Bright Cellars’ algorithm helps millennials learn about wine

Milwaukee startup Bright Cellars is getting millennials to learn about wine through an algorithm that matches them with bottles they might enjoy.

The company’s algorithm figures out the taste preferences of newer wine drinkers after they take a quiz, and then sends a new bottle of wine to their subscribers every month.

“We thought, why don’t we try to partner people with wine the way that other technology matches people to movies or music?” Bright Cellars CEO and co-founder Richard Yau said, comparing Bright Cellars to streaming services such as Netflix and Pandora.

And just like subscribers can give a song a thumbs up or thumbs down on Pandora to better match music tastes, Bright Cellars can use feedback on each bottle to better select the next bottle.

The company was launched in Boston by MIT grads Yau and his partner, Joe Laurendi. They made the move to Wisconsin to participate in the gener8tor program mid-2014 and have stayed in the state to stay close to their investors. Their staff, meanwhile, has grown from three to 16 people.

Last year, the company said it had raised $2 million in a fundraising round led by Milwaukee’s CSA Partners. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele leads that fund.

The company resembles a wine club but has a different niche, targeting younger and newer wine drinkers. That, Yau said, separates Bright Cellars from most of their competitors, with the exception of a few other newer companies that also want to tap into the millennial market.

The idea for the company began when Yau tried to become a better wine drinker, taking classes to learn more about wine tastes and his own preferences.

“When I was in Boston and took classes in wine, I realized a lot of people my age wanted to get into wine drinking, but didn’t know how to get into it, and didn’t know a fun way to learn more,” he said.

The millennial market, Yau said, was around $35 billion in 2015 and continues to grow.

“Everyone knows Franzia and Barefoot, but new drinkers don’t know what is the Patron of wine,” he said. “There’s a real opportunity to introduce higher quality wine and to people in their 20s and 30s.”

Bright Cellars gets a share of the profit from each bottle they match and sell. They ship and package the wine, but do not permanently house any in their office near Milwaukee’s Third Ward. That means the company doesn’t have to worry about “what we have in stock” and can focus on matching only, he said.

But Bright Cellars wants to move beyond just wine matching in the coming years, Yau said.

“We are adding education, we are adding wine pairings, cheese pairings, different recipes,” he said. “We are really building Bright Cellars as a destination for learning about and experiencing wine.”

— By Jordyn Noennig,