Tasting kits to include winemaker instructions, food-pairing ideas

SANTA ROSA -- TastingRoom Inc. is rolling out its recently launched sample-sized bottles in a new Internet wine store.

TastingRoom.com, set to go live today, is the second phase of a strategy by founder and Chief Executive Officer Tim Bucher to bring the experiences of a tasting venue to the consumer's doorstep.

"It's not just the sampling part of the tasting room but also the buying part of the tasting room," he said.

The first phase was the bottle itself, with the service for carefully transferring wines from standard-sized bottles to 50-milliliter glass bottles starting at the beginning of this year.

More than 40 wineries have already contracted with the company to create four- or six-bottle sampling packs for use in marketing to club members or for inside and trade salespeople to use when calling on accounts.

In this second phase, TastingRoom is buying wine off the wineries and covering the cost of repackaging some of it for tasting kits that include the winemakers' tasting instructions, food-pairing recommendations and background information.

Participating wineries at the outset are Trefethen Family Vineyards, Patz & Hall, Gundlach Bundschu, Talley Vineyards, DeLoach Vineyards and Grgich Hills Estate.

Vintners would pick up wholesale volume, and TastingRoom would harvest the sales of kits and full-sized bottles, which range from $17 to $100 each and average about $25. The sampler packs are being priced comparable to tasting fees at North Coast tasting venues.

A third phase is envisioned to include a community aspect at some point, according to Mr. Bucher. The company conducted focus-group research last year, and a common refrain was that common wine ratings are confusing.

Mr. Bucher's previous music industry experience, including working on Apple's iTunes media store, showed the power of consumer recommendations for driving sales of lesser-known products. Such "collaborative filters" offer recommendations based on other consumers' purchases of similar products.

Such recommendations and user ratings would help consumers navigate TastingRoom.com once the number of brands expands. More wineries are scheduled to be added each month.

"We're trying to bring power to your palate," Mr. Bucher said.