It's a new day for wine enthusiasts. With the help of social networks, we oenophilic types can meet, greet and chat about our love of the grape with thousands of other like-minded (and paletted) folks. There are myriad ways to get into discussions online about all things related to wine--from social networks like CellarTracker and Cork'd to Tweetups to wine focused blogs, and beyond.
How are wineries dealing with this new onslaught of online discussion? Well... it varies. But overall, the impression I get is that they're a little overwhelmed. In the past, wine reviews were limited to a small, select group of VIPs like Robert Parker and the folks at Wine Spectator. These people perhaps wielded too much power, but at least there were ground rules. You knew when they were going to write their reviews, and there was an agreed upon system of points to rank the best wines. It was a simple, if limited world.
Contrast that with nowadays. Social media has unleashed a total free-for-all. Anyone with a Twitter account and a corkscrew can say anything they like about a bottle of wine. Not only that, but there's a good chance other people will listen and take heed, no matter what the so-called experts say.
Last week, I took a trip up to Napa and met some folks who are working to bridge the gap between this old world industry and the new media landscape. First stop, digital think tank for the wine industry, VinTank. Housed in a sleekly designed office with touches of both old and new, the company represents a fresh perspective on the intersection of wine and technology. I spoke at length on video with the company CEO, Paul Mabray, and will post the interview on our new site as part of the launch (look out for it). Meanwhile, also check out this great interview with Paul on the Vin65 blog.
Paul is a remarkable guy. A boyish 38, he has amassed an immense market knowledge and understanding about the wine industry. In addition to being a sought after advisor for wineries seeking to make the most of the new digital landscape, he's also turning his firm into something of a business incubator. I predict VinTank will do more to bring wine into the 21st century than any other single force in the Napa Valley. One of his investments is in social media monitoring service for the wine industry, Cruvee. I sat down with the two founders of that company, Evan Cover and James Jory and got the lowdown.
Cruvee (rhymes with "groovy") was originally envisioned as a social network for wine enthusiasts. When he met them, Paul recognized something much more useful in what Evan and James had built. What they had was a giant, living database that could be used to monitor online chatter about wine. The service as it now functions is comparable to Radian6, Meltwater, and other social media monitoring services, but with a big difference: it's completely focused on the wine industry.
As Evan and James explained, a laser focus on one market translates to much better quality results. Anyone who has run a social media program knows about the hours of fruitless searching, endless keyword tweaking and other time-wasting frustrations that often go with getting ramped up. One social media director I spoke to said that he was spending hours every day combing through bad results because the name of his winery had a common meaning in a foreign language.
Cruvee casts a wide net, then delivers a manageable chunk of quality results on a daily basis that reflect real conversations across the open web about specific vintages and wineries. They estimate that they take 250,000 conversations a day and boil that down to 10,000. "We find the needles in the haystack," said Evan.
The engine they have built can also understand wine lingo. It can tell that when someone is talking about a Cab Franc that they don't mean a taxi in Paris, and that in certain contexts, a post about a Chard isn't going to be a recipe for stir fry vegetables. Above and beyond that, their algorithms are designed to find wine references made in that new language we're all developing known as Twitterese. For example, what if someone tweets something like "Uncorking '08 Twisted Oak Cal Cty Viogner - neutral fr oak, 91 pts."? Chances are, this will be of interest to that winery, even if it sounds like gobblydegook to the average human.
The demo of Cruvee that I got was impressive. It has a clean, readable interface and seems intuitive and user friendly. Below find some screenshots for one of their clients (and one of my favorite Napa wineries) Cornerstone Cellars, below.
Here is the dashboard:
The price for a yearly subscription to Cruvee is very low (I'll leave it to you to find out just how low.) The reason for this, they said, is that they believe that ultimately the cost of all the social media monitoring services are working their way towards free. And in fact, they offer another service that is completely free to wineries, called OwnIT--or "Your Wine, Your Way" that aims to standardize wine information across the Web and mobile platforms. That might not seem like a big deal to you and me, but for winery owners, there is a huge problem with misinformation. For example, one winery owner told me that someone wrote a scathing review on an online wine forum of one of their offerings because he confusedly thought the bottle he was drinking was supposed to be a dry white, when in actuality it was a sweet dessert wine. For an industry that depends almost entirely on reputation, this service could make the difference.
I look forward to seeing where Cruvee goes next. They shared a few tidbits about their roadmap that sounded very exciting to me. I'd also like to see them (or someone else) build out a few more of these industry-focused monitoring services. There could be a major opportunity to fill in where the more generalized services can't be or get to. In sum, this is a company to watch in an industry that is going places.