Why dotcom vinters are over the barrel

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Let's dwell on gloom. Last year's first big shopping story was how dotcom firms would change our lives. The second was the dotcoms' general progress towards the dustbin of commercial history. The final story was of meltdown. One in three Internet users was logging off with no plans to return.

Let's dwell on gloom. Last year's first big shopping story was how dotcom firms would change our lives. The second was the dotcoms' general progress towards the dustbin of commercial history. The final story was of meltdown. One in three Internet users was logging off with no plans to return.

These chill cyber-winds blew in on-line wine sales just as they did in clothing, cat litter and cars. At a recent conference called 'Wine e Volution: Changing Distribution Channels for Wine', reported by the industry website just-drinks.com, most of the speakers sounded cautiously pessimistic. 'In the UK there are over 16 major players selling wine over the Net in a sector that still attracts only around 2 per cent of all wine sales,' the report noted, 'and there have already been high profile failures like WineStop', the wine portal that closed its doors almost the instant it opened them.

It's not much rosier elsewhere. The two big on-line wine outfits in the USA, wineshopper.com and wine.com, are trying to merge. In Australia, WinePlanet is struggling to reach the point where breaking even becomes a remote possibility. 'It is clear there are a lot of us, in fact too many good players, unless we look to mergers and joint ventures,' says Sophie Jump of ChateauOnline. 'In the UK there will probably only be two or three good players left in the end.'

There's even a trend to reverse the rush into online, and diversify by selling through conventional means. Andrew Blayney of ItsWine.com has said that they don't have plans to open their own stores but 'we don't rule it out'. Lara Legassick, of MadAboutWine.com, explains her company's move into direct mail by saying: 'You need a full mix of on-line and off-line to build a profitable business.'

What do all these trends add up to? Well, they vindicate this column's long-held conviction that on-line wine retailing has its work cut out for it. I've heard so many stories of negligible sales that I stopped counting long ago. The winners, I have always thought, will be those with a multiple presence: bricks as well as clicks, or at least old-fashioned mail order and telesales. We shall see.

In the meantime, a couple of supermarket cheapies to see you through the seasonal gloom. Carneby Liggle Old Bush Vine Red 2000 (Asda, £4.99) is a meaty, savoury blend of mainly Cinsault and Zinfandel with a dash of Shiraz. Don't be deterred by the peculiar name - this is serious wine of good concentration and impressive weight. Up North, meanwhile, Booths have that rarity of rarities: cheap claret with a personality. It's called Château Cluzan 1998, and they've been selling it for just £3.99. No clicks necessary for either wine; mice need not apply.

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