No, this isn't about buying wine online, although you may work up a thirst reading this. The internet is littered with too many wine websites, blogs and publications. Mobile has tons of wine apps. And not all of it is great or useful information. What rises above all the noise -- sites and apps that are not too wine or tech geeky and that give me hope of navigating more easily through the wide world of wine.
"We believe that consumers should be empowered to feel confident and trust their own taste and buy wine." Alyssa Rapp founded Bottlenotes, a community-based site, where Bottlenoters, as they're called, write and share notes on wine they've tasted. This is a community across multiple platforms -- web, Facebook and mobile, and face-to-face. Yes, there's a human element to the Bottlenotes community at events called "Around the World in 80 Sips." That's one of the things that makes Bottlenotes different from Cellar Tracker or Snooth.
"We're trying to become the next Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast or Food & Wine for the next generation," says Alyssa. The Bottlenotes community is 60% female and 40% male, and while 85% of members are under age 45, Rapp notes "we have members who are 21 and 81." There are no wine ratings or reviews except for the users notes. "From the research we've done 75% of the time what influences a millennial generation consumer to buy is what friends recommend. So we're trying to become the friend of our community members and readers and event attendees and fans and then put them in touch with each other."
Looking towards the next five years, mobile is on the radar. "I think that mobile's sort of the wild west and I think no one's nailed it, including us, yet," Alyssa says, although there is a Bottlenotes app. While there are some cool features, like adding the location of where you've enjoyed a particular wine, I have to agree with her. There's not one wine app that rocks my world like Shazam or Instagram. She's dreaming of rolling out a better Bottlenotes app, one that is simple and indispensable, based possibly on a large data base. Is label recognition too much to ask for?
As a wine writer, I go to a lot of industry and consumer tastings. At events such as ZAP (the big Zinfandel tasting) I'd like to keep track of what I tasted and loved. It's too hard juggling a wine glass, pen, event program and the all important spit cup. Thank goodness for Second Glass, which is a combo wine tasting app and social hangout (free app). They actually pre-load what's being poured at the wine event, and you can give it one or two thumbs up or a "meh" vote (why no thumbs down?) You can also see how others rate the same wines. You don't have to enter any information -- wine vintage and price are already there. I gave it a test run at Pinot Days in San Francisco earlier this year and now I have a list of my 30 ratings that I can call up any time. Never would have done that many notes at a tasting without this app. But, Second Glass really needs to expand its roster of events to make it an app that I can't live without.
"It's a wine magazine for the rest of us." Stephen Yafa launched the iPad only magazine Uncorked about six months ago. Stephen, the winemaker at Segue Cellars where he makes a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, wants to make wine more approachable, fun and interesting, especially for the generation of the digital age. Uncorked is published weekly and a subscription is 99 cents per month [here's a free sneak peek].
What you will find in pages of Uncorked is a witty approach to telling stories about wine. "Kind of a cool article was about a baseball team of wines -- an all-star wine up we called it. Also, what's the best bottle of wine for first dates?"
Like Alyssa at Bottlenotes, Stephen has also found that the best wine recommendations are those that people get from their friends. One thing that sets Uncorked apart from other wine publications is that there is a mandate to recommend wines that are both $40 or less, and relatively available in retail markets -- where real people get their wine. It's so frustrating to read about a great wine, and then not be able to find it anywhere, so I like this approach.
On the horizon -- incorporating more video stories. "I really want to make this a living magazine. I want to have a lot more interactivity with the reader." He'd also love to be able to point readers to local wine shops where they can buy the wines that appear in each issue. That would be something.
By the Grape
Jancis Robinson, who is the most prolific wine writer out there and a Master of Wine, launched an iPad only magazine called By the Grape. There's a strong video component to this publication, and has interactive features as well. It's worth checking out ($3.99) as Jancis is always a good read and a great teacher. Jancis has fully embraced the digital age, leading the charge with her website, where you can get wine reviews and articles about the wine world that are opinionated but thoughtful. She's also very active on Facebook and Twitter.
"Drink only the wines that you like" is how the new app Winobot bills itself. The goal of this free app is to help you select a wine from a restaurant's list. Let the app locate you, or enter the restaurant name (and hope it is in the database!). As of mid September there were about 105 restaurants in the Bay Area listed. Most are national chains, (P.F. Changs, California Pizza Kitchen), but there are a few local chains (Pizza Antica, Yankee Pier) and even a few upscale restaurants (RN74, Cotonga, Mayfield Bakery & Café). Tap a few buttons for varietal and type of food you are eating and Winobot gives you several suggestions. If you like what was recommended you can "train" Winebot to your own palate. You can also leave tasting notes. It's kind of fun to see what wines Winobot recommends.
Recommendations are the next big thing in the digital wine world, akin to Amazon or Netflix suggestions. I've talked to people in the wine industry who are working on exactly that. What would be even cooler is wine recommendations along with where you can buy that wine nearby.
When Facebook first announced Timeline my reaction was there's no way I'd put my entire life story online for everyone to see. Who wants to do that? Then I thought that this could be really cool for wineries. It's another way to tell their story, and I think stories are much more relevant than scores and reviews.
One feature of Timeline is the sharing of what music you're listening, movies you're watching or books you are reading. Imagine what will happen once wine is part of what you share. Sure there are sites right now (Bottlenotes, Cellar Tracker, Snooth) where you to do this. But the information is shared between users of the particular community. Facebook spreads the word to a wider audience and in real time. The idea here is that your what your friends and family are doing is the same as a recommendation, but better because it comes from someone you know. We'll just need an app for that.
Google's recent entry into social media has lots of potential for wine lovers. You can create wine Circles among friends and family and be as wine obsessed as you want. I think Hangout has great potential for online tastings, especially if you get the winemaker involved, even if they live in another country.
What all of these online communities and apps are doing is bringing together a wider wine community, and giving all of us direct access to the people making wine wherever they are, which was not possible five to ten years ago. The traditional gatekeepers, such as wine critics, wine writers and the retail and restaurant trade used to be the only channels where we could get information about wine, unless we visited the winery, or were part of a wine tasting group. Now we have one-on-one access. This is a dramatic shift in the wine world that I think has really just begun. Where will we be in five years from now? The future looks bright.