me why you decided to use Kickstarter for your first project Synek and now for Somm. Has using crowdfunding changed or affected how you develop the business?
A crowdfunding campaign is the ultimate market research campaign. Successful or not (obviously the former is preferred!), you are opening yourself up to the market and seeing how it responds. You have an immediate understanding of how your pitch is received, and you are able to quickly refine and respond to consumers.If it does well, you have now developed sales and a community without giving up equity to investors or paying for production or marketing. In short, to us it is the most lean and efficient way to go to market and maintain the most creative and strategic control. It affected how we develop the business tremendously.
Wine Culturist: So what are the next steps for Somm?
Like with the SYNEK Beer dispenser, we continue the pre-order campaign on a local site (not Kickstarter) while continuing to develop the strategic business partnerships. Production will begin immediately for a launch scheduled prior to Christmas 2016. Also like with our beer unit, once fulfillment is complete, the next step would be to further develop the Somm community (encourage meeting up, interaction with each other and winemakers). We plan to dive deeper into home winemaking communities and develop the ability to put any wine from anywhere in a Sylo on one’s own.
Wine Culturist: Sounds fantastic! Any final words?
Michael Werner: A shameless plug to pre-order now on Kickstarter! If you’re at all interested, please “Back This Project” now. Kickstarter backers can save $100 on the full retail price, plus we’re offering limited time “Kickstarter-only prices” of up to 50%+ off on our wines and a 100% money back guarantee at any time before, during, or after purchase if you change your mind or are dissatisfied. You have nothing to lose, and the new age of the world of wine to gain!
Full disclosure: Please note that this post was sponsored by the charming creators of Somm. I only ever feature products which I genuinely love and believe in on my blog, but feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about my policies.