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Small wineries discover Internet's untapped power

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Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2001 10:00 pm

The Internet's power to change the world certainly hasn't been lost on small local vintners.

When Lodi's Peirano Estate Winery launched its Web site about a year-and-a-half ago, it attracted a drowsy 18 page views, spokeswoman Theresa Murphy said. That's a far cry from the respectable tally of 9,000 visitors Murphy estimates the site has pulled in during the past 30 days.

Today, Peirano's Web site accounts for about 5 percent of the winery's sales - but Murphy said that may be the least significant of the benefits it has produced.

"It is against the law for wineries to ship directly to consumers in some states," Murphy said. "The Web site allows us to redirect customers in those states to local sources where they can find our wine."

There is also a strong synergism between the Web site and Peirano's tasting room, Murphy said.

"It keeps people up to date on what's going on at the winery. These are mostly people who live within driving distance who will make plans to stop by when they see an event which interests them."

In addition to informing Peirano's local devotees, the winery's Web page has caught the eye of aficionados from Paris to Tokyo, Murphy said.

"It's really amazing who finds us on the Net," she said.

In the past year, many smaller wineries like Peirano have turned to the Internet to level the marketing field with their larger competitors, who often have huge sums at their disposal for advertising to mass audiences.

Some experts say the Internet is rewriting the rules - particularly for the smaller player - in ways no one would have expected just a few years ago.

"It's a great equalizer," said Mark Chandler, executive director of the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission. "For a certain demographic, the Internet's become the most common resource for information."

Television remains a powerful, visual method of reaching a segment of the wine-drinking public not accessible by the Internet, he said. But the use of Web sites by small producers represents an important strategy shift, allowing smaller wineries to make a wealth of information available to a variety of interested parties, Chandler said.

John Gillespie of the San Francisco-based Wine Market Council echoes that opinion, but said the Internet is still far more effective when used as an informational tool.

"The Internet's use as an instrument of sales lags far behind its current value as a tool for education," he said. "Right now, what the Internet is best at is taking a diverse, complex body of information and presenting it in a form that's digestible to virtually any user. This allows small wineries to offer a variety of different users exactly what they need."

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