TCS Daily


Through the (Digital) Grapevine

By Stephen Bainbridge - July 11, 2006 12:00 AM

In prior columns (see, e.g., The Wrath of Grapes), I've bemoaned the ponderous development of a national online market for direct-to-consumer sales of wine. In too many states, the big liquor distributors who oppose such sales still have a stranglehold on their state legislatures.

The good news is that things are better than they used to be and the trend line is increasingly favorable.

Buying wine online has a number of advantages over buying from your local retailer:

  1. Finding small lot or cult wines that are unavailable at any bricks-and-mortar retail store.

  1. Since heat is the great enemy of wine, you don't have to worry that your wine might have sat in some non-air conditioned warehouse for one or more hot summers. Conversely, if you order wine online, it's best to avoid having them shipped during either mid-winter or mid-summer. If temperatures might go above 80 or below 40 and you must have your wine now, opt for Next Day or, at worst, Two Day Air.

The downside is that all reputable shippers require an adult signature before delivering the wine. It's therefore usually easiest to have the wine shipped to your office.

So, for the benefit of those of you lucky enough to live in a state that allows direct-to-consumer sales, here's a guide to buying wine online.

Buying from Wineries

The rhetoric of those who favor direct-to-consumer sales usually focuses on making the wines of small boutique wineries more widely available. In fact, however, it's really the middle level producers who are benefiting from the rise of online sales. They're not big enough to attract widespread national distribution but are big enough to afford decent websites.

Here's 3 winery websites that offer particularly values and assortments of otherwise hard to find wines:

  • Bonny Doon is a Central Coast winery that's arguably better known for the oddball humor of its eccentric owner Randall Graham than for its wine, but it offers a wide range of reasonably priced, high quality wines. I'm especially fond of their Rhone Ranger-style Le Cigare Volant and their dessert wines. It currently ships to Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

  • Ridge is best known as one of California's leading exponents of Zinfandel, although its Monte Bello is one of California's classic first growth Cabernet Sauvignons. Ridge also makes a classic cool climate Chardonnay and a growing range of Syrah and other Rhone-style wines. The website offers a rotating array of library wines, currently including a 1985 Monte Bello. While visiting their website, be sure to consider joining their excellent wine clubs, especially the ATP club that offers access to wines otherwise sold only at the winery. Ridge currently ships to Alabama, Alaska, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

  • Duckhorn: Another red wine specialist, with a particular focus on Merlot. Increasingly emphasizes Napa Valley estate grown single vineyard wines. It currently ships to Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

On Line Retail Stores

The big winner of the drive toward online direct-to-consumer sales, however, are the major internet retailers. They offer consumers as wide a range of options as even the biggest and best brick-and-mortar stores, which makes them especially attractive for consumers who live in smaller towns. Here are three especially useful sites:

  • Wine.com is the Amazon of online wine retailers. Its huge inventory from over 10,000 wines from around the world is almost unmatched anywhere. It offers a number of very attractive wine clubs at several price points (I especially like the Grand Tour of the Wine World club, as a source of unusual international offerings.) It currently ships to: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C., West Virginia, and Wyoming.

  • Calwine.com is my go-to site for California wines (although they also offer some wines from other vineyard regions). Their prices are very reasonable and the assortment of small lot California wines is hard to beat. Contact them to check if they're currently shipping to your state.

  • The Jug Shop is my go-to source for Australian and New Zealand wines, especially the sparkling shiraz wines that are almost impossible to find in this country. Sparkling Shiraz is my current favorite wine to serve with pizza and lots of grilled foods, especially in the hot weather, and nobody I've found has a better assortment than the Jug Shop. Again, contact them to find out if they'll ship to your location.

Two Other Sites to Know

Winesearcher.com is the shopping Google of online wine sites, listing inventory from over 7600 wine stores around the world. If you can't find it here, it probably can't be had online.

Winebid.com claims to be the premier online wine auction service and my consistently positive experience confirms that claim. If you're looking for older wines or cult wines, this is the place to check.

Short Takes

Steve Bainbridge is a Professor of Law at UCLA. He writes two popular blogs: ProfessorBainbridge.com and ProfessorBainbridgeOnWine.com.
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2 Comments

But employee people, even at a higher cost is a good thing
Like everything on the internet, with out local dealers, how would you ever know what the wine actually Tastes Like?

Buy on line and they go away, and we litterly lose the flavor of life. Yuck!

THROUGH THE (DIGITAL) GRAPEVINE
In New Zealand, which is lightly regulated in such matters, wine buying was among the first markets to develop on line - along with books.
Many of us live miles from local centres and buying on line is a boon.
Most of us now have our favourite vineyards and wine makers so are prepared to take the risk. I often ask for a single bottle of a new wine to be included in my six or twelve - just to suck it and see. All offer a "don't like" guarantee on dozen lots. If you don't like it you send it back and get a credit.
When I do get into town I visit my favourite retailer and have a chat and a taste. But life without on line wine buying is now inconceivable.

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