Wine and spirits are among the most heavily regulated consumer goods, making them a contentious issue when it comes to e-commerce. Enter WineAccess.com, the brainchild of Importer Jim Weinrott, which circumvents these problems by giving local retailers the ability to compete with "mega" sites that are trying to swoop in and drive the independent retailer out by encouraging direct purchase via the Internet.

"What many of these other 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 to provide a forum for discussion. WineAccess.com gives retailers and consumers the ability to maintain and enhance these relationships by using our new technology."

Unlike many other Web entrepreneurs, Weinrott, 45, has no intention of putting retailers out of business. WineAccess.com is a national community of wine consumers online, each one a local customer serviced by an actual local retail store. WineAccess.com custom builds each store's website, using each store's own point-of-sale system to automatically update and market that store's inventory of wines on that store's own website.

A demonstration of WineAccess.com's new technology will be held Wednesday, May 10 at 11 AM at Union Square Wines & Spirits, which is one of several Manhattan stores which will be powered by WineAccess. Union Square Wines & Spirits is located at 33 Union Square West, between 16th and 17th Streets.

To the online consumer, it will be a virtual walk through their local store. They can query their store manager, see what items are currently in stock, 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.

They can also access wine experts like Steve Tanzer, author of Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar and Edward Murray, sommelier at Le Bec-Fin. Soon, store sites will also feature notes by other well-known and highly regarded experts.

"WineAccess.com gives us an opportunity to have a presence on the web and better service our clients," comments David Braff, proprietor, Union Square Wines & Spirits. "Our commitment is to service. Our customers will be able to visit our store at any time, from any location. We're here 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Mr. Braff's partner Mitchell Soodak concurs, "Success in e-commerce depends on combining today's newest technology with proven retailer skills and service. With WineAccess.com, we have the perfect marriage of clicks and mortar."

A number of other tri-state area stores will go live on May 10, powered by WineAccess.com as well, including Winfield-Flynn, 558 Third Avenue; McCabes, 1347 Third Avenue, and K&D Wines, 1366 Madison Avenue in New York City. In New Jersey, Circle Liquors, Sommers Point will also launch. They will be joined by others nationally including Moore Brothers in Pennsauken, NJ; Daily Planet, Alexandria, VA; Hi-Time Wine Cellars, Costa Mesa, CA; The Wine House, Los Angeles, CA, and Greenville Wine & Spirits Company, Wilmington, DE.

According to Weinrott, over forty new stores are expected to be up and running over the next few weeks, and the service expects to have hundreds of stores online by year's end using the WineAccess.com's technology.

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 $20 million during the next quarter.