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Wine start-up savours $1m funding

E-commerce and subscription outfit The French Cellar now valued at $5m

[SINGAPORE] A Singapore start-up looking to disrupt the way that Asian wine lovers purchase and appreciate wine has raised some $1 million in Series A funding, and is now valued at $5 million just eight months after its launch, its chief executive officer Vincent Morello told The Business Times.

The French Cellar, the first wine subscription e-commerce platform in Asia, lets users discover exclusive French wines that are not sold in the region and personally handpicked by resident sommelier Nicolas Rebut, a former chef sommelier at two 3-starred Michelin restaurants: Louis XV (Monaco) and Le Meurice (Paris). Upon subscription, members receive two different wines - along with wine tasting notes - monthly, and they can also re-order their favourite bottles whenever they wish to, at a discounted price.

This latest round of funding comes from ESW Manage, a Singapore-headquartered private equity firm. Post-money, ESW will own a 20 per cent stake in The French Cellar; its founder and chairman Wong Yat Foo will also join the start-up as a director.

This comes shortly after Jackie Lee, managing partner at Kyosei Ventures, joined The French Cellar as chairman in March.

"Our immediate plans are to increase the adoption of wine subscription as the preferred way to consume wine in Singapore, as well as expand into Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Japan through joint ventures or greenfield projects," said Dr Morello.

Demand for curated wine subscription and guided wine discovery is growing in Asia, he added.

"For one thing, wine lovers find it a challenge to choose their French wines because of the sheer volume of available choices. In France, there are currently over 300 appellations, and 115,000 winemakers producing more than seven billion bottles of wine yearly. This diversity is both an attraction and a problem."

Moreover, mass affluents - the fastest growing segment in Asia - increasingly desire to learn more about their purchases as much as they desire high-quality goods. The French Cellar's wine discovery model - with tasting notes - allows this, said Dr Morello.

Building a community of wine lovers is also something the start-up takes pride in. It holds at least one wine tasting session monthly, for members to discover new wines and network.

"We believe this is a happier and cooler way to run the business, rather than just a cold e-commerce website. When we flew Mr Rebut down for a recent wine tasting session to meet with our members, the response was electrifying," gushed Dr Morello.

The French Cellar currently boasts "hundreds of subscribers", and has clocked over $250,000 in revenue since October 2013. It most recently emerged as one of Asia's Top 50 Start-ups at Echelon 2014 - the largest tech start-up conference in Asia - and will be exhibiting at the event later this week.