Lifestyle

Islanders create Web wine guide - Wineries, events are detailed on the site

By Cody Ellerd

Mercer Island's Heather and Scott Truchot found salvation from their thankless corporate lives in a bottle of wine.

After what they describe as ``a series of unfortunate events which are usually told humorously after a few glasses of wine,'' the couple rediscovered life's fruity sweetness in the world of wineries. Now they want to help others do the same. They have started Winerybound.com, a state-by-state online winery locator aimed at connecting people with the magic of the vine.

``When my husband and I met, we both had great jobs and lots of money,'' Heather, 34, recalls. ``By the time we were married, we had lost our jobs. Everything that could go wrong went wrong.''

Both were laid off from dot-coms and were unemployed for more than a year. They had no support system of friends or family in the area. They were borrowing money from their parents. Then through some of Heather's work doing Web sites and label design for wineries, the couple saw an opportunity for a niche in the wine business where their talents could converge.

Scott was an information technology manager. Heather was a marketing art director. Owners of small wineries operating in Washington state needed more exposure, and everyone else, the couple felt -- well, they just needed to drink more wine. Winerybound.com was born.

The site offers a subscription service for wineries to list themselves in the Winerybound database. Depending on their membership level, they can include general overviews, directions, descriptions of their wines and details of winery events. They also can be placed on an interactive travel planning map for people intending to take regional tours.

Users can surf the site for free. They can locate wineries in the search engine by wine names, ratings and winery event dates. The interactive mapping function is one of the more dazzling features of the site. Select a state about which you'd like winery information and a Google-powered satellite map jumps to life, populating the screen with pinpointed winery locations you can then click on to get more details.

There are many regional wine directories, but Heather says Winerybound is different because it is nationwide. Basic membership is also free on her site, whereas the regional associations charge a hefty yearly fee, she said. Winerybound also facilitates direct purchasing from the winemaker to the consumer by including downloadable order forms.

Scott Greer, owner of Sheridan Vineyard, a small, family-owned winery in Yakima Valley, is happy with the results of his subscription.

``We're getting a tremendous amount of visitors from out-of-state with Winerybound,'' he said. ``We're definitely seeing an impact.''

Foot traffic is particularly desirable to a vintner because selling bottles directly to the customer allows him to keep a much larger cut. Greer says that compared with other marketing methods, such as pricey memberships in wine associations, donating bottles for tastings and festivals or hoping for positive reviews in wine magazines, Winerybound.com is a more cost-effective way to get people to try his wine.

``For a small vineyard with limited marketing resources, that's important,'' he said.

Making wine more accessible is a mission the Truchots and Greer believe in.

``I think people are realizing that you can drink wine and enjoy it, and not be intimidated by it,'' Heather said. Dispelling the notion that you must have encyclopedic knowledge of which grape came from which vineyard in which year to enjoy a glass of wine is one of the driving ideals behind the creation of Winerybound.

If the recent numbers coming out of the wine industry are any indication, the Truchots' ideas are ripening around the country. From 1991 to 2004, total consumption of wine in the United States has grown more than 60 percent, or 202 million gallons, to 668 million gallons, according to the California-based Wine Institute. In Washington state, the number of wineries has jumped from less than 20 in 1981 to more than 350 in 2005. The state is now the second-larges t premium producer of wine in the country, bringing in $3 billion every year, according to the Washington Wine Commission. California is the first.

Heather and Scott have a full list of Washington wineries in their database. Since last October, she has been working on the site full time out of the couple's home on Mercer Island, where they have some 12 computers. Scott handles the Web site's architecture while Heather does what she calls ``making it pretty.'' With the help of a team of volunteers recruited from craigslist.com (Heather and Scott also found each other online), they have entered winery data for about half of the United States.

The Truchots don't plan on stopping there. In addition to creating a blog and a newsletter with itineraries for wine tours, the couple would like to expand the database to include wineries worldwide.

``Wine is for the people,'' Heather said.

With their glasses looking half-full, that's something the Truchots can toast to.

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