Media companies are experimenting with wine as a commerce, community builder

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Hi there. We’re well out of dry January, so what better time than to look at wine as a product? 

When I started looking at this, I was sure that it would be commerce driven. And while some is, you will see from these case studies there are very different approaches and revenue streams, which is emblematic of most products fitting to different audience needs.

Before we dive into a glass of red, I have a question: Do you have a great case study you would like to share? I am currently doing a lot of programming for our events, and we’d love to have some new case studies and first-time speakers. Feeling nervous? Or not sure about it? I am more than happy to mentor you, or one of your team, through the process. You might even have fun as you get to share some of your great work. You can reach me at  

Thanks, Jodie

When the MVP of a wine product is all about commerce

I interviewed Caitlin Clarke at the FT a while ago about her bridge role between business and product. She sits on the commercial side of the business and wanted to test commerce with the FT. 

During brainstorming and research, a few options around commerce arose. They considered using affiliate links on existing content. However this was discounted fairy quickly for two main reasons: The editorial team was not keen and there was unlikely to be enough volume for the revenue to be meaningful. 

There was also the potential of creating a branded product with content that is optimised for e-commerce, such as Vogue’s CollagerieNYT wirecutter, or New York Magazine’s The Strategist. These are excellent products with a connection to editorial but with a purchase off-site — but they are cost intensive to build, market, and maintain. 

With a product mindset, they decided to test the latter of these ideas with a controlled trial. There was already editorial in the works about English wines, so the team decided that this could be an excellent first trial. And thus HTSI Curates was born.

Financial Times is making a small profit from HTSI Curates and learning about commerce offerings under the brand.
Financial Times is making a small profit from HTSI Curates and learning about commerce offerings under the brand.

The business development team created a box of wines from those featured in the article and built a limited trail of 100 cases. They launched the trial at the iconic FT Weekend Festival at the end of summer. 

They needed to understand all elements of the process so everything in house, including negotiations, was done with individual wineries. Caitlin noted that margins aren’t huge on wine at circa 15%-20%, and that was with the cases being bought upfront. They staved off logistics costs by partnering with one of the wineries who handled the sales and fulfilment.

All marketing was done via marketing e-mail,, the HTSI newsletter, and the summer event. Open rates on e-mails were above benchmark, and sales conversions for those that got to the landing page after the initial campaign was high at 17%. 

The results? The first batch of cases sold out. They made a small profit. And they met the aim of the project, which was to learn about how a commerce offering could work under the FT brand.

Date for the dairy: March 29

In an upcoming free INMA Webinar, Managing the Product and Technology Partnership Effectively, we’ll be talking about how news organisations are rarely as up to date with technology as they want to be. There is usually a long “to do” list that prevents teams from working on new projects. Yet product’s job is to find new solutions to user problems, which means changing existing products or building new products. 

How do we bridge the two? Sign up here to join the discussion.

When wine is a community driver and a revenue stream 

Did you know that there are over 3,000 winemakers in Slovenia? Me neither. Although I do know they make great whites. I spoke with Bonnier Slovenia’s Alenka Susnik, who has been managing their wine offering. 

Just after the first COVID lockdown,, a leading B2B title in Slovenia, started a wine club. They were solving two problems:

  1. During lockdown, their readers could not access premium wines that were not sold in traditional retail. 

  2. Premium wineries that did not have traditional retail suddenly had problems reaching their customers. 

They already had wine content for their brand. Originally a column that had six years earlier been turned into its own Web site, O Vinu, with robust content from hundreds of wine tastings each year. 

The O Vinu wine club targets the middle market in Slovenia.
The O Vinu wine club targets the middle market in Slovenia.

After consideration, they aimed it at the middle market — those with some experience of wine, such as how to store and service, but not necessarily high end. 

The wine club charges an annual fee, which gets members the following:

  • Twice per year (in spring and December) they receive a case of six wines selected by their wine experts. These are usually diverse picks, including one big name, one natural wine, and one rising star.  

  • Each case comes with a booklet with information and advice on wine pairings.

  • Invitations to exclusive events.

  • Discounts with partners, such as a wine school and a wine travel agency. 

Since COVID events have been a huge hit, now they are building this out with more and more traditional events. Wine pairing dinners with Michelin star chefs have been sold out exclusively through the club. Marketing is solely through the club itself and the parent title, 

This wine club product has been a success in its own right. It still has its challenges, such as fulfilment (currently done in-house), but is a profitable business that is popular amongst its customers and partners alike. They are also finding novel ways to develop. 

One issue that they, and other wine clubs I have spoken to, have found is that the membership tends to skew older. They are taking a leaf out of the social media influencer playbook and this year will be working with young Slovenian sommeliers to pick their own wines, which will be sold to both audiences. Alenka recognises that motivations will be different and they may need to tweak the product, but the team will be testing different things.  

They have also found additional routes for engagement and revenue, such as offering free events sponsored by a partner. The example Alenka gave me was a wine glass manufacturer. 

What I love about this model is that what started as a community-driven effort to help local wine makers has turned into an exclusive club that people want to be a part of. This product is now a profitable business in itself with several revenue lines as well as an engagement tool for

Recommended reading

News personae and the future of AI recommendations is an excellent article and video about advanced personalisation that allows readers to self select based on the reading situation. These include “the challenger,” “the expert,” and “the unwinder.” I’m speaking to the author of this research soon so let me know if you have questions to add to my (long) list. 

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.

This newsletter is a public face of the Product Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Jodie at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel. 

About Jodie Hopperton

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