At Elite Fine Wines we’re always on the lookout for people who are pushing the wine industry forward in exciting new directions and about a month ago we discovered a wine tasting app by the name of Tipple that completely blew us away.
The premise is simple, Tipple helps you to understand the colour, smell, taste and composition of wine through a series of simple tests. You can then record all of your findings in the app and build up a personal wine catalogue where you’ll be able to develop an understanding of why you like certain wines and become a lot more in touch with yourself as a wine drinker.
We caught up with Tipple founder and self confessed wine fanatic Andrew Sleath to learn more about the ingenious app and his plans for the future.
EFW: Thanks so much for agreeing to have a chat with us, we’re such big fans of the app.
T: Thanks so much, it’s my pleasure!
EFW: I guess the best place to start would be where the idea for Tipple first came from?
T: The idea for Tipple started back in 2007 after I went through the weird transition where you go from being a student to a working professional and you’re expected to know what to do with a wine list.
You got out for dinner with clients and you get given a wine list and you have to make an educated guess as to what you’re doing. It’s the same situation when you’re out on a date.
So I knew there were lots of situations where I wanted to learn more about wine. I’d always liked wine but I didn’t really know much about it.
The first place I started was with the cellar courses at Berry Bros before then moving on to the WSET School. After these courses I got completely bitten by the bug. I fell in love with wine and it became an all consuming passion and hobby.
And as I learnt more about wine I soon realised that in my peer group of 25 - 30 year olds most people knew uncomfortably little about wine.
So I thought ok, why don’t people want to learn more about wine? The answer is that they do, it’s just very stuffy and there are barriers to entry. If you want to educate yourself you have to go and do an evening course in a basement somewhere and pay £500.
If you’re used to enjoying a glass of wine socially you’re simply not going to commit to that.
So that’s where the idea for Tipple came from. I wanted to create an app that could serve as a personal companion to help people along their journey through wine.
“If you want to educate yourself you have to go and do an evening course in a basement somewhere and pay £500.”
EFW: What were some of the early challenges you faced with Tipple?
T: The hardest early problem I faced with the app was getting app developers to understand that this was a one person venture from a guy who just really loves wine.
I was getting quotes for as much as £65,000 initially which were just wildly unrealistic.
And I think part of the problem was that developers kept wanting to make it a lot more complicated than it needed to be. Whereas I believed that too much complexity would scare people off.
So a lot of the early problems arose from me entering into the app industry which was entirely new to me at the time. For example I was told very early on that the Tipple branding was rubbish, whereas I’d never even really considered the graphic design side of the project.
EFW: You mentioned that the wine industry is too stuffy and that was one of the reasons for you starting the app. What would you like to see change in the wine industry?
T: There’s a lot I’d like to see change. But one area that frustrates me is the millennial wine drinking habits debate.
People enjoy wine from all walks of life and I don’t agree with pigeonholing anyone. In my opinion every demographic drinks wine and there will always be peaks and troughs.
Secondly, I think there needs to be a lot more awareness about what goes into a bottle of wine. The focus from consumers is often on the price of a bottle of wine which can often result in them getting a bad deal.
Because for a £10 bottle of wine about £7 is spent on packaging, duty and VAT which leaves the value of the wine itself at around £3.
Whereas if you drink a little less but a bit better, you can be drinking a wine that’s 4 x better.
“ I think there needs to be a lot more awareness about what goes into a bottle of wine.”
EFW: What has been the response so far to Tipple in terms of feedback and the amount of app downloads?
T: Both have been great.
We’re up to 2,500 downloads worldwide which considering we don’t have a marketing budget is great, everything has been completely organic.
In terms of feedback I receive a lot of emails from people which is amazing.
Very occasionally people are rude but more often than not people are very helpful and they’ll say “I loved the app, I just wish it did this or have you thought about adding this as a feature.”
The cool thing is that I have a google sheet with every single question or request anyone has ever made in it. So I can let them know personally if a new app update has solved their problem or included their feature.
It’s built a little community in a way because as I’m a one man band every email sent in comes straight to my phone and I respond to every single one of them. It means that the users are the ones that can help to shape the future of Tipple.
EFW: What are your favourite places to drink wine around London?
T: For me every wine bar is like a bottle of wine in that you can really see the imprint of its character.
So just Saturday night I was in Remedy up on Warren Street which is full of students and has a great value wine list.
I went to Noble Rot recently too and they have an amazing wine menu but not by the glass. The food is really good and the wine is great but I wouldn’t go there unless I was going to be drinking from the bottle.
67 Pall Mall is at the other extreme, which is London’s first wine members club that I was a founding member of. It's incredibly formal, you must have a jacket on you can’t have a group of more than 5 and you have to book in advance. But, if you want to taste a glass of Chateau Latour 1959 by the glass, they’ll serve it to you.
EFW: There's a lot of useful technology out there that's making it easier for people to pick wine from a supermarket or wine shop. But have you got any tips for people on how to pick a wine from a wine list at a restaurant?
T: There are a few things that you can do.
Firstly, I have a really straight forward rule with Sommeliers which is to just say your price. They’re professionals, they’re not going to laugh.
Or if you’re on a date or with company where you don’t want to reveal your budget then a good trick is to hold up your menu and point to a bottle and say “I’m looking for something around this price,” so the other person can’t see.
When it comes to describing it, a sommelier needs adjectives which is what people most struggle with. So let’s say you’re ordering a red wine and you don’t know any producers or grapes. You need to say that you like a light, medium or full bodied wine with either primary, tertiary or savoury flavours. If you paint that picture for them then they should be able to know just the wine for you.
If you don’t have a sommelier and you’re not engaging in a conversation with anyone then my best tip would be to avoid going for a celebrated french region. Don’t buy a bottle of burgundy from a restaurant unless you know exactly what you’re going for. It’s just not cheap. My advice would be to take a grape that is being replicated all around the world, like Pinot Noir for example.
EFW: What does the future of Tipple hold? Are there plans to monetise it?
T: There are a number of routes to monetisation for Tipple but one of the main things to remember is that the app will always be free. No one is ever going to get hit with a surprise £5 bill or have their user experience ruined by adverts popping up.
Where the monetisation comes in is through a really nice idea to help improve the wine industry. Let me explain a scenario to you.
A winemaker reads online that millennials like orange wine so they produce some orange wine.
And for a winemaker it’s typically 2 years before they see a penny of profit.
So they send it to a wine merchant, they get it in the shops, no one is drinking it anymore, they sell it for dirt cheap, the merchant gets the data back that they sold all the wine, the producer makes more and then no one buys it.
The consumer loses because merchants aren't stocking the wines they want to drink, the merchant loses because they're having to cut profits and the wine producer loses because they're out of the loop.
This all stems from the fact that apart from sales records, wine merchants don't get any feedback on the wine they're selling.
So I want to go to a wine merchant and say to them if you use Tipple I can show you demographics within in a mile radius of people who drunk your wine, when they drank it, what they liked about it and what they said about it on social media.
Let’s say 72% of Tipple users in your area have bought a bottle of Nebbiolos in the past 3 weeks and really enjoyed it. We can connect you to those people and you can let them know that you’re holding a tasting session of Nebbiolos where you can meet the producer of the wine.
The beauty of this is that the wine drinker gets to drink more of the wine they enjoy and can become a part of a local wine community. The wine merchant makes more sales and has more customer data than ever before. And the wine producer gains the knowledge of what people actually think about the wine they’re producing. So you could say to them lots of people think your wine is medium bodied when it’s intended to be light bodied.
So the plan is for Tipple to create data whereby everybody wins and capital is generated behind the scenes B2B. And if you're wondering how you measure whether Tipple has an influence, it’s quite easy, you measure who comes into the store with the app downloaded. I’m never going to sell wine that will never be a part of the plan. I want to drive sales to people who are doing a good job in the wine industry. I don’t want to cannibalise wine merchants, I want to revolutionise them.
“I don’t want to cannibalise wine merchants, I want to revolutionise them. ”
EFW: Any final words to our readers?
T: One thing I would like to get across is that I am a one man brand ambassador and in a fairytale world I’m looking for someone to finance this project and to help it to grow, so I am looking for investment.
I do this because I love doing it and I would love to find a way to branch out and grow.
Aside from that if anybody has any questions or wants to talk about wine please do get in touch.