- 10 wines
- 5 styles
A lifelong wine aficionado who went from Angel to award-winning winemaker
- Tom Shula was one of our first 1,000 Angels. His passion for winemaking led him to make a barrel or two in his garage.
- His wines were so fantastic that we took a huge gamble. 49,999 other Angels teamed up and raised about a million bucks for Tom to work with his dream vineyards and make his dream wines at a professional, state-of-the-art winery!
- If you like rooting for the little guy, Tom's your man. He started in his garage and now he's making award-winning wines and living his dream. All thanks to you!
Tom Shula's Story
Tom started working with Naked Wines thanks to a lifetime of fine wine appreciation. He didn’t train at Petrus, or complete the University of Bordeaux enology program. We didn’t scout him out for his expressive work with high elevation, mountain fruit that grows, gnarled, out of uninviting, rocky soils. Interestingly, Tom Shula came to us first as an Angel.
“I’ve been enjoying and studying fine wine for over 35 years. I became an Angel in August 2012, the company had just launched and I was one of the first 1,000 Angels in the US. Thought it was just the most amazing concept. It seemed almost too good to be true.”
He was one of our first Angels, and a very engaged one at that! He came to pilot Angel events, and met the team back when supporting winemakers seemed more like a crazy dream and less like an awesome reality. Riding high on anything-is-possible start-up energy, Tom brought his own wines to the second Angel event he attended. These were his hobby wines. He was an extracurricular, amateur winemaker who had been fermenting with a couple of friends since 2007, using fruit they bought and small-scale equipment, when he wasn’t working his day job in Silicon Valley. It might seem like Tom was throwing a proverbial half court shot with these wines, but let’s not forget that many winemakers across the globe start by making Château Basement or Château Cabinet before joining the big leagues.
How Tom Made the Half Court Shot
While attending his second Angel event, in 2013, Tom brought some of his wines along with him, hoping to hand them off as proof of his talent and become Naked Wines’ first amateur winemaker. At founder Rowan Gormley’s request, he ended up pouring the bottles for his fellow Angels that very night, and received wonderful feedback.
“He actually liked ‘em. He said that if I wanted to make wine at the Angel-funded winery... that I actually had a shot.”
The favorite across the board, including Tom’s and Rowan’s, was a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. For Tom, the afternoon was incredible, but not surprising, since he’d won dozens of medals in wine competitions with the bottles and his previous vintages. Shortly after, he was signed on to produce one thousand cases of wine to be sold under his very own brand! But how did he learn enough about wine without roughing it as a harvest cellar hand for years? Turns out, he was a very serious enthusiast for decades.
The Wine Bug
Tom is a smart guy. He studied theoretical physics in college, yet when his outlook on life was changed forever, it wasn’t because of a mind-boggling theory he learned in a classroom.
“In grad school I met a seventeen-year-old, French violin prodigy, and he needed someone to buy wine for him. I stepped in and ended up buying a bottle of Pommard, which he shared with me. It was an absolute revelation!”
Having a thirst for knowledge, he loved surrounding himself with driven and curious people involved in all fields. Once the wine bug bit, he didn’t change career trajectories, but weaseled his way into every opportunity he could find to taste and talk about wine. He became friends with what seemed like every wine aficionado in the Silicon Valley, and got to try most of the Great Wines from across the globe. His education was through conversations — he had a natural drive to satisfy his curiosity, and wasn’t afraid to ask questions.
“When I lived in Palo Alto, there was a wine shop, well kind of a wine bar, near my house. It was kinda like the TV show ‘Cheers’ where everyone knew each other. It was a small shop with a great selection. I knew the owner and he would host tastings, which were themed on the weekends. Like, new releases from Burgundy or Italian wines. One weekend was a vertical of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and one of the best tastings he did every year was the new DRC release!”
Keeping one eye on the wine industry at all times, as Tom saw winemaking technology improve, he fell out of love with finding “trophy” wines and became more interested in finding value. He noticed it was becoming easier and easier to make wines without faults, that expressed fruit and translated terroir for a fraction of the cost. All the while, prices were soaring for wines he had previously enjoyed for $40 a bottle.
“I saw that less expensive wines were getting better and better, but the ceiling was staying where it had always been.”
Getting His Hands Dirty
It was around this time that he started experimenting with winemaking, when some of his friends purchased their inaugural grapes from Lodi. Having a background in project management and the most industry knowledge of the bunch, Tom quickly grabbed the reins, to the dismay of some participants. Once they tasted the wines, though, Tom was given free license to make any and all winemaking decisions. The wines were delicious!
“I think I have a real understanding of what most people like from my years of tasting. Not only did I get to taste thousands of different wines, but I got to taste with thousands of different people.”
The next year, Tom decided they should purchase Sonoma fruit, and the team honed their process every year following. By the time Tom poured his wines for Angels, in 2013, he had developed blends that he was really proud of, and gained confidence working with Merlot, a “sadly maligned grape” that became the centerpiece of Tom’s Naked lineup (and his biggest award winner).
Why Naked Wines?
Before Naked Wines came into the picture, Tom thought producing wines beyond the door of his garage seemed far fetched. Getting into the winemaking game is expensive! But when Angels had the chance to support one of their own, investing a whopping one million dollars in Tom’s first vintage of large-scale winemaking, his dreams of becoming a winemaker came true. Even more importantly, his pool of friends grew exponentially. Seemingly overnight, it became possible for him to share his wines with Angels across the country, and that’s what really matters to Tom. He’s loved sharing wine with friends since that first bottle of Pommard.
I love what Zig Ziglar taught me — “If you see someone without a smile, they’re bankrupt; give’em one of yours!”