After 17 years in the company, Wendy Stanford assumed in October 2021 'Director of Category Management - Imported Wine' responsibility for the world's largest online wine retailer, wine.com. A WSET Diploma and judge at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, she has travelled to some of the world's most remote and fascinating places to learn about wine, food and culture, exploring new wine regions, rare grape varieties and emerging wine styles, with a particular love of German, Spanish and Beaujolais wines.
Wine.com was born in 1998 shaking the way American consumers discovered, bought and enjoyed wine. Was that revolution necessary?
Wine.com has paved the way for more consumers across the country to have access to the largest selection of wines, regardless of whether they live in a big city or small rural town. We are a licensed wine and spirits retailer with 20+ years of trade relationships, just-in-time inventory, supply chain control with quick and safe in-house handling and fulfillment. We made it easy for consumers to discover wines and spirits from all over the world at competitive prices with easy, informed ordering and delivery.
Today, 25 years later Wine.com is the biggest wine store in the world. What is the difference between you and other online retailers?
We are not gatekeepers. We offer 15,000 unique SKUs, three times the best specialty wine stores and 10-20 times liquor/grocery stores, to forty-one states, plus DC. We provide extensive content and advice, allowing the consumer to make an informed decision and try something new. Our customers are interested in discovery and travelling the world through wine. We offer wines from $9 to $10,000, and our average selling price is about $32. We show vintage specific labels and bottle shots, extensive content about the winery including photos with captions and maps, professional reviews from all major publications, as well as customer reviews. We also make personalized recommendations based on behaviors. We offer scheduled delivery to home or office, with local pickup sites at 20,000+ Walgreens. We also offer online chat with wine-knowledgeable sommeliers. Customers can explore with confidence.
Online tastings, chats with sommeliers… the internet is a perfect place to bring wineries together from all around the world for the end consumer!
Specifically during covid, but also ongoing on a more limited basis, we are offering the opportunity for consumers to connect by providing virtual tastings with world-renowned winemakers in our virtual tastings. We provide the wines well ahead of time on our site so people can taste along. Being at the cross-section of wine and technology, we are perfectly positioned to bring these two worlds together.
In the US consumption of wines from all around the world has been relatively common. Did the pandemic change these habits? Was there a before and after effect?
Wine.com has been uniquely different in our sales of imported wines vs. domestic since we launched. Most retailers in the U.S. report 25% sales in imported wines whereas Wine.com has always had more than 50% of its sales, both in revenue and unit volume, from imports. During the pandemic, the shift to imports was even stronger and it has stayed at 55% for 3 years. In the early days of the pandemic, we gained many new customers seeking access to wines from around the globe when access was limited. We gained a significant number of Stewardship members, a program where you pay a small fee for unlimited free shipping for a year. Average retail selling price went down temporarily, while quantity of bottles ordered went up. Many consumers stuck to what they know as opposed to exploring the long tail during the pandemic. As the world begins to get back to normal, customers are starting to spend more per bottle and get back to exploring the harder to find, smaller production wines that we offer in addition to the tried and true. Generationally, our customer base is equally divided between Gen X, Millennials, and Boomers/Older, with Millennials being the largest growth category.
Just out of curiosity, how many wines from all around the world do you get to taste a year in order to select and buy for Wine.com?
With our selection as large as it is, I cannot taste every single wine we offer. I do however keep up to date on key producers and try to taste as much as I can. I personally vet any wine we do any type of special promotion or feature on. I am also a yearly judge at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, which helps keep my tasting skills sharp.
Would you consider that Spain as a country is one of the world producers that has evolved the most in recent years?
There was a period where some Spanish wines were being produced to suit what was believed to be the “American palate,” but what consumers want is a wine of true providence and quality. Authenticity matters. I think producers, in Rioja in particular, seem to be getting back to their roots, offering wines that reflect a sense of place and tradition.
In your opinion, what are the best strategies to conquer the American palate?
Knowing that there is no singular American palate. Americans love access to a vast selection of all grape varieties, blends and styles from all over the world with access to information and advice to help them make an informed decision.
Rioja has been for many years the number one Designation of Origin in regard to sales of Spanish wines in the US, with Wine.com carrying over three hundred references. This is a tremendous selection over other D.O. such as Ribera del Duero and Jerez. Do you think this gap will narrow over time?
While Rioja is by far our largest Spanish region in revenue, it is falling behind in growth comps in the trailing 12 months to regions like Ribeira Sacra, Jumilla, La Mancha, Campo de Borja and Txakoli. Rioja will remain the top seller for decades to come, but growth in other regions, offering more variety in styles as well as value, are important to watch. Global warming will also change the landscape of styles, with alcohol content remaining a key factor to consumers.
Wine.com has an important presence of wines from La Rioja Alta S.A. including Viña Ardanza, Viña Arana Gran Reserva, Viña Alberdi… What do you consider that our wines add to your existing portfolio?
We offer the full range and let the customer choose! They choose La Rioja Alta wines because they are authentic, delicious wines with great scores and excellent value.
La Rioja Alta SA is one the most admired and recognized wineries internationally and our footprint in the US has been growing steadily. Has there been a noticeable uptick in searches and sales?
Vina Ardanza leads the way in volume and revenue, with Alberdi and Arana close behind. Arana has seen the most growth in the trailing 12 months. Some of this is led by features like we recently did on Ardanza, and some is score based, but mostly I think La Rioja Alta has dedicated followers that come back year after year.