Wine Industry Network aims to connect industry suppliers with customers

[caption id="attachment_15206" align="alignleft" width="202" caption="George Christie | Elizabeth Slater"][/caption]

HEALDSBURG – Two wine marketing consultants are launching a business-to-business Internet site they believe will give wineries, winegrape growers, suppliers and service providers a more informative, targeted virtual venue for finding each other.

George Christie of Christie Wine Consultants in Healdsburg and Elizabeth Slater of In Short Marketing in Windsor plan to launch Wine Industry Network on Oct. 5 with a starting database of information on about 700 "traditional" suppliers to the industry, such as vendors for bottles, barrels, corks, grapes, etc. In addition to details on the estimated 1,000 such suppliers in North America, they want to include service providers such as attorneys, associations and educational institutions.

"We think of this as more of a marketplace versus a directory," said Mr. Christie, president of the venture. "A directory is where you get a phone number or a name. We want to drive leads to members."

They call this a "marketing cooperative" in which the suppliers are "members," paying for market reach – $35 a month for one region or $90 monthly for the continent – rather than per transaction to attract small suppliers with slim margins. Trade associations and training institutions would have no-cost memberships.

Accessing information on the site is free of charge.

"The scope of the supplier and production information provided has been a real need in the wine industry for a long time," said Honore Comfort, executive director of the Sonoma County Wineries Association.

The brokerage model was tried by St. Helena-based eVine, which ceased operations, and originally by Novato-based WineryExchange, which shifted to production of private and national brands.

"We tend to be a conduit, rather than a broker," Ms. Slater said.

For the membership fee, suppliers get a page on the site to add pricing and customer details, referrals, marketing collateral such as videos, pictures and digital presentations, as well as company and product news. The latter appear on the home page for the site as well as in weekly e-mail dispatches to those who specify they want information from particular types of suppliers in certain regions or states.

Building on the rule of thumb of one wine club manager for every 200 to 300 members, the staff of Wine Industry Network, currently at five people, will grow to help members keep their information accurate and up to date, according to Ms. Slater.

A test version of the site became active earlier this year to allow suppliers to test the service and add information. An undisclosed number of the suppliers represented on the site at press time have become members. The goal is to have 3,000 to 5,000 members in the next five years.

Ms. Slater and Mr. Christie, both partners in the Santa Rosa-based wine business consultancy The Octagon Group, came up with the marketplace concept in August 2007 as they discussed frequent calls from clients asking for information about vendors. The year-round virtual trade show concept came in early 2008 after Mr. Christie's visit to the large annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento.

For more information, call 877-717-2946 or visit www.wineindustrynetwork.com.