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Winestyr Makes Online Wine Buying Easy

By Anthony Todd in Food on Dec 6, 2012 5:30PM

The Winestyr homepage.

Last month, we wrote about Amazon jumping into online wine sales. Unfortunately, we also reported that their website was a pain in the neck to use; eight times out of 10 you wouldn't be able to buy the wine you'd clicked on because of the strange laws governing interstate wine sales. Luckily, Winestyr, a Chicago-based startup that launched this week, is here to help.

Why is Amazon's wine store so frustrating? Two primary reasons. First, because of the crazy laws, if you click on a wine, there is only a short list of states you can actually ship it to. Second, the selection is so voluminous, you have no assurance that the wine you're getting is any good. Winestyr solves both problems.

"Once you put in your ZIP code, it's locked in. You'll never see wines that won't ship to you. We take care of that up front," explained founder Robert Wilson. This means that you never have the moment of disappointment when you realize a wine can't be shipped to you—your selection is curated specifically for your shipping location.

Even better, the selection is carefully curated by Winestyr's wine experts. They don't stock any bad wines. "Every wine that's in our marketplace is excellent. They're cool wines. We're going to be really high-touch. People are going to be able to email us and ask for suggestions," said Wilson. "We're taking a lot of cues from the world of craft beer. That industry has exploded, and it's partly because of the culture of people helping other people find great beers. The wine world has this attitude of laughing at people who don't know much. We want to change that." Amen to that. If you've ever been belittled by a sommelier or looked down on by a wine snob friend, you understand what he's talking about.

On the site, each winery has a miniature pop-up shop/homepage. This allows customers to learn more about the small producers they are buying from. There's also a cost incentive to try new things. Shipping is never more than $10, but if you buy more than $50 from a new winery you haven't tried before, shipping only costs 1 cent.

The cost of the wines themselves are the same as retail. So why go with Winestyr? "A lot of these wines are really hard to find," Wilson told us. "With the margin we get from cutting out the wholesaler, that gives us the ability to make shipping prices really good." They won't be using a point system, either. "We hate that 0-100 point scale, and you lose a lot of interesting, terroir driven wines that are totally off the wall."

In the future, Winestyr is working to create a recommendation system, Netflix-style. They are working on a system to record the objective taste aspects of each individual wine and then track customers purchases such that they can recommend the perfect wine for you. It's quite a challenge, but they are hard at work - it won't launch until they get it right.

The key to the entire service is to build trust. Since customers can't taste the wines first, they have to trust that the experts at Winestyr know what they are talking about, so they've been extra careful with the wines and the tastings. "My partner and I both hate Pinot Grigio," Wilson said, as an example. "We have to sit there and taste and ask 'What is it supposed to be?' We've been very objective, not about whether we think this is a great wine, but whether people will like this wine. We want people to trust that, regardless of whether this wine would score well, it's interesting for what it's trying to be."

We had to ask: What's with the name? Wilson laughed. "It's kind of silly, but we wanted wine in the name and we wanted it to be two syllables. Having wine in the name makes every single domain name ever thought of unavailable. I'd love to know who owns all of them." Anyway, everyone knows that adding a y to something makes it instantly trendy. In case you're curious, it's pronounced Wine-Ster, like Napster.

The website launched this week and they are open for business. Start buying some wine!