Man with IT
An impressive list of credentials paralleled only by corporate stalwarts marked by generations of service, Adon Kumar’s resume boasts of a consistent quality academic education over the years side by side with a successful corporate IT career. Professionally, he has spent over 20 years in the IT sector in New Zealand as a Professional Services Manager and IT Consultant with international companies such as Fujitsu and Unisys. He has also spent four years as a lecturer in Employment Skills, English, and Computing.
Tryst with Wine
So how did wine figure in his scheme of things? Says Kumar, “My background in managing IT companies helped in securing this job at Wine-Searcher which was 100% internet based. I had very little knowledge of wine or the industry and had to quickly learn everything about the world of wine and wines of the world. I enrolled on the WSET course and passed my exam. That is how I got into wine.”
Ever since Kumar took over the management of Wine-Searcher.com in June 2007, he was quick in using his IT expertise to increase traffic and make the search engine visible on various social media platforms. Consequently. the website’s Facebook page now has more than 83,000 fans and counting. Another feather under his cap is the doubling in the number of wine merchants on his site – from 8000 in June 2007 to the present number of 16,000 with over 3.5 million wines on offer!
With a variety of wine search engines just a click of a mouse away, Wine Searcher.com continues to be the leader with over 1.5 million visits per month from over 220 countries. In addition, it was the first company to bring price transparency online in the world of wines. As Kumar says, ‘In 2009, over 37 million searches were made on Wine-Searcher’s site demonstrating a flood in online activity in search for the best wines at the best prices 24/7. We have also provided an additional feature for our US customers where they can search for their wine stores by zip code.’
Neither does it cost anything to list or use Wine-Searcher.com, nor does the website charge any commission on sales. In Kumar’s words, ‘We are 100% independent and do not sell wines ourselves or have any wine selling businesses. We are purely a wine information service provider.’ With the largest database of wines and merchants, Wine-Searcher.com is free for both users and merchants.
However, there is the option to become a paid subscriber for a Pro Version. As Kumar says, ‘These Pro Version users also get more advanced search functions such as price range, ability to exclude merchants from the results, be notified via email when the user’s requested wine becomes available, ability to download the search results as a file, find out demand for a wine etc.’
On being asked as to how a website of such high proportions manages to remain sustainable and profitable against the onslaught of online competitors backed by secure venture capital funding, he indicates, “Wine-Searcher has been profitable from the very beginning and has never borrowed money. Weare a debt-free and profitable company. We do allow a limited number of button ads and guarantee our button advertisers a minimum of one million impressions per month. Our main source of income is Sponsorship and Subscriptions.”
Apart from being a website with a plethora of listings on wine and merchants, there is plenty of information for those who simply wish to educate their palate! It has thousands of pages of information on grape varieties, wine regions, wine recommendations, and much more.
On the ease of searching for wines on the website
With wines emanating from regions all over the world, labels can be difficult to get right the first time for many users. As of now, a smallest mistake in spelling in the search engine returns with a no result shown-unlike Google. On asked whether he is working on a new matrix to aid the consumer, Kumar clarifies, “We assume the user knows what he/she wants and therefore enters some meaningful details in the wine description field in our search box. We try not to deliver a nil result. We have inbuilt smart algorithms to guess the best match for whatever is entered by the user, including wrong name, misspelling etc. We will find the wines for you.” However, when I punched in a few wines with wrong spellings- ‘a’ instead of an ‘e’, I was mostly disappointed. Perhaps, the users who are not really wine-experts will be condiered in their algorithms in the near future.
As he stressed, “Wine-Searcher’s highly skilled technical team is constantly researching, analyzing data to tweak its algorithms to return a single result. When the website can’t come up with the best match, it lists the best range of options, making it a completely user friendly search engine.”
On Sourcing Wines
Online shopping has caught on in the world of wines, as evident from the statistics recorded by Wine-Searcher.com. Adding to the convenience of customers and merchants alike, the website provides a convenient common ground for wine enthusiasts on both sides of the fence. And making it all happen is Wine-Searcher.com’s well-rounded staff of 25 which includes both software developers and wine team members with training and experience as oenologists, viticulturalists, sommeliers, wine experts etc. – under the expert management of Adon Kumar.
Kumar and his team use sophisticated technology to obtain wine prices automatically from wine websites. The wine prices listed are current and as good as two days old, while the sponsor prices are updated on a daily basis. On their methodology of keeping the website up to date, Kumar says,” We find new merchants pro-actively rather than waiting for them to approach us. Almost all our relationships are maintained virtually via email. We rarely have to call our merchants by phone.”
On User Demographics
Interestingly even though Wine-Searcher is based in New Zealand, most of its users are in the U.S. One would think that these figures are an indication that more wine lovers exist in the U.S. Kumar is quick to point out that that these figures are merely a result of the fact that U.S. users were the first to adopt Wine-Searcher.com. He further adds, "Our merchant and user base is over 80% USA, around 15 % UK and then the rest of the world. New Zealand users are under 1 %. It certainly looks like there are passionate wine lovers in the USA, many of whom think we are based in New York! Of course we want more users from Europe and the rest of the world.”
Besides user demographics, the website also maintains other records such as most searched wines, the results of which are published yearly. According to Kumar, the most sought after wines are top French wines with mostly Bordeaux wines making it to the top 10 list, which also features Lafite, Latour, Margaux, DRC and Opus One.
On Indian Wines
Interestingly, even though Indian wines are beginning to arouse curiosity amongst wine drinkers internationally, they have yet to gain popularity on Wine-Searcher.com. Says Kumar, "I have attended many international wine events and spoken at various conferences in Bordeaux, Vienna, Napa Valley and New York. However, I do'nt recall Indian wine being the topic of conversation at any of these events or discussions," noting that Wine-Searcher.com lists only two Indian wine merchants who are not very active. I tell him the Indian laws do not allow sales through internet and each State being independent has different sales policies, taxes and procedures, making online sale impractical for the time being.
‘As an Indian born in Adayar in Chennai, I am keen to see India appearing on the international wine scene,’ he says. But he strongly feels that this would entail a long drawn out process. “India is desperately in need of a wine guru, a new wine avatar who can champion the cause of wines in India and generate a mass demographic of wine followers. Then there is the challenge of converting the chai addicted society, the home brew and toddy drinking Indians, the more affluent beer and sprit consuming younger generation to consumers of the new age nectar. I do see a class society emerging in India where wine is the drink of a few elite and the privileged nouveau riche. Until wine becomes the topic of social conversation and the beverage of choice in all the strata of Indian society, the Indian populace is unlikely have wine as the common drink.” I remind him that a big problem is that India is the biggest whisky guzzling nation in the world!
On his Public Image
Wine patrons exist all over the world and are known to recognize and honour wine authorities, solely based on their wine expertise. Adon Kumar has been conspicuous at many international wine events as the sole Indian, or person of Asian origin. Yet, he has never been questioned about his ethnicity or credentials. Kumar points out, “I have been accorded the courtesy, respect and hospitality and have been the honoured guest at many functions by virtue of being the President of Wine-Searcher. Many people have mistakenly thought that I own or started Wine-Searcher but that credit rightly belongs to Martin Brown. However, I am acknowledged as the public face of Wine-Searcher.com on all media and press interviews and articles.”
One would think that having lived in New Zealand for most of his life and successfully assimilated into its culture, his tastes in food and wine would have changed. On the contrary, Kumar still has an Indian palate, with which he pairs his wines accordingly. “As an Indian, I eat some very spicy-hot curries. So I do enjoy some refreshing Alsace Rieslings and Gewürztraminers for pairing with Indian food.”
When I asked him about his favourite wines, he said,” My favorites are really full bodied Australian Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 407 with blackcurrant, choc-mint, subtle oak and spicy tannins and Penfolds Cabernet/Shiraz Bin 389 which is made with American oak and is a complex blend of leather, spice. mocha and high tannins. But variety is the spice of life so I purchase red wines from all around the world and drink half a glass every night for the sake of my cholesterol .That’s what I tell my wife and friends, anyway!. I can certainly consume Grand Cru Bordeaux vintages with delight!”
On his Vision and Future Plans
Even though Wine-Searcher.com has forged way ahead of its competitors, Kumar still has big plans for the near future. As he says, “Our plan is to continue to be the best and the biggest. What we do see us being in the next five years is the single stop website for the world of wines - not only for pricing comparison but also for wine content, tasting notes, mobile delivery and social media presence.”
Kumar has worked hard to translate his ideas into exciting and innovative products for wine consumers, connoisseurs and collectors the world over. With his consistent and successful efforts, Wine-Searcher.com continues to deliver the best to its users, at no charge to them. In doing so, Kumar had dispelled the widely held belief that quality always comes at a price!
And it is a matter of pride for Indian wine lovers everywhere in the world that the man heading an organisation so important in wine selection and price comparison is headed competently by an Indian. We’ll drink to that!
Rishi Vohra is a filmmaker and writer who occasionally contributes articles to the Times of India and The Hindu, besides being the California correspondent for delWine. He has written his first novel and is awaiting its publication. He has recently completed an MBA degree in Sustainable Business from San Francisco State University and Masters Diploma in Environmental Law from WWF-India. Vohra lives in Berkeley and often visits Napa and Sonoma Valley wineries. He may be contacted at email@example.com