Net Gains

POSTED ON 05/07/2009

In the quiet heart of the countryside where I am at the moment, there is no public transport. The only way I can buy a bottle of wine is to get in my car and drive to the nearest town, where I'm faced with the uninspiring selection of my local supermarket. Am I bothered? On the contrary. I have the entire world of wine at the click of a mouse. For the latest information and news, all I have to do is tune into one of the free content sites, click on one of a number of good wine blogs, or, for exchanging views and information, I can 'socially network' on Facebook or Twitter. If I need a recommendation, I can join one of the many quality specialist sites covering Burgundy, Champagne or the Rhône for instance, if, that is, I wasn't already a member of the

In search of some wine in the quiet heart...In search of some wine in the quiet heart...

If I want to buy wine, with a minimum of planning, I can order a case of Château X, Clos Y or Cloudy Z for delivery tomorrow by Berry Bros, Laithwaites, or the Wine Society; or from an online merchant dealing in South Africa, Australia, Chile or a specialised area like organic and biodynamic wines. I can buy at auction online and if my cellar is a little too full of Bordeaux and I want to sell a few bottles as I've changed my allegiance or just need the cash, I can tune into one of the new sites putting me in direct touch with a buyer. Price? No problem. With sites like, I can work out the market price for free, or if I subscribe, get a whole raft of price comparisons for the wine I'm selling (or buying) from a variety of different countries.

The acceleration of the variety of services available on the internet is changing the way wine is viewed, talked about and sold, involving changes for both good and bad as some areas shrink and others expand. As much as the Gang likes to laze around at the weekend with a coffee and croissant and newspaper, the growth of free news and views from magazine internet sites and the blogging community and social networking is having a negative impact on the wine column in the print media. Small wine merchants are under threat from the greater flexibility the net brings to high street chains and supermarket juggernauts. Traditional auction houses are assailed by the growth of online wine auctions like America's Wine Commune and Wine Bid, the recently launched in the UK and Vinfolio Marketplace, another new wine venture in the UK.

...of the French countryside...of the French countryside

Quality Vs Quantity
Equally, the growing pains of internet expansion mean that we're having to become more selective − and faster. There may be 800 wine bloggers out there, but how many of them can we really be bothered to spend time reading? A small minority in our view. Yes, we can now buy and sell our wines, eBay style on the net, but can we be sure that we're getting the best deal or that when we're buying wine, it's been properly stored and comes to us in good condition? These are just some of the questions that will only be answered over time as new wine services either prove themselves or are found out not to work the way we want them to work.

Buying from a wine merchant can be a tricky business. Does the site have the stocks it says it has? Not necessarily. Is delivery next day? 90 per cent of wine is consumed within 48 hours of purchase, so without efficient delivery, a website isn't doing its job. Cluttered websites, difficulty of navigation, lack of useful descriptions or photos, confusing or out of date information, or no information about the people and their aims or where they're based even, can turn customers off for good. A good site should be more than a shop window but the shop itself, allowing us to enjoy browsing, suggesting different ways of buying, giving us information, making the experience a pleasure, or at least as painless as possible.

It's a fast-moving world out there and most of us want clarity, simplicity and ease of navigation to make a wine website work for us. Here at the we are listening to your views, and we recognise the deficiencies in our own web site. We are addressing the issues with a whole new subscription and membership system to be implemented this month (we'll be in touch with members giving details) and we will be re-doing the look, feel and functionality of the entire site before too long. As our confidence in the internet's new features grows, issues of professionalism, imagination and design will become increasingly important. This is how it should be, because the net is after all a means to an end, the end in the case of wine being no more, but no less, than the enjoyment of that special liquid in the bottle.

job done!job done!

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