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Robert Bonneau - Président de Global Wine & SpiritsAs the new Millennium began and the Internet was asserting its place in the field of business applications, there were widely differing views, hopes and concerns as to whether this new tool would better serve small companies or big business.

As tools once reserved for the largest corporations became available to all, it was possible to imagine a ?new economic order.? At the same time, however, the widespread accessibility of these tools and the astonishing speed with which they became indispensable put additional pressure on companies whose resources were already stretched to the limit.

From disbelief to acceptance
"Yes, but not in the wine industry." This mixed message of hope and concern often expressed the fear wine professionals had of relinquishing even more ground to new technologies in their business practices.

Many viewed the Internet as a necessary evil -- one more distribution and communication channel to complement others already in place -- failing to recognize its enormous potential for shrinking distances and costs while exponentially expanding the audience reached.

Today, economic conditions are forcing companies to rationalize their tools. Hard copies of catalogues and price lists are going the way of the dodo, while the community of wine professionals and amateurs increasingly keeps in touch through the Internet on "smart phones." Rating wines is no longer the exclusive domain of elite critics as networks of amateurs begin to take over this role. Finally, the concept of "long tail1" distribution has given new life to specialty products, to the great delight of wine lovers. When information is transparent and accessible, markets always perform better, and no more striking example of this can be found than the wine industry.

If there is one craft that deserves our respect, it is surely that of the winegrower. A professional with eclectic skills, the winegrower operates in a world where he or she not only serves as the custodian and promoter of an art and a tradition but also is obliged to continually develop professionally -- often alone -- in an extremely competitive business environment in which brand development, positioning and distribution strategies are critical. While some competitors have teams of specialists managing their business operations, the independent winegrower requires special ingenuity to be a one-man band.

So then, does the Internet favour small or large companies? There is no universal answer. Anyone who uses the Internet without first preparing carefully will inevitably incur additional costs and have less free time without any better results to show for it. On the other hand, someone who approaches this powerful tool with a strategic plan will have an advantage over the competition, for increasingly the Internet is where brands are established, contacts developed and new clients found.

Robert Bonneau
President, Global Wine & Spirits

1. Suggested reading: "The possibilities in the long tail of wine," Robert Joseph, Wine Business, May 2007.