The wine world is notoriously analog. For us oenophiles, that’s the draw: nuances, aromas, and lore simply can’t be translated onto a webpage or condensed into an Instagram post — it’s a visceral experience.
But like it or not, wine is shifting. “Technology is a critical part of the wine game,” says Tahiirah Habibi, sommelier and founder of The Hue Society. “We are in the age of tech and would be remiss to ignore where the future of wine is headed.”
“How could I not like these new technologies?” adds Bertil Jean-Chronberg, the sommelier at Bonde in Cambridge, Mass. “All of the existing tools simplify wine collecting and increase the accuracy of the information for a cellar’s physical and monetary inventory. It’s a gift for a professional sommelier or a learned collector.”
There are dozens of wine apps and platforms for the digitally curious, from social sipping sites to Nebbiolo NFTs, virtual cellar trackers and pocket sommeliers. But how do you differentiate the ingenious tech from the inane? Let’s dig in.
Wine Apps for Easier Drinking
For the confused consumer, there’s a breadth of apps that debunk and decode the shelves of a wine store. Delectable is a virtual wine diary: snap a shot of your label, rate it, review it, and share it with your friends. Wine Events catalogs every upcoming event, from virtual classes to tasting dinners. MyOeno uses a scanner to measure a wine’s tannins, acidity, and maturity via wavelengths of light, while Underground Cellar offers digital wine subscriptions plus remote secure storing for your savvier finds.
The newly-launched InVintory offers interactive 3D models of cellars and wine fridges so you can spy on your sleeping Sauvs and Savagnins from your couch. Add bottles to your virtual cellar, fridge, or other storage space, and InVintory stores all the info, from drink windows to grape varieties to info on the region and vintage. When you’re ready to drink, tap the app to locate your bottle. (Your favorite white Burgundy? Row 5, slot 3.)
These apps act as a concierge, safeguarding your data and curating your collection. “As a collector, you can technically solve these problems by having all these wines in your head,” says InVintory founder Jeff Daiter. “So why have an app in the first place? It enhances how you look at your collection and interact with your wine. Simply put, it lets you focus on the things you enjoy about wine, rather than store all the details.”
Investment-Grade Wine Apps
And if you invest in wine, well, there’s an app for that too. VinAssure is a blockchain-powered platform that watches your wines at every stage of the supply chain, from the fields to the truck it travels on. CellArt’s ARGOS platform listens for sound disturbances and earth tremors and monitors for humidity and floods. If mother nature could affect the well-being of your collection, the platform flags it. Authentic Vision makes high-tech tags that act like a wine’s fingerprint, allowing them to track and authenticate bottles. All, help safeguard your bottles.
VinoVest allows investors one of two options: pick your own bottles or choose a tiered risk tolerance. Then, an investment algorithm will calculate the best bottles and cases to put your money behind. All choices are informed by the team’s stable of Master Somms, including Jonathan Ross, Jane Lopes and Dustin Wilson. Bottles are stored in an underground facility specifically conditioned to fine wine (the Royal Family opts for the same one).
Even if you can’t afford the price tag of DRC, fractionalized investment platforms like Rally and Vint allow you to buy equity shares of some of the world’s most coveted bottles. For example, for $5, you can buy a single share of Screaming Eagle and watch the bottle’s value ebb and flow via an app on your phone. You’ll never get to sip it, though; it’s merely a means of diversifying your assets.
“As a consumer, I might not be able to afford that entry cost of wine collecting, and I might not want to put all my eggs in one basket and just buy a $15,000 case of wine,” says Robbie Stevens, Liv-ex’s territory manager for the Americas. “Several companies now are doing it across collectibles as an asset class — sports memorabilia, art, and wine — and fractionalizing it.”
“You have companies now that offer loans against your wine collection. Much like you might remortgage your house,” he continues. He notes it works for businesses looking to tie up stock, including restaurants or bars faced with, say, a global pandemic.
The New World of Crypto
Then there’s the murkier world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Oft-maligned, they offer a chance to purchase some of the world’s most prized bottles (or images of them) as an investment-option cryptocurrency.
Many of these releases seem like bizarre ballyhoo — why would we need virtual beers or crypto Cabernet? But some of these releases are more than a gimmick: crypto technology could offer a clever way to navigate the trading of high-end wine. When you purchase an NFT from a platform like BlockBar, you claim ownership of physical bottles sourced directly from producers. NFTs serve as digital certificates of authenticity, eliminating any concern of counterfeit or provenance. You can redeem your product or trade the NFT version in the digital marketplace. Bottles are stored in a secure, climate-controlled location until you’re ready to sip.
Is wine ready for big tech? Daiter notes, “When we launched InVintory, we knew we were wandering into a space where wine collectors in the older demographic likely wouldn’t adopt technology. Maybe winemakers were not willing to embrace technology as a way to showcase wine — there’s a huge divide between farmland and technology.”
Defining a Collector
“The traditional definition is someone older who has 1,000s of bottles stored away in a dusty cellar,” continues co-founder Josh Daiter, “but is that the only type of collector? Not anymore.” Today’s wine nerd extends from Millennials stockpiling bottles of Morgon to newer drinkers just shaping their palates. The digital space offers everyone a bridge into the wine world, a place for interaction, education, and community. “As more and more young people become collectors, the digital space is becoming more relevant,” says Habibi.
But first, wine’s digital explorers need to understand how to make the transition smoother. The Daiters find that consumers lose interest quickly unless everything in the app is a tap or two away.
Robert Ord, the Sommelier and Director of Wine Relations for Underground Cellar, finds communication is essential. Without IRL education, “You need to figure out how to describe wine in a way that resonates personally with users. Identify different experiences consumers are looking for, and make sure you provide information in a form that connects. For some people, that’s personalized tasting notes, interviews with a winemaker, or new recommendations in line with their taste. You can use digital data for all of this.”
And across all platforms, Jean-Chronberg underlines that critical thinking is key for consumers. “Like all products, these tools are also very dangerous when not used sparingly. These products flatten variables and can make information linear. Being human gives us intelligence and our ability to rationalize information, so we can & must take transmitted information sparingly. Use discretion and never let the machines make the final and only decision from the information transmitted.”
Ultimately though, he is excited and curious. “These apps are a liberation from the shackles of cellar management and speculative values of liquid inventories. If these apps do not change the intrinsic quality of the wine when it is made well, why not?”