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Amazon Wine Sales: Another Information Highway
By Tina Caputo
Sep 30, 2008
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The other day my PR contact at Dry Creek Vineyard called to share an interesting tidbit of news: The winery is about to launch a review function on its website. This means that people who have bought DCV wines, or sampled them in the winery's tasting room, will be able to post comments -- Amazon.com-style -- for website visitors to read.

I've seen this sort of thing on wine retail websites, but never on a winery site. It's not that wineries don't have the technological capability -- more likely they don't have the nerve. Allowing customers to post their own wine reviews is all well and good when the comments are positive, but what about when they're not? 'I'd rather have a case of syphilis,' a comment might read, 'than a case of that wine!'

Apparently Dry Creek Vineyard is willing to risk it -- and kudos to them for having the confidence to subject their wines to online scrutiny. If they're lucky they'll be rewarded with some valuable feedback from the wine-drinking public. (Of course, online reviews from random website visitors are only valuable to consumers if they happen to know that Freek4Vino in North Dakota has a decent palate and shares their taste in wine.) 

Hundreds more wineries will soon be fair game for online 'citizen reviews' -- whether they like it or not -- when the Big Daddy of Internet sales, Amazon.com, gets into the wine game next month.

According to a Reuters report, Amazon will start selling wine on its website in early October. The company will initially sell wine in 26 states, then move into other states in the coming year. Amazon's goal is to offer a massive selection of wines from all U.S. wine regions -- no small goal given the maze of state laws that govern direct-to-consumer wine shipping. But if anyone has the power to pull it off, Amazon does. 

This isn't the first time Amazon has tried selling wine. In 2000 the company made a major investment in www.wineshopper.com, which eventually merged with another online retailer that went bankrupt the following year. But the situation has changed, thanks to the 2005 Supreme Court decision that opened up more U.S. states to direct-to-consumer wine shipping. And this time around Amazon is working with a Napa-based logistics company that's licensed to ship wine to 45 states.

So what does this mean for wine lovers? 

If we're lucky, it will mean that we'll have access to thousands of new wines from all across the country -- wines we never even knew existed. Never tried a Viognier from Virginia or a Riesling from Michigan? This could be your chance. 

While wine purchases over $25 won't qualify for Amazon.com's free shipping deal, they will qualify for Amazon Prime, in which all orders are shipped by 2-day air for one yearly fee of $79. This could be a good deal for people (like me) who like sending wine gifts to friends and family across the country, but hate the high shipping costs. 

The question will be, with millions of online customers, will Amazon sell only wines that are produced in mass quantities? Will there be a place for small-production gems from little-known producers? Let's hope so.

But despite the potential selection and convenience offered by Amazon, shopping for wine online will never replace a good neighborhood wine merchant. I'm definitely an online shopper when it comes to things like shoes and electronics, but I still love browsing the shelves of my favorite wine shops and getting recommendations from actual human beings who understand my taste.

And I don't have to wait two days before popping the corks on my purchases.