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05.21.2009

A Game Changing New Marketplace for Wine

Did you feel that just now? It was the wine world shifting under your feet. As of this morning, the wine world is quite different, and will never be the same again.

Now, Robert Parker caught a lot of heat last year after jumping on his own bulletin boards one day and proclaiming that the next day, some news would break that would shake the foundations of the wine world. He was referring to the sale of Chateau Montelena to Cos d'Estournel, which not only was yawn-inducing for most everyone who heard the hyped-up announcement the day before, but ended up falling through anyway, to add insult to injury.

So I may be setting myself up for the same catcalls and jeers that accompanied Parker's non-news item, but I'm making the same fundamental claim. Today, the world, or more accurately, the market of fine wine has changed fundamentally with the announcement of the Vinfolio Marketplace.

And I should know, because I helped to design it.

The Vinfolio Marketplace is the next major release of functionality on the Vincellar platform that my company HYDRANT designed for Vinfolio, a wine retailer and services company here in San Francisco.

What started as the world's best (free) wine cellar management application, has now become the world's largest marketplace for person-to-person wine sales.

Here's how it works. If you use Vincellar to keep track of your wines, all you have to do is tick a little box saying "I'd be willing to sell this wine" and your wine will become instantly available to anyone in the world to come and make you an offer to buy it. You don't have to do a thing until someone makes you an offer you like, and then if you want to sell, you sell the wine to Vinfolio for cash, and Vinfolio turns around and sells it to your buyer at the price they bid for it.

Forget auctions, forget consignments, forget getting your wine appraised, or trying to sell your cellar to a broker. Just tick a couple of checkboxes, and wait for people to buy.

And if you're in the market for some fine wine, you get the benefits of deciding how much you want to pay for the wine (without any of those nasty 15% buyers premiums that you get stuck with at auctions), and Vinfolio's guarantee that the wine has passed their rigorous inspection requirements for quality.

For those of you who don't follow the secondary wine market, you may not realize that this is a fundamentally new way of selling and acquiring wine that will shake the fine wine auction market to its core. It won't mean the end of Sotheby's wine auctions to be sure, but it might just mean the not-so-slow death of services like WineBid and WineCommune, whose high fees and convoluted auction transactions mean that both buyers and sellers spend more time and money than they would like.

The launching of this new technology platform is only half the story, however. The ability for users of Vinfolio's Vincellar application to transact with other individuals for wine is game changing enough, to be sure. But even more impactful is the fact that in addition to Vincellar users, every single user of Cellartracker will also be able to make their wine available for sale in this marketplace.

I'll let that sink in a little.

In case you don't have the numbers ready to hand, here's what that means. It means that as of this morning, there is a brand new inventory of 12+ million bottles of wine, worth an estimated 2 biillion dollars, owned by more than 135,000 people, that can be bought and sold to each other as easily as a few mouse clicks.

And that, my friends, is a seriously big deal.

There are thousands of people who don't really consider themselves wine collectors but have managed to accumulate a lot of good wine over the years. A lot of it they don't want to drink, because they bought it when their tastes were different. Or they bought more than they really ended up wanting to drink. They'd love to sell it, but they don't have enough of it to be welcomed by the big auction houses, and putting it up for auction on one of those other sites is a royal pain. But if someone were to come along and offer a decent price for the wine in cash, they'd jump at the chance to get rid of those bottles and have some money to spend on the wine they really want to drink.

And for every one of those people, there are probably many more who are out there looking for a few bottles of well-aged wine but don't want to pay 15% buyers premiums, be forced to buy in quantities that don't make sense for them, and compete against other people in an escalating bidding war.

This is the beginning of a completely new way of moving wine around in the American marketplace that will completely change the current rules of supply and demand for collectible wines.

I enjoyed the process of designing the user interface for the software that will make all this happen. I think I'm going to enjoy watching the marketplace unfold even more.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.