Vinsource, a wine technology start-up based in Healdsburg, California, launched an Internet platform that connects California restaurants and retailers with boutique California wineries that don’t have access to large distribution channels.

“Vinsource Online is designed to help restaurant wine buyers identify interesting new products and acquire them directly from producers,” says Andrew McMaster, Vinsource founder and CEO.

The platform is designed to give restaurateurs the opportunity to tap into the hundreds of small wineries that are often ignored by wholesalers, who look to represent the larger, better known brands. “Sometimes, these smaller brands can be more competitively priced than larger, more established brands. The grapes often come from the same vineyards, and therefore make wines of a similar quality.”

Unlike other online wine buying platforms, Vinsource is not an e-commerce engine designed to sell wine. The company doesn’t own a warehouse or hold any inventory, functioning purely as a matchmaker, making “the introduction” between California wine producers and restaurant wine buyers. The introduction is actually just the wine buyer accessing the website and browsing a list of available wines from participating wineries. The restaurant wine buyer then makes contact with the producer, negotiating the terms of sale.

The winery pays to list its product and also pays a transaction fee. The wine buyer doesn’t incur any fees. According to McMaster, Vinsource helps restaurants save time, by allowing them to interact with multiple producers through a single point of contact. They also save money, he says, purchasing directly from wine producers and avoiding wholesale markup fees.

Having access to these lesser-known wineries allows restaurants “to differentiate their establishment, by featuring exceptional products that are not widely distributed,” says McMaster. “Every product we feature has to be pre-qualified by a panel of independent sommeliers before it can be listed on Vinsource.” Also, wine buyers are able to chat with one of Vinsource’s third-party sommeliers prior to purchase, to get recommendations.

Thirty California wine producers are signed on, with 20 more expressing interest, says McMaster.

A big challenge with selling wine online is dealing with regulatory compliance laws, which differ from state to state—the reason Vinsource is initially targeting only California liquor license holders and wineries. “From a compliance perspective, it is easier for us to get the concept off the ground, and then expand into new states,” McMaster explains. The plan is to move into Oregon and Washington next, and then branch out from there. 

By Joann Whitcher

Beverage, Industry News