The wine industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, with millions of dollars spent by consumers each year to obtain wine via the Internet or wine-of-the-month clubs. If you are looking to start a new business, selling bottles of wine or wine-of-the-month club memberships can be quite lucrative. Despite the large amount of red tape you must work through to obtain the necessary licenses from your home state, becoming an online wine retailer can be a pleasurable and profitable enterprise.

Research your competition. Closely examine the websites of wine retailers and wine-of-the-month clubs that you wish to emulate, taking notes on website design, vintages on offer, pricing and other website features. You must offer prices that are close to (if not less than) these websites.

Peruse the archives of popular wine blogs and wine magazines to get a feel for what wines and wine growing regions are popular with consumers today.

Develop your business model. Determine whether you will focus rare and expensive bottles of wine or if you will sell cases of wine at bargain close-out prices. Will you offer daily deals, weekly specials or quarterly clearance sales? What wine varieties will be your specialties?

Review state and local laws that may affect your business. The sale of wine will likely require you to obtain special business licenses, and you may also be subject to certain tax laws. Contact both local and state officials to help you navigate the often-confusing minefield of legal jargon. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau will also require you to pay taxes and fill out TTB forms.

In addition, you will need to familiarize yourself with states that prohibit shipping of alcohol through the mail as this may limit your business opportunities.

Give some thought to your wine club’s strategy. Some wine-of-the-month clubs offer wines from specific geographic locations, while others focus on specific vineyards or varietals. Generally speaking, you may start by offering wine club memberships in three-, six-, and 12-month lengths. To add additional variety, you may choose to offer club members a choice of all red, all white, or mixed bottles of wine in each monthly shipment. As your business grows, you may consider expanding your club to ship globally, or to include a greater number of expensive wines.

Hire a web designer to build your website to your exact specifications. In addition to a professional-looking design, your site must also have a shopping cart with 128-bit security encryption, or utilize secure shopping partners.

Build your inventory. You can purchase wine via online auctions, wholesale distributors, or, in some states, from local vineyards. Your local Yellow Pages is a great starting point for finding the relevant contact information for these businesses.