Personalization and Gamification Tech Democratizing Wine

Data technologies are changing winemaking and how the world experiences viticulture, making it easier for almost anyone to become a virtual sommelier.

By Joey Held

By Joey Held November 15, 2022

New tech is helping the novice and experienced wine drinkers become more like sommeliers. While sommeliers undergo extensive training to learn about how wine is made, how to explain taste and textures, and what wines pair best with particular foods, new technologies are bringing more people into the winemaking world. Companies are creating improved user experiences – sometimes by developing environments from scratch – and introducing gamification to close the divide between wine amateurs and wine elitists.

“Wine culture has a high barrier for entry for many people because it’s steeped in mystery and uses technical terminology,” said Nutanix CMO Mandy Dhaliwal, a certified sommelier. “But now, it’s become more democratized. People can more easily try wines, then freely discuss their likes and dislikes with a community.” 

The ability to learn from others and share their own experiences is leading more people to try wines and become experts.

“There’s room for all sorts of palates,” Dhaliwal said.

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Better access to wine more engaging wine experiences are leading to more sales. Per Acumen Research and Consulting, the global wine market was $489.3 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow more than 6% for the rest of the decade. By 2030, the global wine market is estimated to reach $825.5 billion, with product development and an increased interest in wine tasting among the primary growth drivers.

“We have 10 million wines on the platform,” Vivino founder and CEO Heini Zachariassen told Cheddar in a 2021 interview. 

“On the other side, we have 50 million users. We’re starting to put those two together to give you amazing recommendations. We have our ratings, but right below is a match for you. We know so much about the wine and you that we’re going to tell you if you like it or not.”

The Digital Side of Wine

From virtual wine games to subscription services and social networking, wine companies are using the digital world to introduce – and sell – more wines to people. 

Take the app Delectable, which helps consumers learn about new wines while developing their palate. Users simply snap a picture of their bottle, then add ratings and tasting notes to track what they love and don’t. The app keeps tabs on previous selections for quicker purchasing and makes it easy to tag favorites with friends. Even if pals are 3,000 miles away, they can consult each other for a killer merlot recommendation.

“For many, at some level, this demystifies wine,” Dhaliwal said. 

She believes there’s a lot of untapped potential for technology to bring more people into the world of wine.

“Technology can even help grow more of a global culture by profiling more of the world’s wine regions,” she said, because it can feed people’s curiosity and grow their knowledge in an easy, engaging way.

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And in fact, some companies do focus on individual regions. Texas Wine Club, for example, features big brands but also delivers wines that Texans wouldn’t typically find in stores. Selected wines cater to a more casual crowd – folks seeking wines that pair with “dinner parties, campfire conversations, patio hangouts, live music and posing in fields of bluebonnets,” the company suggests on its website.

By highlighting lesser-known wineries, Texas Wine Club introduces drinkers to a wider variety of wines and tells the stories of the winemakers behind them.

“What’s unique today is the metadata we collect on American viticultural areas, wineries and the wines we carry,” said Texas Wine Club Chief Marketing Technology Officer Josh Alley.

“We catalog everything – decanting temperature, bottle closure, specific notes from the winemaker on the vintage, barrel type, age and more.”

Texas Wine Club uses 100% custom Shopify work for its platform, according to Alley, who built his own open-source solution for writing custom schema definitions more easily. The company also uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) to work with application programming interfaces (APIs) to extend functionality. Amazon’s API Gateway routes to Lambda functions written in node.js, creating unique configurations for Texas Wine Club’s partner program.

How Data Technologies Help Vineyards

Even if winemaking is soaked in tradition, innovation plays an important role in the evolution of wine. Dhaliwal pointed to the rise of screw tops replacing cork. She said about 14% of all bottles with wooden corks are tainted, so twist tops can remove the risk and natural resources that come from using cork. That’s promising progress.

New information technologies are behind innovations in the grape growing and winemaking processes, as well as the marketing of the finished product. In 2015,  E. & J. Gallo Winery, the world’s largest family-owned winery, headquartered in Modesto, California, and IBM won the Vintage Report Innovation Award for their precision irrigation prototype. It used sensors in the vineyard, satellite information, weather data and computers to calculate more efficient ways of watering a 10-acre field. Soon after, according to IBM, Gallo installed precision irrigation systems in six different vineyard blocks encompassing nearly 250 acres in California. They are using 20% less water for each pound of grapes that they produce.

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In another example, there’s a “smart vineyard platform” developed by Deep Sky Vineyard and niolabs that uses digital sensors throughout a vineyard in Arizona to monitor metrics. It measures water flow and soil moisture to help ensure consistent grape yields and quality, according to Google Cloud, which provides cloud computing for the application. The monitoring, control and automation solution increased energy savings by 15%, labor efficiency by 30%, and crop efficiency by 50%, while improving capital planning and dropping the cost of human error by 75%.

“Today, a cloud computing service provider can help winemakers by collecting, managing and keeping vineyard data secure,” said Dhaliwal. “This capability is the underpinning of their tech foundation.”

That often means devices in the vineyard that connect to applications, which run in a public cloud service. The winemaker uses their own computers and smartphones access the application and make decisions based on the data they see.

“That allows winemakers to run their business and support the farmers better,” Dhaliwal said.

Alley, from the Texas Wine Club, believes direct-to-consumer wine companies can take a page from e-commerce to make purchasing a seamless experience for customers.

“I see most direct-to-consumer wine suffering from a lack of some basic best practices for e-commerce,” he said. 

“As the channel becomes more viable for more wineries, we'll see the same sophistication in personalization and merchandising you’d find at e-commerce darlings being applied for wineries’ [direct-to-consumer] channels. This will either come as a commoditized, monolithic SaaS offering or via agencies which have stitched together a great tech stack aimed at wineries.”

Either way, Alley sees personalization as important for engaging customers directly and building lasting relationships.

A Taste Test with Virtual Wine Games

While some brands work on educating customers, others take more of a direct gamification approach. Underground Cellar, for example, will automatically upgrade bottles for some, but not all, users. With some luck, a collection of $25 bottles of wine could turn into bottles worth $40 or $50, without any surcharge.

Underground Cellar hopes to introduce people to new favorite wines with this strategy. If that favorite happens to be worth double the amount of the wine they initially intended to purchase, that’s a nice bonus.

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WineGame, an app from Rob Wilder and Jose Andrés, gives users a taste of what sommeliers go through. A blind tasting can liven up a social gathering, as guests decide which wine is which. 

After scanning a bottle or entering a name, users try to guess facts about the wine based on multiple-choice questions, including its grape varietal, country, region and vintage. Answer correctly and score points. Answer incorrectly and the app shares the right response and the history behind it. 

The learning experience adds to the excitement – as user Robey Martin shared, “Blind tasting wine is fun but tough stuff. The game (combined with learning) could make for a cool trivia night.”

Personalizing the Experience

When the COVID-19 pandemic led to social distancing – and a 21% increase in alcohol consumption – Vivino saw an opportunity to use its extensive collection of wine and user data to add a personal touch. Like Netflix and other streaming video services that offer recommendations based on previous selections, Vivino showcases personalized bottle choices. That personalization helped the company increase sales by more than 100% in the first year after the pandemic.

Instead of paid professionals, Vivino curates reviews from other users. It launched its service in the cloud with AWS, using Amazon S3 for its label scanner data and Auto Scaling for its Amazon EC2 instances to handle traffic spikes. The platform calls out recurring words; if hundreds of people say a wine has a hint of “cherry,” for instance, other users will immediately see that. Vivino also partners with winemakers worldwide so people can easily purchase within the app.

Still, there’s room to personalize even more. Dhaliwal believes we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible.

“I’d love for more companies to make the leap to have some level of personalization,” she said. “Here’s your palate, here’s what you’ve bought before and here are some gift ideas based on what you purchased in the past. That would be like an angel singing for me. I’d get so much value out of it. It could become something that really drives brand loyalty and a great experience for your customer.”

Beyond the Bottle

Delectable, Texas Wine Club, Vivino and others are demystifying wine for consumers who don’t understand it. Educating and engaging more people increases the chances these new customers will buy more wine – whether in-store, online or at wineries.

Total Wine, for example, uses its app to quickly showcase items featured in stores. However, it also includes a calendar for local events and classes. Shoppers can enjoy a glass with friends as they learn more about a certain varietal.

“Unless you have been educated on wine or are a collector of fine wine, most consumers are unaware of the artisan nature of making wine,” said Kambrah Garland, who leads company strategy at Texas Wine Club. 

“The educational component that we offer will help people further understand price points. Consumers will learn the work, cost and time associated with making boutique wines.”

All these new technologies are part of the wine industry’s phenomenal growth. As they improve, Dhaliwal believes people will grow passionate about wine and have fun figuring out their favorites.

“There’s no wrong answer,” Dhaliwal said. “If you like something, drink it.”

Learn how the Nutanix Cloud Platform can power businesses into the future. 

Joey Held is a writer and podcaster based in Austin, Texas, and the author of Kind, But Kind of Weird: Short Stories on Life’s Relationships. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

 

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