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CellarTracker 2018, new records and new features. Interview with Founder, Eric Levine

100M tracked bottles, 3M unique wines and 7M free community authored wine reviews; Cellar Tracker is continuing to solidify it's position as the biggest online wine community in the world. This impressive feat started as in 2003 as a side project of a Microsoft employee (see more in our 2016 interview). Cellar Tracker has recently circulated an exciting newsletter announcing new features and improvements to their community. We figured it's an excellent opportunity to discuss these with Cellar Tracker's founder, Eric Levine. Cellar tracker is the leading cellar management tool and tasting note community in the world. What are some of the stats of cellar tracker? (users, tasting notes, number of bottles in the system)?

Eric LeVine, Founder of Cellar Tracker: Well the stats are constantly growing, so anything I give you now will be out of date by the time you publish it…

As of 2/15/2019 we have 586,755 users tracking 100,582,026 bottles comprised of 2,910,852 distinct wines. The community has authored 7,220,203 free wine reviews from real users. Plus we partner with 25 professional publications to integrate 865,438 professional reviews (separate subscriptions or opt-ins required).

And those statistics are just from the people who have registered. In a typical month, we get almost 2 million visits to our website/apps from about 750,000 unique visitors, and that gets much higher in some holiday months. You've recently circulated a newsletter with some exciting new features. We wanted to ask what is the "pro review channel about"? Is it for paid users only?

Eric LeVine: So we partnered with many professional wine reviewers dating back to 2005 to fully integrate their reviews in CellarTracker. These include huge names in wine reviewing like Antonio Galloni, Steve Tanzer and their stable of amazing writers at Vinous. Or Allen Meadows from Burghound, Jancis Robinson, Jeb Dunnuck, John Gilman, Decanter, the World of Fine Wine, and dozens of others. As already mentioned, we have nearly 1 million reviews from a diverse set of publications. In most cases, to see these reviews, you subscribe to those respective publications, and then we have a way for you to activate this content in CellarTracker only for as long as you subscribe to the respective publication. You don’t have to pay CellarTracker a penny for this. Rather you have to subscribe to the respective publications. We do have a few content channels that allow us to show scores (but not review text) to people who are paying CellarTracker, but the goal is to get people to subscribe to those other publications. This all stems from my belief of the highly complementary nature of professional reviews versus crowdsourced community reviews. As an ecosystem and an industry, consumers benefit a great deal from both of these. Please read more here. You've mentioned partnering with wine retailer Benchmark Wine to allow your users to easily share their cellars with them. Can you elaborate on how this will work? What can people do if Benchmark doesn't want their specific list, will you integrate other retailers?

Eric LeVine: We actually quietly launched our partnership with Benchmark back in September and then announced it in November.

The basic premise is simple. As a collector I may have wines that I no longer want to consume. My tastes may have shifted, the value of some wines may have risen too much, I may have too much wine. The reasons go on and on. So as a service to our collectors, we wanted to come up with a way to introduce them to a partner who knows exactly how to evaluate and purchase wines while making things as simple as possible for the collector. That is of course my goal, to provide services to help collectors manage, value and enjoy their cellars. Most importantly, this all needs to be a totally legal and properly licensed process. CellarTracker is not in the wine business. We do no commerce. We just have productivity software and information and partner with other players in the industry.

The feature itself is really simple. Within CellarTracker, people can tag bottles or wines to add to a “selling” list. We just leverage a special per-bottle tag and provide editing tools for people to build or prune their list. Then, like any other view of their cellar, they can export a spreadsheet to send to anyone. Now, Benchmark Wine Group is our exclusive launch partner, and they will enjoy that exclusivity for a while. So the nice part of the feature is that a user, with one click, can send their selling list to Benchmark in a format that is designed for Benchmark to consume rapidly and easily. That allows Benchmark to streamline their normal intake process so they can get back to customers quickly. At that point every conversation is different, but Benchmark will work with people to tune their list. I don’t get involved in that. I am just making the introduction between a whole lot of passionate wine collectors and a terrific retailer who is interested in acquiring bottles from them and helping them transmit the data to make the most efficient possible conversation. The rest is between them. The whole thing is described here.

We have simply worked together to streamline that and introduce customers to this. Right now I am focused on making sure that my customers have a great experience and to ensure that I am focusing on our relationship with Benchmark.

I have had a number of approaches from other wine retailers and auction houses, and when the time is right, I will explore whether it makes sense to add more selling partners onto the platform. My goal is to serve the wine collectors on my platform, so we are always looking to improve in that regard. Is there a peer to peer wine sale option in the pipeline?

Eric LeVine: Absolutely not. I am not interested in testing the limits of compliance and the law. I will just refer you back to WineCommune and their slow demise. You've recently added international currencies to your platform - how will that work?

Nearly 40% of our customers are outside of the United States. Now, from day one we have always allowed a collector to specify one default currency for their cellar, whether that be US dollars, Great Britain Pounds, Swiss Francs, Euro, Brazilian Real. We have a wine set of locales and currencies that we have always supported, more than 100 locales.

What is new is that we allow you to specify a currency on a per-purchase basis, and we then do the right things to translate this back to default currency in a user’s profile. That allows people to just enter their native currency and price, and the system handles the exchange rates. And by handle, depending upon the view, we show an average price in the user’s default currency. So personally I have some wines that I have purchased in 2 or even 3 distinct currencies, and the system translates that all back to USD for except where I am drilled down to see a specific purchase. And even then, when a user sorts by price, of course we are sorting on a translated column so that things are in the right order.

We also provide rich bulk editing tools in our desktop website to help people cleanup their existing entries. So for me personally, living in Seattle I often have traveled to British Columbia. I was able to go back 15 years and cleanup my purchase records to reflect where I had purchased things in Canadian dollars. And I also had the experience of living in Switzerland for 2.5 years, so I had purchased dozens of cases of wine in Swiss Francs and Euros. Now that is all properly tracked in my cellar.

Our primary premium feature for our paying customers is an automatic valuation service based on community average prices as well as the integration of auction data from the Wine Market Journal. Please read more here.

With all of the new currency support, we are now able to calculate an average price from our entire community (we used to only base the average on the US users) and are also able to let paying customers with non-US locale still enjoy the community and auction prices.

Anyway, it is a lot of words and a lot of plumbing to describe a simple feature that is especially important for people in Europe. Please read more here.

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