Online wine sales still account for a very small part of the global wine market -less than 5%, according to figures made public at Vinexpo last year and below 2% in such a decisive market as the European Union (data provided by Wine.com). However, the number of companies selling wine online has increased significantly over the last few years and the number of brands available has risen accordingly. Consumers are reaping the benefits. They have gained access to all kinds of wines including those made in limited quantities by small producers who grow local and intriguing grape varieties in distinctive terroirs.
Many Spanish online wine stores also sell to European consumers, often through specific sites developed in their own languages. "Our main market now is Germany," explains Josep Pizán, marketing manager at Decántalo. Toni Vicens, founder of Vinissimus says they have a good presence in France and Germany, although the UK is the fastest growing market. Uvinum, meanwhile, is a market place covering a considerable number of affiliates and boast the largest portfolio of wines, spirits, beer and gourmet products (more than 50,000 items) on sale in Europe.
Buying wine at Spanish prices is particularly attractive to European consumers. Obviously, new, smaller competitors want a piece of the online wine market pie and are joining major players already strong in the European market. With shipments delivered from Spain, logistics may be an issue, but costs are dramatically reduced because no warehouses are needed at the destination countries.
Co-founder Nico Bour says that currently 80% of sales come from international markets with the UK, France, Italy and Germany leading the ranks. Uvinum is described as a market place offering products from 130 different wine stores across Europe (including some leading Spanish wine retailers like Vins i Licors Grau in Costa Brava and Bodegas Santa Cecilia in Madrid) to a customer base of 40,000. Perhaps what strikes most is its ability to reach a large number of countries through specific country pages. To date ad-hoc websites have been created for the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Denmark. Shipping logistics are managed by their affiliates.
Established in March 2005, Vinissimus is one of Spain’s online wine sales pioneers. Armed with a small selection of wines and an answering machine in the early days, entrepreneur Toni Vicens saw it almost as a hobby. He would take customers’ orders at night when he arrived home from his full-time job. Today Vinissimus boasts an extensive and varied portfolio with more than 4,000 wines and roughly 38,000 clients. There are specific sites designed for the UK, France, Italy and Germany, the latter through www.hispavinus.de. This business model has been replicated with Italian wines via the Italvinus website, which is available in Italian, Spanish, English, French and German.
Created in late 2009 in Barcelona, this website is the result of a partnership between a wine retailer located in the Gracia district in Barcelona and an advertising agency. According to marketing manager, Josep Pizán, Decántalo is particularly focused on providing detailed information about all the wines available on the site and offering specific recommendations by sommeliers, even if their selection (currently 2,000 items) is somewhat shorter than other leading rivals. They have language-specific sites in English, French, German and Catalan.
Spain’s largest wine club is atypical. Present in the UK since the early nineties, it later launched in Germany and then in The Netherlands in the early 2000. The idea was to expand its direct sales model abroad, so the online operation came as phase two. As in Spain, customers can choose between joining the wine club or buying online. A minimum purchase of six bottles is required and the number of wines available is much shorter, around 100 selections. Another important difference is that Vinoselección has physical warehouses in these three countries which receive supplies from Spain on a monthly basis. It’s an unusual approach in the sector.
It is interesting to note that many Spanish wine retailers operate simultaneously as distributors and/or importers. Thus, most of them have launched an online store that also sells wines to other EU countries.
It is the case of Barcelona-based wine retailer and distributor Vila Viniteca. You can find specific information about all the countries outside the EU where they ship orders, as well as specific conditions and limitations in each case. Wines can be purchased both locally and abroad through the Spanish, Catalan, and English versions of its website. Vins i Licors Grau, another long-established wine retailer in Catalonia offers additional versions in English, French and Catalan. Orders can be dispatched to Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal and Cyprus.
Madrid-based Bodegas Santa Cecilia, with over 4,300 references in its catalogue, has online versions in Spanish and English. It ships orders to most EU countries, but its strongest markets are Germany, France, UK and Italy. Best-sellers come from Rioja and Ribera del Duero. They draw attention to the fact that -and this is the major attractive of online wine sales- the average online expenditure is higher than in physical shops.
A considerable number of newcomers must be added to the list above, most of which have emerged in the last few years: A por Vino offers versions in Spanish, English and German and is also integrated in Uvinum; Galicia-based El Sumiller was created by sommelier Juan Ayerbe and has websites in Spanish, English, Italian, French and German; Enterwine is the online store of Barcelona retailer Celler Can Dani and has versions in English, Spanish and Catalan; Tomevinos comes from a new wine franchise group established in Madrid in 2009 which focuses on good QPR labels. In fact more than half of their portfolio sells below €10. They have websites in Spanish, English and German.
Launched last September, Gourmet Hunters is the latest newcomer in the online wine industry as far as we are aware of. Sommeliers Lluís de Pablo and Claudio Comella from distributor Wein & Umami have joined forces with the computer and digital expert Ivan Babitsch. Committed to delivering wine contents as well as selling, Claudio’s video interviews in the purest Gary Vaynerchuck’s style feature small producers focused on recovering local grapes. About 40% of their nearly 4,000 references are foreign wines, with a focus on Burgundy, Germany (Lluís de Pablo used to import German wines) and Champagne. Wine geeks will probably love this site. Wines are available in EU countries with Spanish and English websites and a German version coming soon.