Fine wines a winning game online at Underground Cellar

Fine wines a winning game online at Underground Cellar
Underground Cellar co-founder Jeffrey Shaw is pictured on April 9, 2014 at the Yerba Buena Gardens in downtown San Francisco, California.

SAN FRANCISCO - Underground Cellar is making a game of getting more than you asked for when it comes to great wine.

Startup founder Jeffrey Shaw playfully described it as " wine roulette," only you can't lose and the payout is cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay or other varietals crafted by renowned vineyards.

"I was a technology guy; I sort of fell into wine," Shaw said while exploring undergroundcellar.com on an iPad.

Shaw was in college in Arizona when he helped create a company specialising in secure photo identification badges for employees.

Not long after he graduated, the company was bought. He decided his next business would involve something he is passionate about, and wine fit that bill.

"I had some money and time and was really getting into wine," said Shaw, who recently moved to San Francisco, where his latest venture is based.

Shaw discovered that wineries often produce more than they can sell but risk being tarnished as discount brands and irking regular distribution partners if they let surpluses be snapped up by the highest bidders.

"We developed a way to help wineries quickly move wine without discounts," Shaw told AFP.

"We are making high-end wines objects of desire, and it never comes across like the winery is trying to dump the wine."

Betting on upgrades

UndergroundCellar.com made alliances with vintners in premier wine regions such as Napa and Sonoma in Northern California to feature vintages at the website.

Underground Cellar "gamifies" shopping so that buyers often wind up with portions of their orders upgraded to better bottles than they initially purchased.

For example, ordering a 750-milliliter bottle of wine priced at US$30 could result in being sent, instead, a magnum of a reserve vintage at no extra cost.

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