Nancy O'Connell of Winecrasher

Nancy O’Connell is the co-founder of Winecrasher.com. She describes the 7-month-old company as a combination of Hotwire and Priceline for wine, providing the best price and best value on critically rated wines.

J.L. Sousa, Register

A new startup business, based in both Napa and Israel, is adding an element of surprise to wine buying.

Called Winecrasher, the online wine retail website was founded and is operated by Napan Nancy O’Connell and former Napan Niv Nissenson.

The idea behind Winecrasher is simple: Customers receive all the relevant information about the wine they’re about to purchase, including region, vintage, varietal, tasting notes and an external critics score.

However, the label of the wine is only revealed after the purchase is complete.

According to Nissenson, thanks to their “crash-pricing” model, customers are guaranteed the lowest price in the market.

Winecrasher was founded by former wine industry executive Nissenson, who currently resides in Israel.

“I got the idea while on vacation, as I was thinking that wine is the most diverse product in the world,” he said.

“Every year, over 100,000 unique wine labels enter the U.S. market. Obviously, it is impossible for customers to keep track of so many new choices. The diversity is what makes wine such an interesting industry but it also makes for a steep learning curve for newcomers.”

He asked O’Connell, a former colleague and 10-year Napa wine veteran, to co-found the company with him.

O’Connell wanted a new challenge. “it was the opportunity to be involved in building something so unique, something that could change the industry,” she said.

The idea stems from a similar concept that’s very successful in the the tourism industry, where websites allow customers to purchase hotel rooms for a significant discount and without revealing the hotel’s name – until after the transaction is complete.

“Winecrasher is using some of the Hotwire/Priceline concept, applying parts of their models to selling wine,” said O’Connell.

“What the client gets is a critically rated wine, well below the average retail prices according to Wine-Searcher Pro and at the guaranteed best price.”

By concealing the label until the purchase is complete, wineries can be assured that their brand isn’t damaged by public discounts.

“We withhold the producer’s information, out of respect for the brand,” said O’Connell. “The wine we sell never finds its way to Wine-Searcher, and people don’t know what they are getting until after the purchase.”

With an international team based in two different continents and a unique sales model, Winecrasher is not your average online wine retail store.

“We were looking to change the way people purchase wines,” said Nissenson. “This is why we created a disruptive model that provides the best value for consumers on every choice they make.”

O’Connell said she wasn’t worried that some buyers may refrain from buying a wine without knowing the winery’s name.

“We feel that all of these things come together in a win-win for consumers and wineries,” she said. “The wine is critically rated, with important information provided — so the consumer can decide if this is something that will work for them.”

Although both do a bit of everything, Nissenson focuses on finance, marketing and business development aspects and O’Connell handles the wine sourcing, selection and the wine clubs.

Every wine sold by Winecrasher needs to be externally rated and also meet O’Connell’s judgment, she said.

“We have a double quality standard at Winecrasher. Relying both on external critics and my own judgment we can ensure that customers get the best quality,” she said. “We aren’t salespeople. I do taste through our wines, so if ever there are questions, customers are welcome to call or email and I am more than happy to talk about the wine.”

O’Connell said she sees the ability to explore new wines as one of Winecrasher’s biggest advantages. “To me, the purpose of Winecrasher is to have people try all types of wines without fear or preconceived notions getting in the way,” she said.

“Our customers are willing to try new things and looking to experiment, while feeling comfortable in knowing that the wine is of critically rated quality. They are wine people who want to be adventurous.”

Both O’Connell and Nissenson agreed that communicating with their customers is one of the most rewarding aspects of their work.

“It’s been fun to share in their experience,” said O’Connell.

Moving forward, they both aspire to extend the activity of their wine club, which was recently launched.

“The wine club is a blast,” said O’Connell. “It gets me in touch with our clients and helps me really understand what they enjoy and what they want out of their club.”

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