Personalization in a Bottle

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It took two Yale grads and a common appreciation for wine to create a service for people like them: an online wine club company called Bottlenotes.

The 6-month-old e-commerce site at www.bottlenotes.com offers wine to members based on their likely and known tastes.

"We are like a Netflix or Amazon for wine," said Kim Donaldson, New York-based co-founder and director of business development at Bottlenotes. "We offer personalization for wine lovers."

Ms. Donaldson and Alyssa Rapp, based in Palo Alto, CA, started Bottlenotes upon discovering that they were both Yale University graduates who loved wine. Ms. Rapp formerly ran the wine club at Stanford Business School, and Ms. Donaldson owned Donaldson Design Group, a graphic design and online marketing firm with food and wine clients. Ms. Rapp is co-founder and CEO of Bottlenotes.

The site offers members bottles of wine that are picked for their individual tastes. The member's tastes are tracked first by an introductory survey asking everything from food preferences to how risky one wants to be and how the member takes her coffee.

After a subscriber receives a bottle of wine from the site, an e-mail asks the subscriber to rate the experience with the product. These responses refine the user profile and let the service make further selections for wines that the member might enjoy.

The subscriber also can create a private profile of favorite wines that can be shared with other users. Industry experts will have public profiles with tips and hints about favorite wines, too.

Users of bottlenotes.com can select from five club memberships. The Explorer's Club is for beginners while The Connoisseur's Club is for more seasoned wine drinkers. Then there are the Seasonal Tastings and Dinner Party clubs. The Limited Addictions Club is an invite-only club for exclusive wines.

Each club offers the option to sign up for a monthly, bimonthly or quarterly shipment of two, four, six or 12 bottles. The cost ranges from $39.95 a shipment for two bottles from the Explorer's Club to $179.95 for two bottles from the Limited Addictions Club. The company would not disclose its number of members.

Not all visitors to bottlenotes.com wish to become members. An online store lets visitors buy bottles of wine without joining.

Wines are distributed through New Vine Logistics, a Napa, CA, firm that ships the wines based on the Bottlenotes selection. The distributor has an agreement with 30 states allowing the legal mailing of alcohol.

To market itself, Bottlenotes bought 1,000 keywords on Google. The company also enlisted search consultant Terry Whalen to advise on keyword buying.

"Google Analytics is very powerful, as it allows you to track which words are being hit so that you can really target your search words," Ms. Rapp said. "I have been changing keywords on a weekly basis based on the results of Google's analysis."

Other marketing tactics include e-mails, events and affiliate links. The firm held launch parties in San Francisco, Chicago and New York. It also has targeted charity events such as Diamond Creek Dinner in San Francisco, the New York Philharmonic, Drama League Awards and Personal TAC with Bottlenotes fliers in goody bags.

The Limited Addiction wines were launched through Christie's auction house, which will host various Bottlenotes wine events in the fall.

Bottlenotes affiliates running links include iGourmet and BottegaDelvino.com. Bottlenotes is powering Courtney Cochran's HipTastes wine club.

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