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A Closer Look at Lastbottle.com
By Norm Roby
Jan 26, 2023
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Two years ago my first column for Wine Review Online focused on online wine sellers (not the paid subscription box/membership folks).  Then and now, this virtual wine selling segment within the vast wine market is a bit wild but fun to follow.  When the pandemic came along, everybody in the wine biz, especially these new e-commerce retailers, had to adjust and modify their business plans.  

In the first week of 2023, I was reminded of how much has changed in this direct-to-consumer retail world when I needed to give a special gift of wine to my very special neighbor.  I remembered seeing “My Favorite Neighbor” Cabernet from Paso listed on www.wine.com.  Sure enough, there it was — but at no discount.  Okay, I figured, the Harvey & Harriet winery also has it, and it always seems better to buy direct from the winery, when given a choice.  

Another possibility for a gift was an Italian wine or two since the folks next door are always interested in Italian wines.  Although wine.com has become especially strong in wines from Paso Robles, its Italian wine selections didn’t have much that interested me.  When I checked my emails that day, there was the answer: LastBottle.com.  Throughout December, this site offered many attractive Italian deals such as a 2017 Brunello di Montalcino from Tassi, discounted from $100 to $57 a bottle.  

Its daily deals have been arriving in my mailbox since 2012 and in the early days it featured Napa and Sonoma wines along with a sprinkling of imports.  It played up the flash sale approach which is hardly a relaxing way to start your day shopping for wine under time pressure.

But today, of the two dozen or so sites followed daily, LastBottle.com seems to have emerged from the pack as a serious innovator and trend setter.  It has grown way beyond only flash sales.  

Based in Napa Valley, Last Bottle was founded in 2011 by Brent Pierce and Stefan Blick, who owned and operated a brick & mortar wine shop in St.  Helena.  They started Last ottle “with a completely independent mailing list (organically started and grown).”  From the get-go, the website featured daily deals at highly discounted prices.  

What set it apart early on were the unusual and energized wine descriptions.  Here’s a typical introduction to a featured Shiraz:

“Quick poll...who’s seen the video where the guy rescues his dog from the headlock of a big ol’ kangaroo and then squares off (you might want to Google it)!?  Man, those Aussies are just the best.  Speaking of BEST, how about 94 POINTS and THIRTEEN American dollars (that’s 18.60 Aussie dollars, by the by)??!!  Mount Langi Ghiran SHIRAZ!!!  Pure craziness.”

Or this one about a Barbaresco:

“WOOHOO!!!  If you could make Burgundy with Nebbiolo, this just might be it.  Fine, elegant texture, no heaviness, but STACKED, simply soaring with beautifully fresh and dried roses, red cherry, orange pekoe tea, a dash of allspice and cinnamon, freshly turned earth, and shaved truffles, some toasted hazelnuts...my, oh my!  SO GOOD!  This will age like a champ, too – so get a few extra to save.  We get all contemplative and nostalgic whenever we drink Rivetti.  This is complex, thoughtful, fine, focused, and distinctly reaching for a higher level.”

These atypical wine comments may strike some as silly and irreverent, but their descriptions are clever, creative, and so unlike the mechanical writeups encountered elsewhere.  Seeming unbridled enthusiasm…what a contrast.  Despite seeming a bit off the wall with its commentary, Last Bottle never fails to let readers know they know their stuff.  

The unique sales approach and format was apparently a big success for Last Bottle and by 2018 they morphed the wine merchant side into another website, FirstBottleWines.com.  In a recent conversation, they described it as “the browsable online wine shop complement to Last Bottle.'

As they elaborated, “First Bottle is focused on fine and rare, with an emphasis on in-stock wines.”  In 2019 they acquired the invino.com website and made it part of “the Last Bottle family via acquisition, rounding out our companies as a browsable wine shop with Last Bottle-pricing (deep discounts).”  We move into our current 100K sq ft site, unifying the offices and warehousing of all three brands.  The team continues to grow.”

Yes, there is a third brand, another website.  The newest one is LastBubbles.com, all about sparkling wine.  This may be the e-commerce take on niche marketing.  Is this a niche in time?  Sorry, puns, bad or otherwise, are infectious with these people.

To learn more about the past and future intentions of Last Bottle, we asked a few questions since it is far better to let the folks behind it explain what they are up to and their take on the wine market.

Q (Norm Roby): Who writes the copy?

A (The team at lastbottle): Stefan Blicker is the original, irreverent, notable voice behind Last Bottle.  Stefan just retired and passed the mantle to our current staff writer, Connor Swanson.  Connor is a classically trained chef with deep experience in the fine dining kitchens of Napa Valley.  Additionally, he has held production and hospitality roles at some of our region's greatest wineries.  His start was with a Literature and Creative Writing degree from UC San Diego, and his passion and talent led him to us as the writer across all of our brands.

Q: Did you grow during the Covid shutdown period?

A: We grew during the pandemic for a number of reasons.  The daily deal and legendary accompanying write-ups were a bright spot for our customers in an otherwise dark time.  Reading the email and clicking through to see the price is a morning ritual for many (as a marketer I'm very proud of our astronomical clickthrough rate!) and people appreciate that we stayed true to delivering great wines at killer prices, even during a shutdown.  Folks had to become comfortable buying goods online, and we gained customers from that as well.  Additionally, wineries came to us to help move their inventory that otherwise could not go out via the tasting room, and we were glad to build partnerships to ensure our favorite producers stayed in business.

Q: You say your team tastes 40,000 wines a year, or roughly 800 a week.  Really?  Is that true or hype?

A: This is 100% true.  When the tasting bar becomes too packed with bottles we set them on the floor, and have to carve little paths to get through.  It can seem ridiculous, but it speaks to our commitment to assessing every wine to find the gems that make it into a daily offer.  

Q: Why do wineries turn to you to sell at such deep discounts?  Cash flow?  End of vintage?

A: Wineries understand that exposure to our list of mega-fans is worth its weight in gold.

Q: Do all wines come to your warehouse or do you arrange shipments from wineries, distributors?

A: Last Bottle HQ is in Napa Valley, along with our warehouse.  We have shipping hubs on both coasts to ensure that packages arrive quickly and with the wine in great condition.

Q: I’ve noticed there were numerous Italian wines offered in December.  Is there a big demand for them or were the deals hard to pass up?

A: "Italian wines have always been a favorite of ours here at Last Bottle.  This winter we had the opportunity to offer a range of labels that arrived from some recent buying trips we took to Italy, and from ongoing relationships with our winery contacts there.  Last Bottle shoppers have had a huge appetite for Italian wines, and these offers have been doing especially well for us.  It's been a virtuous cycle — the more we sell, the cooler the wines we've been able to source."

Q: What are the trends going into 2023?  Are Napa wines still hot or are buyers looking elsewhere?

A: "Napa wines will always be a perennial favorite, and we generally see a split between folks who are Napa/ Sonoma die-hards, and those that are excited to explore the whole state."

Q: What are people interested in from South Africa?

A: "While Chenin Blanc tends to be the big name in South African wine, we've kept coming back to some incredible Sauvignon Blancs and Cabernet Sauvignons from this wine region."

Q:  Where do you see sales growth coming from?

A: Last Bottle launched a new site in October: Last Bubbles, the first and only daily wine deal that is 100% sparkling.  Every day (right around the time you pour your first mimosa) subscribers can expect an email from us with a hand-picked sparkler priced well-below retail, with free shipping on multiple bottles and sold until it's gone (as in: first come, first served!)  Our team is endlessly enthusiastic about sparkling wine, and we knew it wasn't just us because the Last Bottle offers of bubbles sell out fast.  

Q: Anyway, a few comments on market trends from your team would be most appreciated.  

A: "A trend we're seeing is a real growth in knowledge of and comfort with Old World wines.  This is a bit of a snap-back from a few years ago where trendy styles and obscure varietals were all the rage and oft-requested.  There's still a spirit of adventure, but it's leaning more toward depth than breadth."

Well, there you have it: a few insights into the minds behind the three brands.  

I don't think they will suffer from overconfidence because there are several other websites that are coming on strong.  Among them are WineSpies.com, ReverseWineSnob.com and WineAccess.com.

And before I forget, my neighbors enjoyed the wines.  

More by Norm:   Norm Roby
More columns:   Wine Columns