Since COVID-19, socially distanced, virtual, and remote functioning has become the norm. Many people, businesses, and institutions have had to scramble to adapt to this new way of life. However, Wine.com has been unknowingly prepared since it was founded in 1998 with its expansive digital shop and focus on bringing wine and spirits right to the consumer’s door.
Its digital-focused business model is what has made Wine.com stand out since it was launched more than 20 years ago by founder Michael Osborn. Osborn, the 2021 featured Walt Klenz Wine Business Speaker at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, married his background in software with his enthusiasm for wine to create a revolutionary wine-buying experience that turns any computer or smart phone into a wine shop.
Pre-Wine.com, Osborn recounts bringing copies of wine magazines into the store for extra guidance in the wine aisle. He recognized how much information was missing from that experience—details and stories of the grapes, the wine, and the people behind all of it. Now with Wine.com, Osborn partners with wineries to tell their stories firsthand through writing, videos, and photos and to give the consumer an understanding of the wine that’s in their glass.
If consumers don’t know which wine to pick, Osborn has hired more than 100 sommeliers that are real people (not bots!) and credible, certified wine experts chatting with website visitors to help them navigate the plethora of wine and spirits offerings and to infuse hospitality into the business.
This sommelier advice is vital for some shoppers to confidently select a bottle. Osborn compares the intimidation of selecting wine to that of public speaking. It can be daunting, and Osborn seeks to ameliorate this while appealing to wine drinkers of all ages and working to give shoppers their next great bottle of wine. Osborn designed Wine.com to engage wine drinkers of all backgrounds and education levels—from the safety and comfort of their own homes!
When most of the world was stuck at home last March and April, Osborn was busy hiring 500 new employees as wine delivery became almost as essential as some people’s grocery deliveries during lockdown. Because of this, it’s not surprising that the Wine.com business has been exploding, growing by 120% in the last year and achieving more than $300 million in sales in 2020.
However, no matter what happens with the pandemic, Osborn predicts that wine e-commerce is here to stay. Having the world at your fingertips through delivery services like Wine.com has provided people with a sense of ease and even exploration as the digital platform shows shoppers thousands upon thousands of options in the span of seconds.
In addition, the use of technology provides opportunities that would not otherwise be available to consumers. For example, Osborn launched live-streamed tastings in April of 2020, hosting wine industry legends and celebrities alike and allowing attendees to virtually drink alongside speakers that they would not have otherwise been able to interact with. One event even featured winemakers from three continents at once! These live-streamed tastings have been incredibly popular and have impressively reached over 100,000 households so far.
Going forward, it’s hard to envision the wine industry without live-streamed tastings and growing e-commerce because there is a strong demand for this that does not appear to be leaving any time soon. If I can’t travel to France and sip a glass of Pinot Noir in the vineyards of Burgundy right now, at least I can travel there through my tastebuds with the help of Wine.com. In fact, I can become a sort of tastebud tourist and learn about wines of the world without ever leaving my house. It just takes a click of a button and a corkscrew.
Kendal Koorenny is a senior at UC Davis, where she is majoring in viticulture and enology and minoring in professional writing. She adores food, wine, and science and writing about it all! When she is not in class or working, you can find Kendal reading a book or in her kitchen crafting a new cocktail recipe.