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Mon., April 16, 2007

A family with vino and technology in their veins hopes to make Sandpoint synonymous with online wine sales.

Jack Eaves, 54, is the guy in charge of, one of the Inland Northwest’s most ambitious online wine sellers.

Eaves’ 37-year-old stepson, Barrett Alexander, is the company’s CEO and technology director. Eaves’ wife, Paula, 59, is vice president.

Their online company, which has been operating since 1997, became profitable in 2004 and now is one of the region’s better-known sites because of its vast selection of about 1,400 Northwest wines.

“If you wanted one place to come and buy five or six great Northwest wines, that’s what we offer,” said Eaves, buyer and price-setter for Winoworld.

Alexander joined his parents in the business in 2002. Before that he headed an online game development company in the Dallas area.

Jack Eaves has been involved in wines for 20 years. He doubted a small, family-run business, based in his Sandpoint home, could compete with big companies.

But e-commerce helps level the playing field. An industry study from VinterActive LLC found 2006 U.S. online wine sales totaled $197 million, an increase of 45 percent from 2005. That growth stems from easing of rules that prevented sales of wine to out-of-state buyers, plus a gradual acceptance of online wine shopping, said Eaves.

Last week he had one order from a Florida resident for 34 bottles from five different California and Washington wineries. The total came to $1,600.

“Why would somebody down in California log on and find a California wine for sale in Idaho and buy it? Because it’s so convenient,” he said. “We ship products right to the doorstep.”

The Eaveses operated two retail wine stores on Schweitzer Mountain and in downtown Sandpoint. They closed the mountain store in 2004 and sold the Sandpoint store last year. They now focus their time exclusively on online sales.

Annual sales — projected at $450,000 for 2007 — add up to more than 1,200 cases of wine, with sales growing 15 percent a year, said Alexander. He works from his office in Sagle while Eaves handles orders and shipping of products from Sandpoint.

Eaves selected the name Winoworld both to appeal to aficionados and to dispel the snobbery that some people associate with wine.

“People who really care about wine call themselves winos,” he said. “But we also wanted something that was a little fun.”

Roughly half their online sales are for California wines, with the rest divided among wineries from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Of all Northwest wines sold, about half come from Washington’s ever-growing list of highly rated wineries.

Most orders from out-of-state go to New York. California and Florida rank second and third.

“Our prices are about in line with what you could get from the wineries’ own Web sites,” said Eaves.

If someone in Colorado visits Winoworld and buys 24 bottles of wines choosing from among five different wineries, Eaves determines how many bottles he has in his Sandpoint cellar and how many he needs to order from his six regional distributors.

Any that have to be ordered from distributors are shipped the next morning to his office. He then packs the orders into boxes and slaps on the Winoworld mailing label. Most orders go out the next day, Eaves said.

His largest wine distributor is Seattle-based Odom Corp., which has warehouses across the region, including in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston.

Dave Vermeer, a sales representative for Odom who works with Winoworld, said the Eaveses and Alexander have turned the corner and become a force to be reckoned with in terms of online wine sales. “Jack knows what he’s doing. He’s the main guy in these parts for having a very strong online store with good customer service,” said Vermeer.


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