The Virtual Basement

When The New York Times’ Bob Tedeschi told his readers about in February, 3,400 wine buffs had “registered” to use Eric LeVine’s Web site. Now the number’s over 7,500 and growing every day. And if you doubt that many people have actual cellars of their own, you’re quite wrong. Not all the people using CellarTracker have physical wine cellars, but more than 1 million individual bottles have been entered into its database by people who do, nearly all of the entries bearing meticulous notations of date of purchase, original price, label art, and the menu, tasters, and circumstances under which the stuff finally got drunk.

As any wine buff knows, there are almost too many wine sites on the World Wide Web. Do a search for an obscure Sancerre and you’ll find your screen taken over by bloggers eager to tell you more about the wine in question than you, or anyone else, could conceivably want to know. And that’s not counting the professional sites—the ratings magazines, wine shops, vineyards— all vying for your attention and your cash.

What sets apart? To start with, it’s noncommercial. Second, it’s free (though if you become a regular user, creator and former Microsoft programmer LeVine will begin leaning on you gently to chip in a little something to the site’s upkeep). Third, though it bristles with opinions, the site itself is devoted to just-the-facts-ma’am. Fourth, it’s catholic by design. There are links to every major source of wine information, including proprietary newsletters like Robert M. Parker’s and Stephen Tanzer’s (though, of course, you have to subscribe to read the contents).

Now that you can search CellarTracker’s database from your bloody cell phone, it may yet become primarily a kind of independent shoppers’ guide to the world of wine, but that’s not what Queen Anne resident LeVine originally designed it for. LeVine simply loves wine. His retirement from Microsoft allowed him to devote more time to his hobby, and the contents of his cellar rapidly outran his ability to keep track. There have been a number of software programs designed to help wine lovers stay abreast of their collections, but they all shared a fatal flaw—they required the user to input every single byte of information keystroke by keystroke. LeVine’s inspiration: Why not input the information once, and then allow other users of the same database to lift it wholesale to their own cellar listing?

Even better: Why not let the site’s users, a wide-ranging, curious, and tech-savvy bunch, do the data inputting for each other? And if you find you’re the first to add a wine to the database—sure, it’s a little tedious, but most of your work’s already done for you, with drop-down menus for everything from grape variety to the village where it was bottled. Anyway, you feel like a pioneer, introducing fellow fans to your discovery.

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