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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, March 10, 2008, 3:00 am

Startup online wine store has 56 vintners

VinoShipper.com holds 35 licenses for shipping labels

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    WINDSOR — A new company seeks to ease the technological and regulatory maze small vintners face when trying to sell wine to consumers via the Internet.

    VinoShipper.com is an online retail portal for wine currently from 56 vintners from the North Coast, Washington, Virginia and Idaho. Local producers represented include Inman Family Wines in Windsor, ventures in Healdsburg by winemakers Nick Goldschmidt and Daryl Groom and Dutton-Goldfield in Santa Rosa. The site had only one winery customer with three wines available when it went live in November.

    VinoShipper holds the licenses for selling wine to consumers in 19 states currently and plans to serve 35 states. The company also handles the tax payments and filing of reports. So when a consumer purchases a wine, VinoShipper takes ownership of the wine at the winery or a fulfillment house to send to the consumer by UPS.

    VinoShipper’s cut is 15 cents per dollar.

    “Wineries can make more money per sale or pass some of the savings on to customers,” said President and CEO Steven Harrison. Indeed, many of the wineries offer multi-bottle discounts.

    The company has signed fulfillment deals with Pack n’ Ship Direct in Windsor and Groskopf Warehouse in Sonoma, according to Mr. Harrison.

    Online wine sales and collective winery Internet store portals aren’t new, but Mr. Harrison is betting that wineries would rather have his company deal with the regulatory hurdles.

    Under the hood of VinoShipping is a transaction software engine that has been eight years in development. Mr. Harrison helped start software-component management system developer IntellectMarket in Santa Rosa in 1999. The venture was started partly with angel funding from Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media in Sebastopol and venture capital adviser Denny Van Ness.

    When the market for tech funding dried up, IntellectMarket sold the engine in 2001 to a startup Mr. O’Reilly co-founded in Brisbane called CollabNet.

    Five years later, Mr. Harrison bought the engine back and started Zero Link Markets with Mr. Van Ness as chairman. Currently, the company is self-funded.

    The company decided to focus on the transaction hassles of the wine industry, but eventually the goal is to branch out into other industries. However, the regulatory aspect of consumer wine sales required his company to create software that would calculate and remit tax payments as well as prepare proper compliance forms.

    “This proves our theory from 2001 that we can use this engine in different markets,” Mr. Harrison said.

    Late last month, VinoShipper launched an online social community called VinoShipperSocial.com for its customer wineries to easily post blogs and host forums to talk about their wines without delving into the technology of such services.

    Mr. Harrison has been involved in financial management and advising for other North Coast ventures such as TriVascular, which was acquired by Boston Scientific, as well as camera case maker Think Tank Photo in Santa Rosa and art book publisher 9mm Books in Rohnert Park.

    For more information, call 866-678-8466 or visit www.vinoshipper.com.

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