Naked Angels bring more than just freedom to independent winemakers

Published by Alison Hardy - 14th Apr 2021

Our Angel members don’t just get better wine at better prices when they buy Naked wines, they’re changing the lives of the independent winemakers too.

A big call? Not as far as Hunter Valley winemaker Ash Horner is concerned. The difference they’ve made to his life since he jumped aboard the good ship Naked back in 2013 still leaves him almost speechless.

A winemaker’s dream.

Ask any winemaker about their ultimate goal and they’ll tell you it’s having their own label on the bottle and complete control over what they put inside it.

So as Ash was busting his chops making premium wine for someone else at a leading organic winery, that dream was fermenting away. After all, he was damn good at winemaking — he’d even won awards for it. 

But the selling part? Not so simple. Not for anyone. 

Ever optimistic though, Ash pursued his passion project and made a couple of barrels of Shiraz Viognier with fruit from his Dad’s Hunter vineyard.

It was the industry grapevine held the key to Ash’s freedom.

One serendipitous morning in 2013, an industry article on Adrian & Rebecca Santolin caught Ash’s eye. As they retold their Naked story, Ash could finally see a new future for him and his family — as an independent Naked-funded winemaker. 

So he clicked the button simply labelled ‘apply here’.

That click changed Ash’s world.

Ash’s submission made its way to the Naked Wines inbox, and a few days later he was sat nervously in the Sydney office as his wines swished and swirled their way around large-bowled glasses. 

It didn’t take long for the smiles and nods to follow, and next thing he knew, a warm, welcoming handshake sealed the deal and Ash became a Naked winemaker.

“It was the best thing that could have happened to me and my wine.” he remembers.

The difference Naked Wines made was immediate.

With Naked Wines and their army of Angels behind him, Ash was now able to get a viable winemaking business up and running in bigger leased premises. Sourcing fruit from his father’s organic property (before drought put an end to that in 2018), he threw himself into creating a range of organic wines that sung of the Hunter Valley. You’ll find his current wines on his Naked winemaker page, and you can even follow him there.

He still had his day job at the big winery, but as Ash and his stunning Hunter Valley wines exploded in popularity among his Naked audience, the next step was inevitable.

He waved goodbye to the 9 to 5.

The success of his Naked wines meant Ash could finally free himself from someone else’s employment, and in 2017, became ‘fully Naked’. Now every waking hour could be devoted to creating unique, small batch drops for his loyal fans.

Ash knew he needed to think bigger, so when an old local winery came up for sale in a good spot, he snapped it up. And thanks again to his guardian Angels, he had the resources behind him to fix up the equipment and get it operational. No more sharing sheds and borrowing buckets. 

“It’s a pretty scary thing, going out on your own and buying a winery like that.” says Ash. “But knowing I had the support of Naked Wines and 100,000 Angels behind us made it an easier step.”

Horner Wines is now firmly on the Hunter wine trail.

One of the last pieces in the puzzle — the cellar door — sprang to life in late 2020. Ash and wife Lauren built a stunning barrel-decked hall as a place to share their stories and hard-won wares.

“I built the cellar door first for the Angels.” says Ash. “To give something back for everything they’ve done for me. I personally had 10,000 Angels followers and I wanted to give them a place to come and say g’day”

It’s just been awarded ‘Best Tasting Experience’ in the Hunter Valley in the 2021 Gourmet Traveller Cellar Door Awards.

The Naked Wines family are there for Ash when the chips are down too. 

When years of drought, and then fires, put paid to Ash’s beloved Hunter grape supply, he turned to his extended wine family. No Hunter grapes this year? There’s a bloke in Orange or Adelaide who’ll sell you his prime crop. And within the year, Ash had created stunning cool climate wines to rival any from the region.

And in 2020, when Ash’s crops were caught up in the bushfire fallout, thousands of Angels around the Naked world chipped in to raise funds for him and all the fire-affected Naked winemakers. A generous cheque made its way to Horner Wines to make even more wine magic possible.

“We’re expanding our winery with a new shed, and currently we don’t have our water tanks hooked up to the other sheds as we have holes in our gutters!” says Ash. “So we’ll be putting the donation towards hooking up our water tanks and hopefully new guttering.”

It’s now their third vintage at the winery.

Ash doesn’t hide the fact that it’s been tough but he’s a tenacious bloke who learnt from an early age to never give up. And anyway, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Owning my own winery is like all my dreams have come true” smiles Ash. “I have a future, for me and my family and my wines. And all because I got Naked!”

If you’d like to visit Ash and Lauren at Horner Wines cellar door, they’d love to see you. You’ll find it at 188 Palmers Road, Pokolbin, NSW, and open 11am – 5pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, or during the week by appointment.

And if you want to be one of the Angels giving another independent winemaker their Naked wings, join us here.