Tag Archives: Wine Technology

Where’s The Wine World’s Pokémon GO?

I was playing around on my phone today looking for new games to download. On a lark, I decided to see what was available when I searched for Wine Games.

Photo by Gieson Cacho. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-2.0

Unsurprisingly, there isn’t much. The available games tend to fall into the category of trivia (with the WSET wine puzzle game being the most interesting) or repurposed game designs like hidden objects, escape rooms and arcade games with wine as a backdrop.

So that got me wondering, where are the wine-focused games that combine entertainment and education? Like Speed Anatomy or Lumosity?

Where are the games that foster a social aspect with multiple users? Like Ingress?

Where are the games that encourage wine lovers to go out and explore an area, visit new wineries and just plain have fun with wine?

Where’s the wine world’s Pokémon GO?

Imagine …

Turley wine cellars

A good one to visit while in Paso.

Imagine visiting a wine region like Paso Robles, Red Mountain or the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. You have dozens of winery choices, many of which you may have never heard of before.

How do you pick which ones to check out?

You can scroll through Yelp reviews, check out winery websites or ask friends on Facebook. Of course, you could also purchase a wine travel book, check out the AVA website or maybe pick up a free map at your hotel. But how many of those options are actually fun?

Are these things that you really want to do? Or do they feel more like a chore that has to get done before you can get to the fun part?

For many consumers, a visit to wine country is a vacation — a chance to kick back with friends and family and just enjoy life. One of the last things that many consumers want to do is add research and homework to their vacation docket. Sure, wine geeks may have fun plotting out their wine tastings. But we are a rare breed. For a lot of consumers, they’re just going to go out, have fun and sort of “wing it”.

Wouldn’t it be great if the wine industry could tap into that “I just want to have fun and drink wine” mentality?

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a tool that actively encouraged engagement with consumers, instead of just sitting back and hoping that they come through our doors?

“Winging it” with a Purpose

I’m not a game developer so I’m mostly just spouting off the type of game that I would love to play. While I know that a small wine niche will never reach the level of popularity of Pokémon GO, there are some solid lessons from the game’s success that a developer could use.

1.) Make it a hunt.
Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese rose

A Sangiovese rose from Oakville fruit?!? This is a score on so many levels.

We don’t have pokémon but what we do have are hundreds of unique grape varieties and wine styles. While some (like Cabernet Sauvignon) are very common, others (like Teroldego, Norton and Grenache blanc) are more rare.

Create a system that assigns points based on the rarity of a grape variety within a region. So if you’re exploring the land of endless Cabs, Chards and Sauvignon blancs, stumbling upon a Napa Sangiovese or Riesling would earn you more points.

Seeking out new and exciting wines taps right into the Millennial wanderlust. But often there is an intimidation factor that comes from lack of familiarity and education. Turning that wanderlust into a game helps remove some of that intimidation.

Yeah, a wine consumer may not know what the heck Tinta Cao is but they know if they visit this one tasting room in Walla Walla to try it, they will earn beaucoup points. So why not?

2.) Make it competitive.

It’s human nature to want to be the best–even if all we’re doing is gathering imaginary gems and internet points. And if you have a leader board, it’s fun to see where you rank among your friends and strangers who are doing the same thing you’re doing.

Adding team elements and things like portals (wine bars) to battle over or gyms (cellars) to control would add complexity to the design, I’m sure. But having something to “fight over” makes that repeat visit to the tasting room more worthwhile. That is vitally important to the appeal of such a game to wineries. It’s great to get that one time visit, but repeated engagement is where the needle moves.

3.) Make it social.

Whether it creating teams with friends or easy sync up with your social media accounts, this is an absolute must. We live in a social media world and, especially if we’re having fun, we want to tell everyone about where we’ve been and the wines we’ve tried.

Benefit to Wineries

Tablas Creek Clairette blanche

Tablas Creek would have like 20 some odd entries of different grapes. That would be a “gym” site for sure!

A significant hurdle for such a game is the upkeep of information about what wineries are pouring what wines. This is not a project that can be created in a vacuum without winery involvement. But to get that involvement, an app developer needs to demonstrate to wineries the value that participating in the game could have.

This could involve showing them that 92% of Millennials own smartphones and that mobile apps account for nearly half of all internet traffic.

In places like Napa and Sonoma, they’re already grappling with declining tasting room visits and seeking out innovating ways to bring people in. Even for wineries outside of the North Coast, it would be foolish to ignore the canary in the coal mine.

But the biggest benefit of such a game app will be for the small family wineries making wines that are both literally and figuratively off the beaten path. These are wineries that need exposure and often have an education hurdle to overcome with consumers embracing their unique wines and grape varieties.

Replacing the anxiety of the unknown with a competitive quest for the unique is one of the best ways to overcome those hurdles.  That solution could be very appealing to a lot wineries–especially if their potential investment is just a small amount of time in keeping their data on the app up-to-date.

How Can This App Make Money?

Of course, no game developer is going to do this for free and I don’t think the Pokémon GO business model translates to my fantasy wine app.

Again, I’m not a game developer, so this part of the business plan is not my forte. You can take a look around this blog and realize that I’m also not really keyed into this whole “monetizing” thing either.

But I’m not planning on creating this game myself, so I’m sure that people a heck of a lot smarter than me will have better ideas.

But there are a few potential revenue streams I can see.

Priority Listings
Photo by Marianne Casamance. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

I don’t mean to hate on Cab so much. It makes lovely wines but is just soooooooooooo overdone.

There are only so many unique grape varieties out there being produced. There is going to be a lot of overlap. If the game can gain traction and significant downloads, you could potentially market more favorable search listings to wineries that pay a fee.

So if you are a Woodinville winery doubling down on the same ole Cab and Bordeaux blends that everyone else is making, it may be worthwhile for you to pay for priority or “sponsored” placement to encourage visitors to play the game at your place.

Sponsored “Raids” or “gyms”

If a winery really wants to be proactive in bringing people to their locations, they could sponsor special events with bonus points and status for those who visit during a certain time. This basically follows a similar idea to Starbuck’s partnership with Pokémon GO. Yeah, a wine game is not going to get Starbucks’ sponsorship but what about local wine bar and restaurants? After all, engage wine consumers are engaged diners as well.

Good Old Fashion Ads

Yes, everybody hates them but they are par for the course with free apps. Plus, you can always offer a premium “ad-free” version for a cost.


This is probably the biggest potential revenue stream. But it’s also the area where a developer has to be very careful with because of privacy laws.

But, let’s face it, an app that is collecting data on which tasting rooms that consumers are visiting, how long they are staying there, where they go next and potentially what they are sharing on social media is a goldmine of valuable information for marketers.

So what do you think? Would you play this game?

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Adapt or Perish — The Wine Industry’s Reckoning With Technology

I’ve seemed to have kicked up a little bit of a hornet’s nest with my post No, There’s Not an App For That — Winery Visit Rant.

Seriously, take my money

You can read for yourself the responses in the comment section of the article. Additionally, some interesting points came up on the SpitBucket Facebook page as well as from Paul Mabray’s retweeting of the article. There are a few other Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook threads circling around with more. But these will give you the gist of things.

Admittedly, I was surprised at the responses because there was nothing out of the ordinary about my post or situation.

I’m a consumer wanting to give wineries my money.

I want to use technology that doesn’t require me to jump through hoops to facilitate that.

I had assumed that somewhere out in the world there was a happy medium of wineries who wanted my business and tech companies willing to help bring us together in exchange for getting some money themselves.

You know, capitalism.

Why is there is such a disconnect here?

The irony that this all sprang about while I was planning a trip to Napa and Sonoma is not lost on me. It’s almost like Fry and Laurie wrote a skit.

For the past couple of years, the industry has been buzzing about how tasting room visits to these areas are down. Now some of that has been blamed on the wildfires. But, of course, after acts of nature, the next natural culprit to all the ills of the industry are Millennials.

Oh, we are such a pain in the ass, aren’t we? Why don’t we make it easy and play by the same rules as everyone else?!?

How dare we kill off the traditional tasting room with our “immersion experiences,” yoga in the vineyard and picnic settings?

Photo by Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0)

I’m not vegan or vegetarian but this is one seriously delicious burger.

Yet, here I was, a millennial just looking for regular, plain-jane tasting room appointments.

I wasn’t asking for anything crazy. I have no desire to pack my yoga pants. Sure, picnics are lovely but so is enjoying an Impossible Burger at Gott’s or pretty much whatever Chef Cindy makes at Mustards.

The only thing I wanted was simply the same ease and convenience of scheduling winery appointments that I have booking restaurant and hotel reservations, flights, doctor and lawyer visits; ordering take-out, groceries, household items; purchasing movie and event tickets; checking my bank account, moving funds around, paying bills, etc. All the other things in my life that I can do at the touch of my phone.

I am not asking the wine industry to re-invent the wheel. I’m asking them to do the same thing that wine has been doing for thousands of years.


When wine was made only for local consumption, animal skin casks were fine. But then producers wanted to reach larger markets and more consumers. So they developed the amphora, then the barrel and eventually the bottle.

Photo by Pepys/Wheatley. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-PD-Mark

Samuel Pepys, the original wine blogger, was a frequent visitor to the Pontacs’ Royal Oak Tavern in London. His writings (and the Pontacs’ good business sense) brought immense attention to the wines of Haut-Brion.

When snags in the supply chain between producers, merchants and consumers emerge, savvy winery owners as far back as the Pontacs of Haut-Brion in the 17th century saw the benefit of “direct-to-consumer sales” and going where their customers were.

When the telephone was invented, I’m sure some winery owners didn’t see the value in the expense of equipment or hiring someone to answer the phone.

We know what happened to those wineries. They eventually adapted or they perished.

What makes this any different?

In response to my last post, one common sentiment was that wineries already have a tough time handling social media.  Online reservation systems are another obligation that wineries will struggle to maintain. That’s a very fair point. I’ve lamented many times the piss poor utilization of social media by wineries.

But the fact that the wine industry currently sucks at one thing is not justification for it to keep sucking at everything else. If anything, that should add to the red flags that the industry has a serious problem here.

However, the slow adoption of common technology is not just the wine industry’s folly. It also a reflection of the poor job that tech companies have done in demonstrating the value of their services to wineries.

Yes, wineries historically don’t like to spend money.
Photo by Tomwsulcer. Uploaded to wikimedia Commons under CC-Zero

Wineries, this is your future customer base. The Boomers aren’t going to live forever.

This was another common blowback I heard. I get it. It’s hard enough to squeeze extra dollars out for barrels and equipment upgrades–much less for point-of-sale, web and software services.

I also know that there are going to be owners who are overly complacent. Right now they don’t need technology to sell wines and bring visitors to their door. They’ve got the Boomers! They’re going to keep consuming wine and live forever, right?

But tell me. How many successful businesses have ever depended on the status quo….staying the status quo?

Wineries are businesses. They have problems that are in need of solutions. Sometimes they don’t realize they have a problem until they see sales and tasting room visits declining. Or maybe it takes hearing consumers like me complaining about how hard it is to give you our money before the light bulb finally goes on.

And then it goes back off because you can’t pay the electric bill.

This is where the solution providers need to step up. Tech companies, I’m talking to you.

Not only do you need to show wineries that they have a problem but you need to demonstrate your value and effectiveness in solving that problem. You can’t sit back and wait for consumers to get fed up at their needs not being met by your potential clients. Otherwise, the goose will be cooked before it even gets a chance to start laying those golden eggs.

Go and look at some of the feedback to my post.

It’s very clear that many wineries,

A.) Don’t realize they have a problem.


B.) Don’t see the value in the solutions currently being offered for those problems.

That’s not good.

While wineries might not want to spend money on tech now–each and every one of them is going to have to deal with the changing demographics of their consumers. They are going to have to deal with the reality of the world we live in.

Every winery is going to have face the same “inexorable imperative” that wine has dealt with numerous times before.

Adapt or Perish.

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Wine Geek Notes 3/20/18 — Wine Fraud in Rhone, Robert Haas and Synthetic Yeast

Photo by Phillip Capper. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0
Here is what I’m reading today in the world of wine.

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

Massive Rhône Valley Wine Fraud Reported by French Authorities from Suzanne Mustacich (@smustacich) of Wine Spectator (@WineSpectator)

This scandal has been making waves in the wine world for a couple days now but this report from Mustacich is the first I saw that named names–pointing to the négociant firm and bulk bottler Raphaël Michel. This is important because when consumers read headlines blaring that 66 million bottles or 15% of the Côtes du Rhônes produced from 2013-2016 were cheap swill passed off as higher AOCs, that naturally cast suspicion on every bottle of Rhone.

It also doesn’t help when publications like The Daily Mail use pictures of esteemed estates like Ch. Beaucastel and Clos de Papes as the illustration for their article that talks about Raphaël Michel’s CEO, Guillaume Ryckwaert’s, arrest back in August 2017.

With Wine Spectator getting the name of the real culprit out there, consumers should know that the Rhone wines made by established and small family producers are not part of this scandal. Unfortunately, it is not easy finding all the names of the bulk wine and négociant labels that Raphaël Michel produces (their eShop has only a few names) so the best advice for consumers is to do their homework. If you’re at a wine shop and see a Rhone wine from a producer you don’t recognize, Google them to see if they have an online presence that connects them to a real person or family behind the wine.

Buying guides like Master of Wine Benjamin Lewin’s (@BenLewinMW) on the wines and producers of the Northern and southern Rhone are also valuable resources.

Tablas Creek Founder Dies by Rupert Millar (@wineguroo) for The Drinks Business (@teamdb). Brought to my dash via Vino101 (@Vino101net)

Photo by Deb Harkness. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-2.0

Tablas Creek’s nursery in Paso Robles.

The death of Tablas Creek founder Robert Haas is a great loss for the industry and my condolences go out to the Tablas Creek family. The entire Tablas Creek operation is top notch and I recently charted my path to becoming a wine club member there in my post Wine Clubs Done Right.

Beyond just the establishment of Tablas Creek winery, Haas had far reaching influence in the Rhône Ranger movement by pioneering the introduction of several Rhone varieties to the US.

Haas and Tablas Creek did the heavy lifting in getting cuttings from Chateau Beaucastel through quarantine and TTB label approval for numerous varieties like Counoise, Terret noir, Grenache blanc, Picpoul and more. Additionally the high quality “Tablas Creek clones” of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre have populated the vineyards of highly acclaimed producers throughout the US.

For that we should all grab our favorite bottle of Rhone grapes (even better if it is Tablas Creek) and toast the amazing legacy of Robert Haas.

THE FUTURE OF FERMENTATION: THE ROLE OF SYNTHETIC YEAST IN WINEMAKING by Becca Yeamans Irwin (@TheAcademicWino) for Spirited Magazine. Brought to my dash via Wine & Spirits Guild (@WineGuild).

This was a very timely article for me as I just finished reading Clark Smith’s Postmodern Winemaking which deals with some of the philosophical issues and conflicts between improving wine technology, the Natural Wine movement and the winemakers caught in the middle who just want to make good wine.

I’m not going to add any commentary at this point because Smith’s book has given me a bit to chew on. It’s clear that there is still a lot of discussion to be had about the “Future of Fermentation” with Yeamans Irwin’s article adding some worthwhile insight into that dialogue.

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A look ahead to 2018

On Bloomberg, Elin McCoy (of The Emperor of Wine fame) shared her thoughts on what wine trends will be the stories of 2018. She makes a few interesting predictions that are worth pondering.

1.) Big bottles will be huge

McCoy predicts sales in large format wines will continue to grow in 2018, citing the UK retailer Majestic’s enthusiasm for the category with sales of large format wines up nearly 400% in 2017. While among collectors, magnums have always held fondness for their ability to age more gracefully, the trend towards large format wines grew even in the “in the moment” rosé category.

Beside, why have a mag of one rose when you can have 6?

I have to admit that I’m a bit skeptical of this trend namely because of other trends that are happening in the important Millennial demographic such as drinking less overall and when they do drink, not overdoing it. Downing a mag of rosé doesn’t seem to have long term appeal.

We are also likely to see a backlash to the “Generation Waste” trend among Millennials. One of the drivers in the growing “meal kit” industry that is popular among Millennials is the potential for less food waste with each kit being exactly portioned for 2 to 4 users. The potential waste in opening up a large format makes that trend seem even less appealing so I would wager more on single-serve wine packaging gaining traction than large formats in 2018.

2.) The year’s hot spot will be Spain

I’m on board with this prediction and I will add Portugal with its wealth of indigenous grape varieties to the watchlist. Now granted, wine experts have been making these predictions for a couple years. But hey, we’ve got The Bachelorette’s go ahead now. Enloquece, amigos!

3.) Climate change is heating up

Though no one is talking about Swiss whiskey….yet.

This is something I talked about last year with my post Running Out of Stones (and Glaciers) in the Age of Climate Change. The changing map of wine being driven by climate change is both frightening and exciting for wine lovers.

As much as the Japanese have taken the whiskey world by storm, could they do the same with Pinot noir from the north island of Hokkaido? Perhaps, but again we have to question at what cost?

4.) You’ll be buying more wine online

This one is up in the air for me. If Amazon can’t make a go out of selling wine online, who can? Certainly not Wine.com which has horrendous customer service.

Though considering most of these wines are $2-3 higher on Vivino than they are at my local wine store, maybe free shipping isn’t that great of a deal?

I hit the “fool me twice” wall with Wine.com this past holiday season. I previously had a poor experience with getting a order with them but thought I would give Wine.com another try.

I ordered wine in November for a Champagne tasting event on December 17th, figuring that giving them more than 3 weeks would be adequate time. After weeks of poor communication, promises of status updates that never came, I got frustrated enough to cancel the order and have washed my hands of ever shopping with Wine.com again.

Still, I’ve had positive online experience with retailers such as JJ Buckley and utilizing in-store pick up with some local Washington State retailers. I will confess to being intrigued with Vivino’s Amazon Prime type offering of free shipping with a $47 annual membership.

I’ll keep my opinion of online wine shopping fluid at this point.

5.) The fizz sector will keep broadening

“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food…” — Julia Child (or W.C. Fields depending on the source)

McCoy notes that consumers can expect the price of Prosecco to rise in 2018 thanks to some troublesome harvests in northeast Italy. But even if consumers move away from Prosecco, increase interest in Spanish Cavas and French Crémants will more than fill the gap.

With this I fully agree as this is another Millennial driven trend that has several factors going for it. Beyond viewing bubbles as an everyday beverage (as opposed to just something for celebration), the cocktail culture among Millennials has saw a renaissance of not only classic favorites like Aperol Spritz and Kir Royale but also new rifts that give Millennials a reason to always have a bottle of bubbly in the fridge.

6.) The “luxury experience” way to taste wine

While most estates here are “reservation only”, I will say that one of my favorite visits in Bordeaux was to the very non-luxurious “Shackteau” of Marie-Laure Lurton’s Château La Tour de Bessan

This trend saddens me because it is also tied into wineries moving away from offering free tastings. That is fodder for another post but, personally, I believe that the more “exclusive” and limited that wineries make their tasting experience, the more narrow their customer base gets.

While I understand the desire to discourage “Bridesmaid Brigades” that swoop into tasting rooms, guzzle up the free booze and leave without buying anything, I ultimately think wineries are better off encouraging folks to come in off the street and give their wines a try versus making their potential customer decide, right off the bat, if this unknown winery is worth paying whatever tasting fee is being asked.

Even among known and established wineries, I fret that the trend towards “reservation only” and luxury experience tasting is only going to push more wine into the realm of the “1%” and away from the experiences of regular consumers.

7.) The rise of robots in the poshest vineyards

Oh Lord have mercy if Elon Musk ever fixes his attention on the wine world. This is another area that is both exciting and frightening for wine lovers. On one hand, it is indisputable that advances in knowledge and technology in the vineyards and winery have led to this present glory age of exceptional wine quality. Even in the worst of vintages, it is still possible to make good (if not great) wine.

“Modern” old-school technology at Ch. Valandraud in St. Emilion.

But, again, at what cost? Increases in technology have certainly added more tools to the winemaker’s tool belt but at what point do these tools stop being tools and start being more cosmetic manipulation?

Machines can help make better wine but, if you reduce the human element, can it really be great wine? How much of the “terroir” or story of the wine do we lose when we remove more of the human actors?

Of course, one driver of this trend that shouldn’t be overlooked is the increasing labor shortages in major wine regions. Perhaps the move towards technology could be one necessitated out of survival.

Either way, 2018 will be another interesting year of changes and development in the wine world. Drink up!

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