Wink Lorch explores the benefit of one of The Circle’s Benefits — a complimentary Pro subscription to Wine-Searcher. She delves into all the reasons why this 23-year-old platform offers more than first meets the eye and can be a useful tool for wine communicators.
As I write, Wine-Searcher, which was established in 1999 in London by Martin Brown (also designer of a pioneering website for Berry Bros & Rudd), has just won the Casa Ferreirinha Innovation Award at the Golden Vines Awards. The win must be very gratifying for Wine-Searcher’s team of IT techies and wine database experts, many of whom have beavered away at its Auckland headquarters for years.
Recently, Wine-Searcher kindly offered a generous benefit to CWW members for a free Pro subscription, worth £72.99/$73.99/€82.99 per year – a benefit they also offer to members of the Institute of Masters of Wine. Several CWW members were already subscribers – they will have to wait until their renewal date to apply, but CWW hopes that this is an ongoing benefit. It is certainly something that we, on the committee, hope will help galvanise a new membership drive, for which we are most grateful. Several members of the committee are existing subscribers.
This piece is to share some personal tips on the usefulness of Wine-Searcher Pro if you haven’t already discovered this for yourself. I need first to declare an interest: I was acting editor of Wine-Searcher’s online magazine for nine months in 2014/2015 while then editor Rebecca Gibb was on maternity leave and somehow at the same time finalising her MW dissertation; I still write for it occasionally. However, the magazine is but one small part of this vast website, whose prime reason for existence is as a massive search engine and retail price comparison database for wines and spirits. I confess that when I arrived there in June 2014, I knew almost nothing about the site and was amazed by the resources and intricacies of the site then… eight years later and the site is slicker and packed with even more useful information. Want to know what top critics think of a specific vintage of a fine wine? It’s there. Information on the vintage itself? Sorted. A quick search for details on an obscure grape or wine region? You’ll likely find it; and there’s much more.
To appreciate the usefulness of a Pro subscription, it helps to understand how Wine-Searcher is financed. Income is derived from several sources: from Pro subscribers; from conventional advertising; from various market information services for the wine trade; but most importantly from retail sponsors. Any worldwide retailer with a publicly accessible online wine list (ranging from a producer to a fine wine store or a supermarket) may have their wine lists uploaded, and regularly updated on Wine-Searcher’s site completely free of charge. However, to appear higher in the search results, retailers pay an upgrade to become sponsors. And here’s the clever thing: only logged-in Pro subscribers see the whole list of search results. The majority of searchers, who use Wine-Searcher for free, receive a fraction of those results – for a widely distributed product, a non-Pro user might only see results from sponsor retailers.
However, Wine-Searcher aims always to deliver a result if it can, so search for a Savoie Mondeuse from an obscure vigneron and you should find the – let’s say – only two online retailers on the planet, the producer and a store in the Netherlands, even though they aren’t sponsors (providing Wine-Searcher’s ‘spiders’ have automatically picked up the data or a price list has been supplied). However, the Pro subscription comes into its own when searching for better distributed lines, for bigger branded wines and especially when searching for the best price and worldwide availability for sought-after fine wines from specific vintages. It is also vital if you are searching to find a particular wine style available in a certain country or even town, as in “what Savoie Mondeuse is available in Amsterdam?” (ASIDE: Here’s a challenge to Wine-Searcher techies: in future, may we please just type in those words, like on Google?). If you’re signed in and subscribed to Pro you will see the list of every single stockist in the database, who will supply Amsterdam. Pro also allows you to save your favourite shops, set alerts and a pile of other useful goodies. Just scroll through these FAQs.
Other Wine-Searcher secrets for professional wine communicators
You may not be aware that the website has a vast, constantly updated wine encyclopaedia split into regions and grapes – one of those who works on this, among other tasks, is CWW member Tom Jarvis, based in Wine-Searcher’s Auckland office. So, let’s say that you have the opportunity for a press trip or even a working holiday to Emilia-Romagna, but you need to convince an editor to accept an article, and perhaps need to establish which are the best producers to visit. You can use the encyclopaedia and database combined to show you which producers are being most searched for; this, in turn, can lead you on to check for stockists in your country. Here’s what you do: go to https://www.wine-searcher.com/regions and type Emilia-Romagna in the search box. Below the region description is a list of wines. The default results are the ‘Most Popular’ but try clicking on ‘Best’ and the results can guide you in your search for the top producers. In just a few clicks, I can see that Chiara Condello (who I had never heard of until just this minute) would be a priority to visit. Then, with my Pro subscription I can find stockists in the UK and in the US and I soon find one in Oregon, which once I click through to the site tells me all about the wine and the producer – I’m sold and my trip is beginning to take shape.
In the regional section, you can search big or small regions, even individual appellations. All work the same way. If you want to write about or focus on a grape variety instead, then simply go to ‘Grapes’ in the main menu. I just visited Puglia on holiday, and I forgot to do this… now I can search for Verdeca and the list that comes up includes the wine I’d forgotten I really enjoyed… sadly not available in the UK, it seems, so I’ll just have to go back, or fly to the US to try it again. As with other search engines, you can end up going down a rabbit hole of interesting stuff and while away so much time instead of writing – something most of us writers like to do…
Another useful Wine-Searcher feature is finding stores worldwide, both those who are sponsored (marked in bold) and those who are not. Full store details are given including a link to their website and a list of their wines. The stores are graded according to customer feedback and Wine-Searcher’s analysis of performance factors such as response to customers, stock availability, and shipping times.
Despite the vast database, the multiple features and its endurance in the Internet world, Wine-Searcher has occasionally been criticised as being behind the times in tech and design. Yet, it works fast (on PC – I rarely use it on my phone, so cannot comment); it adds more information all the time; and now it has won an innovation award given by – essentially – Pro users, who make up the jury for the Golden Vine Awards. I think it’s time to learn to love Wine-Searcher if you don’t already.
If you require any assistance or have any feedback, Tom Jarvis is happy to act as a first point of contact via [email protected].
To take advantage of the free Pro subscription, members should login to the Members area and find Member Benefits on the drop-down menu, then scroll to ‘Memberships’.