Arts

A new kind of wine club

Los Altos High grads' subscription company aims to demystify wine

Like many Silicon Valley origin stories, this one involves a company starting in a garage and two bootstrap co-founders pursuing a passion project from the ground up. Unlike most, however, this one involves a lot of wine.

In 2016, Luc Bergevin and Martin Sheehan-Stross, both Los Altos High School graduates, started Foot of the Bed Cellars, a wine subscription company that delivers three curated wines ($15 per bottle) directly to customers once a month.

The founders purchase finished wine from wineries -- mostly small, high-end and located in California -- bottle it under their private label and send to subscribers with detailed background information about how the wine was made, the person who made it, tasting notes and pairing recommendations from Sheehan-Stross, a sommelier with experience at top San Francisco restaurants.

The goal is to break down some of the barriers, making quality wines and interesting grapes more accessible to people who wouldn't otherwise consume them.

"Wine can be complicated," Bergevin said. "It can be too pretentious in some ways. We want to remove the confusion around wine."

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Bergevin is less of a wine connoisseur than his co-founder but has always been fascinated by the production side. He worked on a Paso Robles vineyard during college. After graduating, he moved home to Los Altos and got a job in tech marketing but spent weekends helping out a collective of informal home winemakers who are the fathers of some of his high school classmates. They would buy grapes on contract and make wine in the cellars of their homes. Bergevin was their "labor," paid in cases of the wine they produced.

It was during this time that a kernel of an idea formed: Similar to the winemakers purchasing grapes, what if he bought and repackaged finished wine from high-end wineries to allow more people to enjoy it? Crucial to the idea's success would be having a wine expert to provide quality control and credibility, he said.

Bergevin found that in Sheehan-Stross, who graduated two years ahead of him at Los Altos High School. Sheehan-Stross, whose first-ever restaurant job was at the former Peninsula Creamery at the Stanford Shopping Center, went on to work as sommelier at high-end San Francisco restaurants including Spruce, Gary Danko and Michael Mina. In 2013, he won a scholarship for earning the highest score on the Advanced Sommelier exam and three years later, was named the best young sommelier in the world at a competition in Vaduz, Liechtenstein.

The two hadn't spoken in years, but one Facebook message led to an hours-long conversation over drinks and a commitment to work together.

They started the company in Bergevin's mother's garage in Los Altos before graduating to his San Francisco apartment and now, a rented warehouse space in San Francisco. The company was named after a barrel of homemade Sonoma Zinfandel that Bergevin kept for a year at the end of his bed in San Francisco, dubbed "Foot of the Bed Red."

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Through Sheehan-Stross' wine network, they find wines that wineries are willing to part with for a range of reasons -- a larger-than-usual harvest at a small winery or a winery hoping to reach younger wine drinkers. Foot of the Bed Cellars' approximately 350 subscribers skew younger and are primarily located in San Francisco and on the Peninsula.

Every month, customers receive a box with three red and white wines (they can choose how many of each). They seek out both crowd-pleasers and more unusual grapes.

This month, there was a 2017 chardonnay from Scotts Valley and a 2014 Charbono from Mendocino County. In April, they sent out their first wines from Washington state, describing the challenges the state's geography pose for producing wine. They also introduced subscribers to Counoise, a lesser-known red grape that originated in the 1300's in France's Rhône River Valley but is now being grown in Mendocino County.

"It's possible to have these great finds of sought-after grapes, grapes people are familiar with, noble grapes," Sheehan-Stross said.

They're also able to sell the wine for slightly less than retail value.

The co-founders apply hospitality sensibilities to a company that on the face of it, should have little human interaction. Sheehan-Stross, currently studying for the high-level Master Sommelier exam, writes the wine blurbs and suggests food that would pair well with that month's bottles. On a blog on the company website, he shares his recommendations for Napa wineries to visit and muses about the ageability of wine. They also get to know members and recruit new ones in person at monthly pickup parties.

"We know when they're moving, when their kids are getting married -- they're utilizing our wines for their kids' weddings," Sheehan-Stross said. "Taking care of someone from start to finish in their dining experience and applying that to the wine club experience has helped us grow."

The co-founders have ambitious plans for Foot of the Bed Cellars, with goals of eventually making their own wine and selling it in grocery stores.

For more information, go to footofthebed.com.

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A new kind of wine club

Los Altos High grads' subscription company aims to demystify wine

by Elena Kadvany / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Jun 21, 2018, 11:14 am

Like many Silicon Valley origin stories, this one involves a company starting in a garage and two bootstrap co-founders pursuing a passion project from the ground up. Unlike most, however, this one involves a lot of wine.

In 2016, Luc Bergevin and Martin Sheehan-Stross, both Los Altos High School graduates, started Foot of the Bed Cellars, a wine subscription company that delivers three curated wines ($15 per bottle) directly to customers once a month.

The founders purchase finished wine from wineries -- mostly small, high-end and located in California -- bottle it under their private label and send to subscribers with detailed background information about how the wine was made, the person who made it, tasting notes and pairing recommendations from Sheehan-Stross, a sommelier with experience at top San Francisco restaurants.

The goal is to break down some of the barriers, making quality wines and interesting grapes more accessible to people who wouldn't otherwise consume them.

"Wine can be complicated," Bergevin said. "It can be too pretentious in some ways. We want to remove the confusion around wine."

Bergevin is less of a wine connoisseur than his co-founder but has always been fascinated by the production side. He worked on a Paso Robles vineyard during college. After graduating, he moved home to Los Altos and got a job in tech marketing but spent weekends helping out a collective of informal home winemakers who are the fathers of some of his high school classmates. They would buy grapes on contract and make wine in the cellars of their homes. Bergevin was their "labor," paid in cases of the wine they produced.

It was during this time that a kernel of an idea formed: Similar to the winemakers purchasing grapes, what if he bought and repackaged finished wine from high-end wineries to allow more people to enjoy it? Crucial to the idea's success would be having a wine expert to provide quality control and credibility, he said.

Bergevin found that in Sheehan-Stross, who graduated two years ahead of him at Los Altos High School. Sheehan-Stross, whose first-ever restaurant job was at the former Peninsula Creamery at the Stanford Shopping Center, went on to work as sommelier at high-end San Francisco restaurants including Spruce, Gary Danko and Michael Mina. In 2013, he won a scholarship for earning the highest score on the Advanced Sommelier exam and three years later, was named the best young sommelier in the world at a competition in Vaduz, Liechtenstein.

The two hadn't spoken in years, but one Facebook message led to an hours-long conversation over drinks and a commitment to work together.

They started the company in Bergevin's mother's garage in Los Altos before graduating to his San Francisco apartment and now, a rented warehouse space in San Francisco. The company was named after a barrel of homemade Sonoma Zinfandel that Bergevin kept for a year at the end of his bed in San Francisco, dubbed "Foot of the Bed Red."

Through Sheehan-Stross' wine network, they find wines that wineries are willing to part with for a range of reasons -- a larger-than-usual harvest at a small winery or a winery hoping to reach younger wine drinkers. Foot of the Bed Cellars' approximately 350 subscribers skew younger and are primarily located in San Francisco and on the Peninsula.

Every month, customers receive a box with three red and white wines (they can choose how many of each). They seek out both crowd-pleasers and more unusual grapes.

This month, there was a 2017 chardonnay from Scotts Valley and a 2014 Charbono from Mendocino County. In April, they sent out their first wines from Washington state, describing the challenges the state's geography pose for producing wine. They also introduced subscribers to Counoise, a lesser-known red grape that originated in the 1300's in France's Rhône River Valley but is now being grown in Mendocino County.

"It's possible to have these great finds of sought-after grapes, grapes people are familiar with, noble grapes," Sheehan-Stross said.

They're also able to sell the wine for slightly less than retail value.

The co-founders apply hospitality sensibilities to a company that on the face of it, should have little human interaction. Sheehan-Stross, currently studying for the high-level Master Sommelier exam, writes the wine blurbs and suggests food that would pair well with that month's bottles. On a blog on the company website, he shares his recommendations for Napa wineries to visit and muses about the ageability of wine. They also get to know members and recruit new ones in person at monthly pickup parties.

"We know when they're moving, when their kids are getting married -- they're utilizing our wines for their kids' weddings," Sheehan-Stross said. "Taking care of someone from start to finish in their dining experience and applying that to the wine club experience has helped us grow."

The co-founders have ambitious plans for Foot of the Bed Cellars, with goals of eventually making their own wine and selling it in grocery stores.

For more information, go to footofthebed.com.

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