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Shopping on the Web was a $13 billion activity in 2000—small potatoes in terms of the overall economy. But that potato had grown to about $180 billion by 2008.
Some things sell easier on line than others. Books and music are obvious choices for e-selling because one retailer's copy of Beowulf is as good as another's. Wine would seem to be another perfect web store commodity. Storage issues aside, who needs to see her bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet before she buys it? The guy in the wine shop won't let you try it out first, so your purchase is just as blind as it would be on the web.
High cost of shipping
But wine buying on-line is still pretty much in its infancy. Part of the problem is the law. Most states do their best to make interstate shipping difficult, so Amazon equivalents haven't sprouted up.
Another issue is the shipping cost. It adds $3 a bottle to ship a case of wine by UPS Ground Service from Chicago to Philadelphia. If you're in a rush, plan to shell out up to $8 a bottle. For most budget-priced wine, this extra charge is just too much.
Another objection: For many wine buyers, some of the fun lies in the trip to the store and the chance to learn about new releases.
A virtual trip for a rainy day
So why even broach the subject? Because Philadelphians enjoy a delightful exception to the obstacles I cited above. Pennsylvania wineries can and do ship to in-state customers.
Probably the best known is Chaddsford Winery in the Brandywine Valley, a beautiful place to visit and a destination for many folks taking that first spring drive in the country. But if you can't make the drive, you can visit Chaddsford online at www.chaddsford.com. One of the best Pennsylvania wine websites is www.naylorwine.com. One of the Commonwealth's best-kept secrets is the sparkling wines from Pinnacle Ridge. You can view a complete list of Keystone State wine sites at www.pennsylvaniawine.com/Wineries.aspx.
Outside the state, most winery websites are promotional— they offer wine advice as well as thoughts about food and wine pairings and recipes. For general information and an insider's look at the industry, try www.wineinstitute.org. Doing research? For a good wine library and links to other resources, try www.sonoma.lib.ca.us.
Concerned about vineyard chemicals?
If you want Mendecino Montepulciano or Santa Barbara Barbera, you can reach an interesting group of winemakers at www.Cal-italia.org. This is the site of a group of California winemakers who are trying to cultivate Italian grape varieties. Concerned about the environment and the effect of vineyard chemicals? Check out www.lodiwine.com, a grape growers' site with a green cast.
One interesting experiment is www.wineaccess.com. This site, founded by the Philadelphia wine entrepreneur Jim Weinrott, promises to offer a link between wine lovers and their local stores. Along with message boards and tasting groups, the site ultimately hopes to list the inventory of affiliated stores so you can search for a particular bottle on-line and have it held for you or even delivered (where the law permits). For a vision of what a real on-line wine shop might look like, stop in at www.winesby.com.
Has the $22 billion wine industry joined the electronic age? Well, it's not porn, but it's a start. I'll offer more advice about navigating the Web soon. â—†
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