Ask anyone where the world’s most popular wine website is located and they’ll probably say Paris, London or New York.
In fact, it’s situated in west Auckland and attracts more than 1.5 million unique visitors a month.
Wine Searcher (www.wine-searcher.com) is an online search engine that will pretty much tell you all you need to know about any wine in the world.
It will help you find a wine, give you an idea of how much it costs and let you know how the critics rate it.
The company is the brainchild of New Zealander Martin Brown, who launched it in London just over a decade ago.
With a background in the wine and IT industries, he saw a market for a global search engine that could capitalise on the burgeoning worldwide consumption of wine.
In just six weeks he wrote out a program, created a database and launched Wine Searcher.
“It was groundbreaking at the time,” he told NBR Online. “No one else was doing it until I arrived on the scene and then quite a few others had a go at it."
For three years, Mr Brown had no income at all as he battled the opposition. But then his fortunes changed.
“They all went bankrupt by 2002, largely as a result of using venture capital, which I never did, and I was the only one left.”
Which was when he hired his first staff and grew the business, eventually shifting the operation to Auckland a few years ago where he now employs around 40 people.
They are a mix of wine and IT experts, including several journalists who are responsible for Wine Searcher’s latest venture – an online wine magazine that is about to be launched.
So who uses Wine Searcher and how does the company turn a dollar?
Well, 60% of visitors to the site are men, mostly in the 35-54 age bracket with household incomes ranging from $US50,000 to in excess of $US150,000.
And they are predominantly North Americans, followed by Europeans and Hong Kong Chinese.
The Chinese are now bigger wine consumers than the British and Wine Searcher gets 90,000 unique visitors a month from Hong Kong.
The most looked-for wines are Chateau Lafite Rothschild (205,938 searches a month) and Penfolds Grange Bin 95 (43,366 searches).
These are just two of the more than 190,000 types of wine listed with Wine Searcher.
Martin Brown prides himself on the fact that any bottle of wine that can be bought online in the world or found in a wine store can be purchased through Wine Searcher.
Visitors to the site get two options: a free search, which gives them information about wines in their immediate locality; or paying $US40 a year to get access to a much larger database.
The company also offers a sponsorship package to wine merchants, who can get an enhanced listing on the site for $US4220 a year.
So from humble beginnings Wine Searcher has become a Kiwi success story with others trying to emulate it.
However, its major competitor, a Belgium website, has just 290,000 unique visitors a month compared to Wine Searcher’s 1.5 million.
Even hard to please wine experts like Jancis Robinson are singing its praises:
“Wine Searcher to my mind is by far the easiest and most effective of the wine search engines. I feel embarrassed by the force of my enthusiasm for this outfit with which I have no commercial affiliation but which I am constantly praising. There are other, similar wine search engines but none as global or effective.”
If you’re in the wine business it doesn’t get any better than that and Martin Brown can take great credit for having the courage of his convictions.
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