From grape expectations to a wine juggernaut

Vinomofo co-founder Justin Dry recalls many false starts preceding the brand’s runaway success.

By Simon Thomsen, July 31 2019

The success of online wine retailer Vinomofo is a reminder that perseverance is one of the key drivers when building a business.

Co-founders and brothers-in-law Justin Dry and Andre Eikmeier launched the brand in a garage in Adelaide in 2011.

They’d been mucking around in the wine space for a few years, having launched a wine site called Qwoff in 2007; then a Surfing the Menu-style YouTube show called Road to Vino, visiting Australia’s wine regions in a Kombi van to swallow, not spit; and then, a wine app.

The ideas were heaps of fun, but commercial flops. But they got the pair thinking, and the loyal and engaged audience they’d built along the way presented an enormous opportunity.

Qwoff “was an idea we had over too many wines at Christmas,” Dry recalls, but those three previous ventures were all crucial elements to Vinomofo’s genesis.

Dry describes Qwoff as “like a Facebook for wine lovers, with a younger super-engaged audience who wanted to connect and talk about wine without all of the bowties and BS traditionally associated with it”.

Justin Dry: talking about wine "without all of the bowties and BS traditionally associated with it”.

Road to Vino helped them build an amazing network of wine producers, while 'The Great Australian Wine Adventure', a mobile check-in app, brought their audience and the producers together – people checked in when they were in the wine regions to claim special offers.

“So while the early days were incredible challenging in almost every way, in hindsight we were building all of the elements required for what would eventually become Vinomofo,” Dry says.

Fast-forward eight years and Vinomofo has sold more than 17.5 million bottles of wine to more than 500,000 “mofos” (aka customers). The business operates in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, and is eying the US market, and its annual revenue tops $50 million. From two blokes in a garage, Vinomofo is now headquartered in Melbourne and employs more than 100 people.

Vinomofo is not about an age or price point, Dry says, but an attitude that’s passionate, adventurous, fun and inclusive. They’re qualities that drive his team, too.

“One of our core values is to have fun. So we bring that into everything we do, like the events we run, the incentives we provide our staff, and of course we spend a lot of money on coffee and wine for them, which helps,” he says with a grin.

Dry launched his first business venture aged 10 as a car cleaner. By 14, he turned his attention to selling Christmas trees, learning a valuable lesson in quality control along the way.

After selling out within hours and pocketing a handsome windfall, he called the farm he’d bought them from to ask for more. They had 45 trees left. He took the lot, but they turned out to be pine versions of runts of the litter. He sold about half of them, and lost all his profit from the first deal. A dozen dead trees spent two years propped up against the side of the family house as a reminder. 

Justin Dry's personal faves from the Vinomofo roster include cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Tasmania.

Vinomofo curates the wines it offers, tasting dozens every week, with less than 5 per cent making it onto the roster. Dry’s passion is championing smaller producers, whether in Europe or Australia.

Dry’s personal tastes include cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills or Tasmania, as well as the legendary Northern Italian wine Barolo, made from Nebbiolo grapes.

Late last year Dry completed the most important M&A deal of his life when he married Asher Crawford. The best decision he’s made, he proudly admits. Their relationship also says something about his doggedness. Dry kept asking Crawford for a date until she gave up and said yes. The couple are expecting their first child later this year.

The newlyweds share a love of travel and split their honeymoon into two parts – Dry had a bunch of speaking commitments straight after the wedding, so they headed to Fiji.

Their priorities for a holiday are ”good food, good wine and being near the ocean”. And rose wine. The planning doesn’t go much beyond that.

“We didn’t want to spend too much time in transit and we wanted to relax on a tropical island, so we chose Fiji where we had this amazing villa right on the water,” Dry says.

“Our second leg will be Europe with the majority of the time spent in Italy, but this has been pushed back because my wife is now pregnant and refuses to travel there until she can eat and drink everything!”

A tropical island is Dry’s favourite destination when he wants to escape and no one can get in touch. His go-to is Bora Bora in Tahiti.

“It has to be seen to be believed. Incredibly beautiful. I took Asher there on our first overseas trip together, and it's somewhere we'll continue to go back to for the rest of our lives,” he said.

Vinomofo has now sold more than 17.5 million bottles of wine to over 500,000 “mofos” (aka customers), with annual revenue topping $50 million.

 

 

Of course, you can’t talk to a wine guru without asking for recommendations on the best regions to visit and what to do there.

Dry’s list starts with Piedmont in Italy. “It’s the home of Barolo and white truffles. What's not to love?” he enthuses.

Western Australia’s Margaret River region “is where Ash and I got engaged, it has stunning beaches and the wine is amazing. Have a morning swim at Meelup Beach and then head to Aravina Estate or Wills Domain for lunch.”

The Barossa Valley is where Dry’s ancestors first settled. “Go to Seppeltsfield and do the Centenary Tasting. It's one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had in the wine space and it's in our own backyard. Then head to Hentley Farm for the degustation,” he advises.

Alternatively, he loves Noosa as a place to relax. “It's a great all-rounder - an awesome food and wine scene, mountains to climb close by, coastal walks in beautiful national parks and the beaches are stunning,” he says.

With two key projects currently underway – a US launch and a family – Dry’s travel plans will be low-key for now.

His favourite way to chill is simple – a morning walk with their puppy Delilah, with coffee in hand, followed by a long lunch with “amazing wine”.

With a baby on board, Dry’s easy smile emerges once more and he admits it’s “more of the former recently”.

Simon Thomsen
Simon Thomsen

Simon Thomsen

Simon Thomsen is an award-winning travel, food and wine writer, restaurant critic and former editor of The Good Food Guide, as well as associate editor of Business Insider Australia.


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on From grape expectations to a wine juggernaut