Direct sales of wine to distant customers are booming, but it takes more than Web site

  • Photo by Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat Marvin Ware packs wine to be shipped to consumers in the forward picking area at New Vine Logistics in American Canyon.

YOUNTVILLE - Shipments of wine directly to consumers are growing three times faster than the overall wine market, but many wineries are failing to take the basic steps to profit from the boom, industry leaders heard Thursday.

Nearly two years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws restricting direct shipments, many wineries are experiencing explosive growth thanks to massive newly opened markets such as New York and Florida.

Individual wineries are seeing annual direct sales increases of between 30 percent and 100 percent, said Barbara Insel, managing director of MKF Research in St. Helena, which hosted the two-day Executive Wine Summit in the Napa Valley.

Insel released a preview of an MKF study on direct shipping practices in the wine industry. The study, due to be released later this year, is "groundbreaking," said Brian Baker, a vice president with Jackson Family Wines.

While some wineries are succeeding at direct shipping, others are failing to capitalize on this growth by not gathering enough data on their customers, not partnering with the right shipping firm, or not understanding the critical role their tasting rooms play.

"In the wine business, almost all direct sales start in the tasting room," Insel said.

And yet the impression persists among many winery owners that they will be able to sell wine directly to their customers simply by building e-commerce Web sites.

Research shows most wine consumers use the Internet not to buy wine, but to learn about wineries, check wine ratings and compare prices, Insel said.

"That's not what the Internet is used for in this industry," she said.

Most of the growth of wines shipped directly to consumers is coming through the growth of wine clubs, she said.

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