A big lift for little wineries
To ship wine directly to an out-of-state buyer, an American winery must comply with all rules and regulations of the buyer’s home state.
Anyone who has tried to market wine nationally knows how much such rules and regulations can differ from one state to another. Some states have made the process relatively straightforward, but others force sellers to negotiate a byzantine maze.
In addition to shipping regulations, there are tax, fee and licensing requirements to consider. That’s something smaller wineries don’t have the time, money or expertise to deal with, and most of Oregon’s wineries operate on a relatively small scale.
The key to profitability lies in direct sales to the consumer, and online e-tailing represents a major element in that. It adds greatly to tasting room sales.
The challenge is finding a way to cut the cost and complexity down to size.
Enter Northwest Wines To You, based at Our Lady of Guadalupe, The Trappist Abbey located between Carlton and Lafayette. It’s advent in 2009 was a product of inspiration, common sense and some smart moves.
The prime mover in the venture was Rebecca Shouldis, a longtime maker and marketer of Oregon wine. Initially independent, it has since come under direct abbey ownership and management.
When she signed on with the monastery’s wine warehousing operation in 2008, Shouldis was asked to help find ways to grow the business. The monks had built a sizable customer base for the storage business, and were looking for some value-added opportunities.
Wineries brought wine in for storage. When they needed more to support their tasting operation or fill a shipment, they called to let the abbey know what they needed.
The abbey kept records and assessed fees based on them. That was about it.
Shouldis soon decided the best opportunity to add value lay in adding shipping capabilities to the operations storage capabilities. She felt wineries would welcome the chance to shed the thankless shipping task.
That led to the founding of Northwest Wines to You.
Shoudis decided the company could best accomplish its mission if it became a bonded winery in its own right. That would allow it to take possession of the wine and ship it around the country on its own volition.
The company spends more than $10,000 a year just to keep all of its licensing current, but Shouldis said that’s part of the allure. “Without us,” she said, “each winery would have to pay the fees itself.”
She began by studying regulations in states around the country. She decided some weren’t worth the effort and others would have to wait until business grew enough to justify the the cost.
Posing the biggest logistical challenges are states of Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah and West Virginia, numbering 14 in all. The remaining 36 represented viable markets, in her estimation.
Northwest Wines to You launched in 2009 with just four wineries on board. It signed up 21 more the following year and is now representing more than 60 of them.
“We’ve grown an average of more than 20 percent a year since we started,” Shouldis said. “In fact, we’ve reached the point where we’ve got to slow down a bit and evaluate where we want to go from here.”
She said the company now has all the clients its fulfillment operation can handle in its current configuration. To take on new clinets, she said, it will need more staff and space.
That decision lies with the Trappist monks, who have proven to be very prudent businessmen over the years.
The company lists its client wineries on its website, located at www.northwestwinetoyou.com, with their logos and links to their own websites.
However, you don’t need to visit individual sites to place orders. Every wine in a client winery’s portfolio can be ordered directly through the Northwest Wines To You site.
The system offers small wineries a way to better compete in the complexity of a national marketplace. It enables them to not only survive, but actually thrive in competition with larger-scale operations around the country.
Northwest Wines To You has developed an ingenious and so far unique approach to the problem. As a result, it’s leading the pack in the marketing of wine online.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 503-687-1227.