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John JuergensWine on the Web


The Internet is destined to go down in history as one of the most significant inventions of all time, right up there with the wheel, electricity, microwave ovens, caller ID, and the sports bra (it's a guy thing, okay?).

Remember when the fax machine was all the rage? If you didn't have a fax number, people looked at you as if you might not have indoor plumbing either. Now it's e-mail and internet homepages. Pretty soon, if you don't have at least one e-mail address, you might as well retire to your outhouse with the Sears catalog, if you can find a hard copy, that is.

The wine industry has embraced the Internet in fits and starts. Winemakers, being fundamentally farmers, were a bit slow to see its relevance to their all-consuming efforts to get a quality crop out of the field and into the bottle. Wine marketing interests, on the other hand, found it to be an ideal way to reach new customers.

If you type in just the word "wine" on several of the largest search engines, you will get tens of thousands of hits. The last time I tried this I got about 30,000 hits, and I'm sure that was just a fraction of what's out there. There are websites that deal with just about any aspect of wine you can think of, including grape specific pages and chat rooms, auctions, tasting notes, wine clubs, crop and vintage reports, viticulture, and on, and on. Depending on your interests, with a little bit of custom searching you should be able to find any number of sites that will give you all the information you need.

One of the best websites I have come across is Robin Garr's Wine Lovers Page (www.wineloverspage.com). This is one of the most comprehensive sites for wine and wine information at all levels. It is a great resource for both beginner and experienced wine drinkers.

The site has a huge glossary of wine terminology and information on every type of wine grape in the world. Another section has an extensive listing of tasting notes, and the site is the host for several wine writers so you can get different perspectives on a wide range of wine topics.

Another feature of the Wine Lovers Page are the extensive links to other wine sites. However, Robin also lists a number of his own favorite links that have nothing to do with wine. Some of these are very unique and worth exploring.

The major wine publications, such as Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, also have extensive websites that you can browse. However, there are sections that you can't access unless you take out a subscription. These sites are useful particularly when you want to get a rundown of, say, the best Chardonnays for under $10, or the top 100 wines of the year, and they have an archive of past issues.

If you are looking for wine paraphernalia, there is an abundance of sites that feature online catalogs of everything from clothing to glassware.

I frequently get questions about buying wine through the internet and by mail order. Most wineries now have webpages with online order capability, and there has been huge increase in the number of organizations that sell wines over the net. While this might seem like a great way to gain access to all those wines we don't get in the state, there is one little problem: It's illegal in Mississippi, and all but a handful of other states.

The shipment of wine across state lines directly to the consumer is a hugely complicated issue and one that is being hotly debated throughout the country. The U.S. Congress is even involved in fray.

Actually, the basic issue is very simple; it's all about money. But most of the opponents to direct shipping, the local wholesalers, who would lose their cut of the transaction, wrap their arguments in the notion that this would be a huge public health hazard since it would give kids easy access to alcohol. Yeah, right. I can just imagine a 14 year old kid whipping out his parents' titanium Visa card, calling up Robert Mondavi Winery or one of the many wine mail order houses in California, ordering a case of 1990 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon at $50 a bottle, and then waiting seven to ten days for it to arrive.

Other arguments claim that direct shipping of wines would hurt the local retailer, which also is nonsense. Most people will use direct shipping to get wines that are not available in the area of one reason or another. Many wineries, for example, are too small to have a formal presence in all states and others just don't want to fool with the massive paperwork required. Most wine buyers are not going to go to the trouble and expense of ordering moderately priced wines over the net that they can get at their neighborhood wine shop since they would lose money on the deal.

What really astounds me is the amount of effort and money some states have been wasting to clamp down on direct shipping. States make a huge amount of money from taxes on wine sales and argue that they lose that tax money on direct shipments, which is true. They also argue that they lose control over the flow of that alcohol, which is also true.

However, the volume of wine we're talking about here is very small in relation to the amount that comes through the normal channels. And we have to remember there is an enormous cost associated with implementing and maintaining a restrictive policy that would be almost impossible to enforce effectively anyway.

What I don't get is why state legislators, ours included, would want to waste so many resources on trying to make laws to restrict the flow of wine into their states rather than trying to find workable solutions to enhance access to wines so that everybody wins. The state would get its tax money and consumers would get their wines. And the wholesalers and retailers won't even be affected. Instead of a drain on tax dollars, a permissive system would be a net revenue generator.

So, those of you who have an occasion to talk with your state legislators, buttonhole them with this issue and see if you can get any kind of honest answer that passes the "straight-face" test of credibility. If they bring up the idea of underage alcohol access, tell them to get a grip and follow the money. It's all about the middle men trying to protect their assets.

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