Calgary Wine Life: Meet Alberta Winestein

30 01 2013

[Cross-posted at www.calgaryisawesome.com]

AlbertaWinestein_logoJPGHow much of your 2012 Christmas shopping did you do online?  In my case, the answer comes perilously close to “all of it”.  No malls to brave, no parking to find, no bags to carry, just page after page of every imaginable type of gift easily accessible from the comfort of my house — it’s hard to see the downside.  The Internet has increasingly become my retail destination of choice, and over the past few years I have purchased any number of things online:  books, movies, furniture, shares, even (sort of) a dog.  But wine?  Forget about it, at least in Alberta.  While e-commerce has started to become an important part of the wine industry in the US, there has been almost a total vacuum in the local market, with no retailers offering a comprehensive online ordering platform and no other service providers stepping up to fill the void…until now.  With its formal launch earlier this month, Alberta Winestein (http://www.albertawinestein.com) is making online wine ordering a reality in our province and is seeking to bring high quality boutique products to every corner of Alberta.

The idea is a simple but powerful one:  find some way to connect the scores of wine buyers across the province to the wares of some of Calgary’s most respected and prestigious shops, to the benefit of all parties.  After a couple years of intense planning, Alberta Winestein founder and CEO Guillaume Bedard is now ready to implement his strategy to realize this goal.  “As a consumer, it was difficult and time-consuming to know what unique products were offered in Alberta from all the best boutique retailers,” Bedard explains.  “We dreamed of a way to ease our search while using state of the art e-commerce services.  We then realized that boutique retailers are themselves under increasing pressure from large surface retailers and are now facing greater competition than ever while trying to address a growing market demand.  That is when Alberta Winestein went from concept to reality:  a central e-commerce platform for amazing boutique retailers in order to ease the purchasing process for consumers.”

AlbertaWinestein_TeamFor Bedard and his 5-person AW team, this focus on partnering with independent boutiques is a choice borne of pride and passion and not a mere marketing exercise; it is immediately clear that the organization has put a great deal of thought into who has been approached to offer products under the Winestein banner.  “Our partners make a direct contribution to the quality of life we have in Alberta.  They all work hard to seek out great suppliers and build connections with farmers and vintners from around the world to ensure that the selection of wines and food here is among the best in Canada,” says Bedard.  “Our partners are like an extension of our family.  They make Alberta one of the best places to shop for wine in North America.”  To date, Alberta Winestein’s selection of boutique partners reads as a who’s who of longstanding independent wine retailers in Calgary:  Metrovino, J-Webb Wine Merchants, Richmond Hill Wines and Bin 905.  In addition to wine, the site also offers artisanal meats and cheeses from local stalwarts Janice Beaton Fine Cheese and CRMR At Home Specialty Market (the retail food arm of Canadian Rocky Mountain Ranch).  Each of these retail partners have strong relationships with the AW team, who have over 20 years of Calgary wine and specialty food industry experience between them.

AlbertaWinestein_cheeseOfferSo how does it work?  Each AW retail partner offers a rotating series of wine/food packages on the Alberta Winestein site for consumers’ purchasing pleasure.  The wine offerings currently come in two different formats:  (1) Discoveries, which are mixed six-packs of bottles swapped out monthly that are geared around a particular wine region or style (some of this month’s theme packs include African Wines, Blended Wines, Malbecs and New World Cabernets), and (2) Features, which change weekly and offer the customer a pair of 3-packs of matching or contrasting bottles (for example, “Surf ‘n’ Turf”, pairing 3 crisp seafood-friendly Chardonnays from Chablis with 3 rich and beefy reds from France’s Languedoc region, or “Syrah Showdown”, pitting 3 bottles of New World Syrah from producer Shooting Star in California against 3 bottles of Old World Syrah from Pierre Gaillard in the Rhone Valley).  On the food side, the Market page is regularly updated with new and varied meat and cheese combinations, some with included wine pairings.  The retailers themselves choose which selections will grace Alberta Winestein’s pages and offer them up to the public through the site at prices that tend to average 10% to 15% below standard retail.  When a customer makes a purchase online, the order is placed directly with the relevant boutique and Alberta Winestein does all of the behind-the-scenes coordination work to ensure that the products are gathered and shipped, all AGLC regulations are respected and the highest e-commerce security standards are maintained.

Alberta Winestein Webview

Every Thursday, all orders from the previous week are shipped for delivery directly to the customer’s door, and within a couple days after that (depending on the order destination — same-day in Calgary!), your purchased wines are in your hands and ready to drink.  Shipping is free within Calgary’s inner-city and only costs up to $12 for deliveries along the main Highway 2 corridor and other major centres; if you live in Fort Mac, Grande Prairie or rural Alberta, you’ll pay a bit more, but you can still get your hands on some killer wines that would have previously been completely inaccessible.  Even better, if you order wines/food on the site from multiple different AW retail partners, they all get combined into a single package for shipment (and a single shipping charge) rather than being sent out piecemeal.  Bedard sums it up concisely:  “While still enjoying a competitive price for their purchases, customers gain the convenience of having amazing products delivered directly to their door from all our partners in one easy delivery.”

AlbertaWinestein_partnersThe upside to the retailers is clear:  they get the ability to sell their wines to a much broader market online without having to invest in operating and maintaining their own electronic purchasing system.  The access to free/cheap delivery is a huge convenience bonus to those of us in Calgary, and any opportunity to purchase high-quality artisanal wine from home is a massive boon to everyone living outside of Alberta’s two major cities, who have generally struggled for market exposure up until now.  Alberta Winestein has had a strong start and has met all of its business milestones to date, but I think they are just starting to scratch the surface of what wine e-commerce in Alberta can become.  As the site grows and people become more aware of this online purchasing avenue for wine, I can see significantly expanded product lines and fully customizable order packages as possibilities going forward, growth options that would give customers the same level of choice and buying power at their home computer as they now have walking into a wine shop.  The future is now for online wine, and there has never been a better time to be a wine consumer in Alberta.

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