Q&A with Matthew Wilson, Founder of Soutirage Wine Merchants
If you didn’t know about the wine merchant Soutirage, it would be easy to make the mistake of asking Founder Matt Wilson to share his list of the best wines of 2012. After all, “Best Of” lists are the high-holiday rule, not the exception. Then again, Soutirage is the exception to just about every standard marketing rule in its belief that wine is simply too personal an experience to be summarized in catch-all lists. So instead of a Best of 2012 list from this rapidly growing Napa Valley-based luxury wine merchant, XOJET asked Matt Wilson to share some of his own experiences with the business of wine.
XOJET: First, tell us how Soutirage came to be.
MW: The inspiration for my partners and I to start Soutirage was to really revolutionize the way fine wine is sold by creating a company focused on mentorship and access. Before founding Soutirage, I had worked in fine wine sales and private services for 10 years in New York. My partners—Chadwick Meyer and Aimee Meyer—and I realized that the experience most people were having, when it came to fine wine, was incomplete. We saw an increasing number of smart, interesting and successful people yearning for more depth in service and knowledge which nobody was catering to. We founded Soutirage in 2005, went live in 2007, and are actually doing business a very old-fashioned way—with high-touch tailored services that are highly discreet, with access to fine and rare wines of great provenance.
XOJET: What is Soutirage’s philosophy?
MW: We turned a “one-size-fits-all” approach to wine sales on its head, seeking to connect enthusiasts with wine through custom services and experiences. We purposely keep the list of services on our website quite general, because our goal is to provide services at every level, not limit them. The most precious commodity our clients have is their time, and we recognize that at every step.
We named our company Soutirage for the winemaking process where a wine is racked off its lees into a new barrel, an essential step in bringing clarity to a finished wine, leaving the gunk at the bottom. We like this analogy because we also bring clarity to our clients. Our team of wine advisors is made up of former sommeliers from restaurants like The French Laundry. They have decades of expertise—not only knowing the producers, but knowing how different wines are used with food and entertaining, how they develop over time, and perhaps most importantly, how they taste.
XOJET: How has the industry changed since you began?
MW: There’s never been a better time to buy wine. There’s so much good wine on the market from all over the world, and there’s unequalled transparency for the consumer. However, there’s also more fake wine—and by that I mean the contents of the bottle are not what it says on the label—on the market than ever before, so more and more collectors are seeking trusted relationships. Producers are looking for trusted vendors as well. We offer high-touch interactions—not technology—to people, while using technology to enhance these relationships and provide the best experience.
XOJET: Talk about your relationship with your clientele.
MW: Our clients are people we’d like to have dinner with, and often do. They have our cell phone numbers and can contact us anytime with a question or a request. They tend to be passionate, very successful in their respective industries, and intrigued and interested in the world of wine: some are just starting out, whereas others are experienced wine lovers. It is really a pleasure to source rare wines and spirits of pristine provenance and to see how much pleasure we’re able to bring to our clients’ lives. We end up knowing most of our clients as friends.
XOJET: What lessons have you learned about the wine business since 2007?
MW: We started a luxury wine brand just before the financial markets crashed, and we not only survived, but have expanded our staff and services each year. I think this made us smarter and leaner because we were hungry to succeed. We’ve never advertised our services—it’s all been word of mouth. It only takes one very happy client to reach another, and we believe our business could live or die on one person’s experience. We’ve also been very fortunate to have some private clients in Silicon Valley hire us to do high-profile tastings at events such as the G8 Summit and Davos. We’ll be doing some events for the America’s Cup this year, which we’re very excited about (although I’m not supposed to talk about them yet).
XOJET: How do you begin when someone approaches you and wants to start a wine portfolio?
MW: We really get to know our clients. We’ve found that every client is different, and one person’s needs, budget and style are very different than the next person’s. Our first priority is to really understand the way our clients live. We then look at what they have, analyze their actual holdings in their entirety and see how that meshes with their stated goals. It’s incredible how often people say they haven’t got anything they like to drink, when their cellar is full of bottles!
Soutirage developed its Cellarbook software
XOJET: Looking ahead, what’s in store?
MW: We feel we are ahead of most companies working in wine, but we have so much to do! We have QR codes on each bottle that lead to a tasting note, and our proprietary software, Cellarbook, to manage cellars. Each bottle that comes through our hands receives a serial number so that we can track where we’ve sourced it and where it lives on until it is opened and consumed. We just launched our own loyalty program, Soutirage Primeur, with its own unique set of benefits. There are many more exciting events and tastings to do around the world, many amazing bottles to open and dinners to share. We’re really just getting started.