The third time might be the charm. Retail giant Amazon is making preparations to sell wine on the Internet later this year.
Amazon representatives have been meeting with West Coast wineries this week about the company’s new Amazon.com Wine Marketplace. Amazon is requiring participants to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so the specifics are still hush-hush. Craig Berman, Amazon’s vice president of global communications, declined comment, saying only, “We’ve made no announcement about this.”
Numerous Napa, Sonoma and Washington wineries were contacted, but their staffers said they were aware of Amazon’s plans but knew little more. “I don’t know the details," said Ste. Michelle Wine Estates CEO Ted Baseler. "But I know that Amazon has been interested in the wine business for some time.”
One Walla Walla vintner who has met with Amazon said, “There are more questions than answers right now."
This will be the the Seattle-based company's third attempt to enter wine sales. In 2000, it invested $30 million in a failed wine venture with Wineshopper.com, which did not survive the dot.com bust. In 2009, Amazon abruptly pulled the plug on plans to launch a new website devoted exclusively to wine, concerned that the regulatory barriers against shipping alcoholic beverages within the United States were too prohibitive.
Why will this time be different? Amazon has told vintners that they will be required to handle their own shipping and compliance with various state and federal laws, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Amazon will ask vintners to pay a 15 percent commission fee plus a monthly $40 fee. In effect, Amazon's Wine Marketplace will provide a portal for wineries, putting their wines in front of potential customers, while the wineries will handle sales, shipping and legal hurdles. “They are approaching this essentially as a payment gateway provider,” said the Walla Walla vintner.
Honore Comfort, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners, has agreed to meet with Amazon next week. “We are not sponsoring it or supporting it and at the present we don’t really know anything about it,” Comfort said. “Our role is to meet with them to see if this is anything our members might be interested in.”
Additional reporting contributed by Augustus Weed.