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Lakeview Man Pairs Wine Lovers to Boutique Wineries, Charity

Posted by By Serena Dai on June 9, 2013 8:21am on 

LAKEVIEW —  Call it Groupon for artisanal wine — with a charitable twist.

A Lakeview wine shop owner has spent the past three years building up an Internet business called Cellar Angels, and despite little buzz in the mainstream, Martin Cody said the company is now hitting its groove.

Each week, members of Cellar Angels, which is free to join, receive a deal for a discounted wine from an artisanal winery, similar to the way Groupon offers deals. The charitable part: 10 percent of each sale goes toward one of 18 organizations, from autism nonprofit Generation Rescue to the Ounce of Prevention Fund, an education charity for children in poverty.

At its heart, Cellar Angels tries to match wine lovers to little-known wineries, Cody said. The charity is a bonus. 

And since 2010, the number of charities has tripled, and the volume of wine being sold has increased 30 to 40 percent each year, Cody said. 

"The winery gets to actually get some good customers," he said. "There's plenty of wine to go around, but there's also a great opportunity in civic duty."

Cody, who owns the WineStyles at 1433 W. Belmont Ave., decided to start Cellar Angels right after the recession. He saw that smaller, artisanal wineries were struggling and wanted a way to expose them to a bigger audience.

Unlike high production wineries, artisanal ones have a harder time getting picked up by the wine distributors that sell to most liquor and grocery stores, he said — kind of like how designers shoes don't get sold en masse.

Most of the wines sold through Cellar Angels can't be found in Illinois stores, he said.

"You can walk to any grocery store in Colorado or Texas or the suburbs, and more often than not, the [wine] selection is identical," Cody said. "They don't sell Manolo Blahniks at Costco. They don't make enough."

Weekly wines will cost anywhere between $17 and $90, with most between $25 and $45. The wineries discount their bottles 20 to 55 percent. Over the years, the 10,000-plus members of the site have contributed more than $50,000 to charity from purchases. 

Cellar Angels, which only acts as a facilitator for the sale, makes money from the marketing side of the deal. The company produces videos of each winery to discuss wine notes, food pairings and the history of the winery — the idea being that wine lovers want to know the story behind the bottle.

"For most people, it's not the 1,000-room hotel they come home to rave about," he said. "It's the small, intimate room, or the restaurant on the bay where they got to meet the chef. That's the same experience we offer in wine country."

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