Above the American-style Lone Star steakhouse in New Lynn, Auckland, is a very Kiwi office that runs the most influential wine website in the United States.
Wine Searcher is a Kiwi search engine that prices wine globally and transparently, and it has been ranked #1 in the US by the VinePair Wine Web Power Index. So, aside from feeding off the subliminal vibes of country music wafting up from the restaurant every day from 4.30pm, how did this company get from suburban New Zealand to dominating the US online wine scene?
It's big. Wine Searcher is a search engine that lists 6,308,206 wines and prices from 45,939 merchants around the world. It’s used to find and buy wines at the best price, keeping up-to-date with prices using a spidering software that collects lists from merchants’ websites. It also has a wine knowledge database which makes wine lists searchable for price, type and bottle size regardless of alternative wine names. It values your wine cellar, and it also hosts a wine encyclopedia with wine regions and grape varieties. The site’s also filled with articles because it doubles as a free online magazine, launched in 2012 to “add an extra dimension to the search engine and for readers to keep abreast of current affairs and trends in the wine world,” says Wine Searcher editor Rebecca Gibbs. The team is covering all bases.
“The site’s big over in the US. 40 percent of our users are based there, and there’s a huge population of wine drinkers in the US. In 2013 the US became the world’s biggest wine consumer,” says Gibbs.
But why are the Americans so interested in pricing wine online?
“I think it’s because the US has a very complex system of wine purchase and distribution,” she says. “You can’t just import wine from France and sell it like you can in New Zealand. In the US you have to have an import license, sell to distributors, who sell to retailer, then on to consumers—and every state has different wine laws. The site compares prices so people in Massachusetts can compare the prices of wine in Florida, for example.”
Wine Searcher was launched by Martin Brown in 1999 in London, after working at Britain’s oldest wine merchant, Berry Bros & Rudd. He brought it home to New Zealand in 2006. The business model includes an annual fee from users who pay to access an enhanced version of the site (sponsor-free), there’s ad revenue, and there are paying sponsors (wine merchants who get a premium listing). The company employs around 40 people, says Gibbs.
In a press release Brown says: “We’re delighted to be named the most important wine website in the U.S. Our aim is to help more than two million monthly visitors to make better wine buying decisions. Since launching in 1999 … the site has helped to provide greater transparency of wine pricing from Auckland to Atlanta. Our data shows that ten years ago, not only was there greater variability in prices, but the number of merchants who attempted to charge significantly higher than the mid-price was considerably greater than it is today.”
The VinePair Wine Web Power Index was created by VinePair (an American wine website) about six months ago to measure the influence of wine websites and mobile apps within the US. “The index is the first of its kind and is viewed as a reliable indicator of the major players of wine on the web,” says Gibbs.
VinePair created the index in response to a growing wine culture in the US, and states on its website: “We wondered: who is molding the palates of future wine drinkers, and who is responsible for our getting excited about things such as Orange Wine? As we did in December, we present The Wine Web Power Index — our attempt to bring order to the wine voices online as we continue to grow as a community and improve America’s wine culture.”