Question: I'm interested in opening a wine-selling business from home but am clueless about how to begin. How do I learn about licenses, or even how to purchase wine from wineries?
Answer: Wine continues to grow in popularity. In fact, wine consumption has grown dramatically in the U.S., up 63 percent since 1991. As you're aware, people's choices aren't confined to the wine on their local store shelves; they can buy wine online and have it delivered to their doorsteps (though you can't ship wine via the U.S. Postal Service; it's illegal).
While it's easier to sell and store wine than whiskey and other distilled spirits, you must be prepared to affiliate with nonhomebased licensed establishments and navigate complicated state alcoholic-beverage control laws and regulations, which change frequently.
Your customer base is limited to states that allow direct shipment of wine to consumers. For information on laws and regulations in all states, The Wine Institute provides links at www.wineinstitute.org/shipwine.
Wherever you live, as an internet-based retail business, you should get a license from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Why? Because California is not only the nation's largest producer of wine, but it's also home to the most consumers. Licenses aren't expensive--just $100 the first year--but the department requires out-of-state sellers to "operate in conjunction with a brick-and-mortar retail store."
Once you've figured out how to comply with state regulations, you face the challenge of finding customers. eBay has a "closed" category for wine sales, which means it's not findable from eBay's category list, but it can be found through a keyword search. To sell in this category, you must get prior approval from eBay. For more information on selling wine on eBay, go to http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/alcohol.html.
One niche to explore is selling high-priced wines acquired by collectors, connoisseurs and investors. To do this, check out local wine brokers and auction houses that handle wine at www.winebroker.com.