Happy New Year! I’ve just finished reading final papers from The Idea of Wine class I teach at the University of Puget Sound. This semester several students probed the intersecting worlds of wine and technology. Here, for your consideration, are quick summaries of five papers that explore variations on this very contemporary theme.
There’s an App for That!
Anna wrote about wine Apps. Apps are creatures of the 21st century — application programs that run on smart phones, iPads and similar electronic devices. There are thousands of Apps (the iTunes App Store and Android Market are full of them) and so it is no surprise that there are wine Apps, too.
Anna discovered five basic types of Apps, which she classified as wine journals, wine glossaries, wine-food pairing programs, electronic sommeliers that provide recommendations from lists of wines and wine quizzes and games. SmartCellar is an example of a sommelier-type App — restaurants can use SmartCellar-equipped iPads instead of printed wine lists to help their guests make well-informed wine choices.
Project Genome, a Constellation Brands study, identified six distinctive groups of wine buyers ranging from Overwhelmed to Enthusiast. Anna matched wine Apps with buyer profiles and concluded that there is something for everyone. But are any of them perfect?
No. Anna imaged the perfect wine App for her — given her particular interest in wine today. No single existing App would satisfy all her needs, she concluded, but there soon will be given the pace at which new Apps appear.
QR — the New Face of Wine?
Jack wrote abut QR (Quick Response) codes. QR codes work on the same principle as Universal Product Codes, but whereas UPC codes can store 12 characters of information, QR codes hold much more. You scan a QR using an App on your smart phone and the App uses the embedded information to direct its display. QR codes are everywhere these days, especially in advertisements. Jack reports that some new graves in Japan feature QR codes that, when scanned, show photos of the deceased. QR codes at Japanese tourist sites provide detailed visitor information.
Jack found several applications of QR codes to wine, but he thought that the potential of this technology is not yet fully exploited. QR codes in advertisements or wine labels are a way to give the consumer more information. More advanced technology — already in use in other consumer goods markets — would allow QR Apps to connect with local retailers or to interface with online communities like CellarTracker.
“The more you think about it, the more it’s clear that QR codes have the potential to change everything about wine shopping,” Jack concluded. “They are free, easy to make and will soon have an army of smartphone users” to exploit them. Japan has been using them for 16 years, he said. Time for wine makers and buyers in the U.S. to catch up.
Wine and Social Media
Alyssa and David wrote very different papers about wine and social media. Social media refers to electronic communities that link people in flexible arrangements and allow them to interact and to share information of various sorts. Alyssa examined Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere to find the potential of each to forge durable wine-based interest groups.
David’s paper explored the role of the Internet (and social media) in building or sustaining consumer communities using a very creative approach — comparing wine with beer. Beer has long been marketed as a group thing — a bunch of people get together and have a good time over a few beers. Wine’s marketing is not as consistently focused, David asserted, and the community element not so clearly developed.
This has an effect on how beer and wine build communities on the web. Beer brings community to the Internet, according to David, but wine tries to draw community from the web — an interesting point. “Every day, more and more people are being brought to wine through the Internet,” he concludes, “and lovers of wine are finally finding the community they’ve always wanted.”
Napa Valley versus Silicon Valley
Finally, Ben’s paper looked for linkages between Northern California’s two famous valleys. Not Napa and Sonoma (although that would be an interesting paper) but Napa and Silicon. What can we learn about wine, Ben asked, by looking at microchips? Quite a lot, he discovered.
Ben compared Annalee Saxenian’s account of the development of Silicon Valley in her book Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128 with James Lapsley’s history of the Napa Valley wine industry, Bottled Poetry: Napa Winemaking from Prohibition to the Modern Era. He found rather interesting parallels between the two seemingly separate spheres of California life and concluded that Saxenian’s model of high tech regional development explains Napa’s evolution very well.
Going further, however, Ben asserts that both valleys reflect a certain regional spirit. “That this culture of creative destruction permeates as diverse of industries as IT and winemaking demonstrates the influence that a regional consciousness can have over all manners of activities that will within its physical purview.”
“In this sense,” he concludes, “Napa is a genuine reflection of its terroir … Wine is a microcosm of our collective ties to our environment and the various techniques and technologies used to elucidate a certain character from a wine are ultimately efforts at understanding and strengthening this relationship. And in that pause given to us by that perfect glass of wine, we cannot help but feel closer to the world around us.”
Sorry, I cannot distribute these papers directly, but if you are interested I will try to connect you with the student authors.