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Safeway plans to delve into Internet sales of wine directly to consumers. The Pleasanton-based grocery chain applied for a conditional use permit from American Canyon to open a tiny office alongside New Vine Logistics' 130,000-square-foot pick-and-pack facility at 125 Mezzetta Court.

The commission unanimously approved the permit on Sept. 27, conditioned on Safeway's obtaining a state off-premises beer and wine sales license. The grocer's license application, filed in July, is pending.

New Vine Logistics would be fulfilling Safeway's Internet orders for wine, according to a city planning department staff report. Safeway and New Vine Logistics officials declined to comment on the arrangement.

Since it started in 2001 from the ashes of WineShopper.com, New Vine has been leveraging its $30 million data, fulfillment, legal-compliance and logistics platform to help wineries legally sell wine directly to consumers. That is now possible in 44 states for tasting-room sales and in 34 states for wine clubs, but to ship to all those places requires the filing of up to 600 separate reports to state and local agencies, according to New Vine CEO Katie Hoertkorn.

California is the top destination for wines purchased online, with sales growth of some 35 percent from the beginning of 2006 to the first quarter of this year, according to the latest figures from New Vine's quarterly Direct Market Index of its shipments. New York and Florida, which are top wine sales markets overall, are new direct-sales markets and now account for 10 percent of all direct wine sales in New Vine's index.

To deal with the avalanche of consumer data generated from such endeavors, New Vine later this month plans to launch a secure interactive Internet interface for client wine companies or retailers to submit corrections and updates to consumer information. Previously, the interface allowed just downloading of inventory and compliance reports, and special instructions needed for wine club shipments were difficult to convey.

<photo> These infrastructure upgrades come as New Vine also has bolstered its management. The company tapped Caroline Thompson as chief operating officer. She comes to wine logistics from heading operations for Sanmina-SCI Corp., British Petroleum, Tenneco, CNH and Motorola.

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Speaking of direct wine sales and the technology required, Napa-based software developer Inertia Beverage Group recently announced it has unbundled its direct-to-trade e-commerce software package from the consumer-oriented REthink Engine system.

Now, wine companies can use the portion of the software that allows restaurants and retailers to place orders for wine while still using their existing e-commerce or compliance software package.

However, using different software packages for managing wine orders can create challenges in migrating data between the applications. The Business Journal earlier this year found that many wineries continue to use outdated software that doesn't automate data-sharing between software applications or those of legal-compliance consultants. [See "Direct shipping increases wine software needs," NBBJ, May 14, 2007.]

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<VinOak logo> VinOak USA, a sister company to Cork Supply USA in Benicia, has tunneled deeper into the barrel business by picking up an exclusive West Coast distributorship of French and American oak barrels made by Louisville, Ky.-based Kelvin Cooperage.

Pickering Winery Supply in San Francisco previously distributed Kelvin's American oak barrels in California, Oregon and Washington as well as European oak barrels from cooperages Vernou, Meyrieux Fils and Doreau.

The Cork Supply group of companies in the U.S., Australia, Argentina, South Africa, Spain, Portugal and France have been rolling out VinOak companies to offer barrels and barrel alternatives along with the natural, synthetic and screwcap stoppers the companies have been selling.

VinOak USA started in April with Kelvin American oak barrels and French oak from Quercus Cooperage in Spain.

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In other Cork Supply Group news, the Benicia-based collection of wine closure and storage companies worldwide just announced the addition of a wine label printing division to its offerings.

Cork Supply recently acquired four-year-old Studio Labels, a 33-employee Adelaide, Australia-based printer that specializes in flexographic printing.

That type of printing technology has been used in consumer, pharmaceutical and logistics packaging for a long time because of its high-speed capabilities and lower cost as compared to offset printing. In recent years commercial printers such as Paragon Label in Petaluma have been improving the reproduction improving quality of flexo presses to meet the high-quality standards of wine-label printing.

Cork Supply plans to offer label printing to its customers in Australia first then open orders to wineries in its other locations. Founded in 1981 in Benicia, the company now has locations or market presence in Australia, Argentina, Spain, Portugal, France and South Africa.

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Submit items for this column to Jeff Quackenbush at 707-579-2900 ext. 206, jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or fax 707-579-8475.