Prompted by the expected Amazon.com launch of Amazon Wine, another leading online wine merchant has unveiled an effort to increase its market share in time for the holidays.
These are the wines that direct shipping is made for: boutique wineries that do not have widespread distribution through the increasingly hardened arteries of the three-tiered system. These wineries have had to navigate a patchwork of state regulations, permits and fees that often discourage direct shipping even while supposedly facilitating it. Wine.com, headquartered in San Francisco and founded in 1998, has built its online wine business by working that compliance angle with the states.
“Our Marketplace opens Wine.com consumers to thousands of wines that do not have wholesaler representation and the vast number of wine selections that are typically only sold in winery tasting rooms because they have productions too small to garner the exposure of the traditional wine industry supply-chain,” Michael Osborn, Wine.com founder and vice president of merchandising, gushed in a news release. “Nothing will change for the thousands of wines, both imported and domestic, with current distribution and presence with Wine.com. The Marketplace assortment will instead expand to provide greater choices to our customers.”
Under Wine.com’s new program, which had a “soft launch” earlier this year, the company will handle all compliance, sales tax, warehousing, fulfillment, order tracking and customer service, as well as the expense of shipping the wine. Wineries will be responsible for delivering the wines to a licensed Wine.com storage facility. That differs from the Amazon model, in which the online sales giant leverages shipping costs but leaves the actual sales and shipping to the wineries. The Wine.com Marketplace will offer imported wines, while California, Washington State and Oregon wineries are chiefly involved in the Amazon program.
An advantage for consumers would be that an entire order, even consisting of wines from multiple wineries, would arrive at your door in a single package. That could reduce the hassle factor of coming home and finding the FedEx or UPS sticker on your door informing you that your wine will be bouncing around in an un-air-conditioned truck for another day. For an upfront annual fee of $49, all of your orders will ship free.
Wine.com says it ships 2.5 million bottles annually. The Marketplace will begin by shipping to 20 states, including Virginia and the District, but not Maryland.
The Wine.com news release did not identify wineries that will be represented in its new Marketplace, so it will be interesting to see how the program differs from the Web site’s regular offerings.
Even if the new Marketplace is simply an effort to add more small-production wines to Wine.com’s extensive sales list, any additional chink in the armor of the three-tier system is welcome news for wine lovers.
McIntyre’s Wine column appears weekly in Food.