When it comes to wine websites, knowledge is power... purchase power, that is. A new survey by WineAccess.com, shows that wine lovers prefer the value of information over hard-sell tactics when it comes to buying their favorite beverage.

The national, on-line survey of 2,400 consumers who use wine websites was conducted by Point of View Research, PA, and found that people prefer a wine website that provides an easy, interactive way to ask questions, exchange information and get recommendations from all kinds of other people on the website.

All this talk, it seems, isn't cheap. In fact, a whopping 53 percent of wine lovers who prefer this approach purchase wine at least once a month, while an additional 21 percent purchase their wine weekly, making them more frequent buyers than any other model tested.

"People want to learn from someone who knows and buy from people they trust. That's why a majority of Americans prefer online retailers with stores that also have a physical presence," comments Jim Weinrott, founder of WineAccess.com.

WineAccess.com is a national community of wine consumers online, each one a customer serviced by an actual local retail store (http://www.wineaccess.com).

"What many sites fail to take into account," claims Weinrott, "is that selling wine is a very personalized business. Consumers rely on local retailers to guide them in their selections and provide a forum for discussion, both of which are key elements to successfully selling wine."

In fact, Weinrott supports his view by citing recent studies indicating that two-thirds of all shoppers prefer contact with a real person. He also knows whereof he speaks. Unlike other entrepreneurs who started wine sites based upon a technical expertise, Weinrott has an in-depth knowledge of the wine industry earned, literally from the ground up, over 20 years.

The survey also showed that wine aficionados want to collect and organize the information they get on-line. According to the survey, the next most popular feature consumers would like to have is a way to track and organize purchases, log opinions of wines and receive recommendations based on their likes and dislikes.

Interestingly enough, the survey showed a significant difference between men and women when it came to preferences. Women are more likely to gather information, query experts and educate themselves about wine, while men are more likely to enjoy the organizational aspects of wine collecting and take part in chat rooms.

According to Weinrott, the survey supports the business model he has spent the past five years developing.

WineAccess.com connects consumers to their local store so they can query their store manager, find out about local tasting events and sort the top rated wines by other WineAccess.com site members throughout the country.

Right from the store's website, the consumer also has access to a database of over 250,000 wines; wine-tasting groups; member reviews of wines, restaurants and places to stay, rated on a five-star system; members-only discussion forums, and a "wine finder" service through which member stores will search for hard-to-find wines. Members also have a personal web page that keeps track of their "wine portfolio," a listing of wines purchased, tasted and rated by each member.

"Clearly, the current trend in e-tailing shows that the traditional brick-and-mortar retailer is not going the way of the telegraph, as some technology pundits once claimed they would," comments Weinrott.

"As technology continues to redefine itself and Americans become more comfortable in its use, one thing has become increasingly clear. There is still a place for the Main Street retailer, especially in the wine business, where an educated consumer is more likely to make more profitable high-end, repeat purchases."

Weinrott and his company seem to be on the right track. So much so that over 100 retail stores are contracting to use the system, representing over 2 million regular wine buyers. Weinrott is confident that by the year's end nearly 10 percent of all wine off-premise (retail) sales will go through brick-and-mortar stores that use WineAccess as a prime on-line marketing tool.

WineAccess.com, based in Narberth, PA, received $6 million in investment capital from Mellon Bank's Mellon Ventures, Safeguard Scientifics' Pennsylvania Early Stage Partners, and RAF Industries. The company expects to receive another $25 million during the next quarter.