Crowdsourcing Taste Buds: Project VinoMatch Bets On The Democratized Wine World For Funding, But Is It A Winning Bet?

Vinted on November 2, 2011 binned in commentary, going pro

Fitting squarely into the “Well, Now This Is Interesting” Department (I just made that department up, because it’s my blog and I can do that sort of thing, after all), I recently received a PR-style email about a new wine search engine called VinoMatch.

VinoMatch is not an all-things-wine-related search engine (good thing, too, since it’s likely that nothing can compare to in that department – and no, that’s not a new official department here at 1WD, okay?).

No, what’s interesting is that VinoMatch is a search engine that’s meant to connect the average wine consumer with wines that they like based on flavor profile.  I.e., you navigate flavors and styles that you’re looking for, and VinoMatch presents you with wines that fit your criteria – theoretically linking you up with a wine you’re more likely to enjoy than a recommendation based on points from a small number of critics.

I love this idea, because I love the idea of people educating themselves about their own wine preferences and getting to the point where they can make comfortable wine-buying decisions on their own (sh*t, I wrote a short book entirely about how to do that!). But I don’t hold out a ton of hope for VinoMatch – at least, not just yet.

Why not? Well, the details behind answer to that question are even more interesting, I think…

It’s an answer that come in two parts:

Part the First: VinoMatch is looking for (modest) funding from The Crowd (i.e., the potential users of VinoMatch), and

Part the Second: VinoMatch thinks this tool will help turn casual wine drinkers into hard-core wine geeks; i.e., it will move them “up” the wine buying pyramid.

Each part of that answer has two Achilles-heel-style problems:

Achilles-heel-style problem the first: The Crowd is actually kinda cheap right now, mostly because it consists of the middle class, and the middle class is taking it squarely in the economic barrel bung hole right now. To wit: as of the time of this writing, VinoMatch have achieved just about 25% of their funding goal of $36,500, with less than 40 days remaining.

Achilles-heel-style problem the second:  The only person who has been able to move anybody up the wine buying pyramid was Gary Vaynerchuk (and in case you’re behind on current events, Gary isn’t day-to-day in the wine world anymore); for the most part, wine consumers near the bottom of the pyramid don’t really think about moving up (and there’s nothing wrong with that).

The requested thirty-six-and-one-half large will, according to VinoMatch, allow them to do the following for the platform:

    1. Recommendation, food pairing, personal account, tasting notes and wish list
    2. Develop VinoMatch Mobile Sommelier for the iPhone and Android platform
    3. Enter the first 10,000 wine profiles in the VinoMatch database

Methinks they need a marketing pro, because those just aren’t sexy and compelling enough goals to make me want to part with my hard-earned shekels; and while we know that people want customized, democratic wine recommendations, we also know that they can get them for free from friends on various social media platforms.  I’m not sure this bodes well for VinoMatch in the long run.

It’s not that I don’t wish VinoMatch well – I do, and I hope that they blow past their funding goals and prove me totally and completely wrong here, because a well-executed version of their vision would kick some major ass as a mobile app, I think. But I wouldn’t be willing to bet any part of the farm on them winning this round, at least not based on how they’re playing it.






  • Sasha

    Achilles heel #3 — flavor/style is not how this target middle audience buys wine. I think there's a lot more of "I want something under $12 that's delicious that I can bring to my friend's housewarming party" or "I want to splurge on something for the boss who knows about wine, what is something that would impress him?" going on. Wine folks need a radical re-thinking of approaching and educating the consumer. It's not just about simplifying the facts and names and styles we all know and love. It's about understanding what people care about. Consumers care just as much (more!) about how to pronounce the word "Viognier" than they do about where the grape comes from.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Sasha – I think you are right, there have always been those consumers looking for those wines in those ways; but I also think the younger the consumer, the more confident that consumer is now because of the wealth of info available to them, and those people are trying to clue into their own tastes and not so inclined to view their tastes as somehow wrong because they don't like a wine that a big critic gave 94 points of whatever. So I do see a potential place for this sort of thing.

  • 1WineDude

    I should make something clear here: I'm pulling for VinoMatch; I am pulling for anything like this that helps put some power and choice back into people's hands when it comes to wine. I just think their approach needs adjustment or people won't pony up the cash for them.

  • Sasha

    Yes, there is that type of consumer — but I don't see why VinoMatch is better than any number of other solutions out there. The real holy grail is something intuitive, fun, useful and easy to use at the point of sale (that is, an app). I see this coming from someone who's just as (more?) savvy at UX and mobile than someone who knows a ton about wine. I see this with niche media all the time; subject matter can be a bit of a red herring. Of course it's key, but a great understanding of what the consumer wants/needs (rather than what we as wine people think the consumer SHOULD want/need) is paramount. The Steve Jobs of wine, where are you?! I Thanks for the post! Entertaining and thoughtful as always.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Sasha – and thanks for your comments! Gotta admit, I like the slider search idea, it feel intuitive *to me* but might not be for others. I mean, I stil have not figured out notifications on the iPhone, so clearly some things are NOT intuitive to all people. :)

    • Olivier

      Excellent points Sasha. I 100% agree with you. And that is our intention to create a visual, fun and easy to use App at the point of sale. It's actually in development (alongside the web site). Most casual wine drinkers like (or dislike) a wine based on how it tastes and smells (without always being able to describe it though). I guess we all do;-) But that's after the fact, once you drunk it. If somehow we could in simple terms and easy to use UI help guide the casual wine drinker to narrow and pin-point the right bottle off the shelves based on a "virtual taste" and personal preferences before the fact (before the purchase), we'll at least go in the right direction. That and all the other features to help purchase based on occasions, food-pairing, prices, etc which will all be part of the web site/App as well. Thanks again for great comments. Very useful, constructive and accurate.

  • Nick

    I'd like to see something like this for beer. Is there one somewhere?

    • Olivier

      That would definitively be nice. And who knows! Let's start with wine first ;-)

      • 1WineDude

        :) Yes, but you can’t pay for design and coding with wine. Or can you? If you can I need to know about that because I have some people I want to hire!! :)

  • 1WineDude

    Nick – FANTASTIC idea. Maybe you just need some funding to go with that one… ;-)

  • Olivier

    Good morning Joe – was travelling yesterday (disclaimer: I'm part of the VinoMatch team). First of all, thanks for your post. It's always great to hear any idea, feedback, comment from you and your readership. It's always very insightful. Just two very quick points though. (1) VinoMatch has no intention of turning casual wine drinkers into wine geeks. The pyramid (which apparently isn't the best visual) simply expresses that today, only the top of it knows enough to confidently choose a bottle of wine, and that Vinomatch has been created to help the bottom 80% do it too based on their taste and aroma preferences without having to learn everything there is to learn about wine. And (2) we chose crowdfunding first because it's new, fun and with no risk. Why not give it a shot? You have a great day, and looking forward to reading your next daily posts. Cheers.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Olivier – always great to have you comment here! It sounds like I misunderstood the goal behind point #1, though I’d also add that the folks in that lower portion of the pyramid often don’t care even about having the confidence to find new wines based on their preferences – that implies that they care enough about the subject to want to learn more and try different wines, which many of them simply don’t. Regarding #2 – as I said, I sure hope I am way, way wrong and t hat you raise a sh*tload of money!! :)

      • Olivier

        Thanks Joe. And you're right. Many casual wine drinkers don't care about taste preferences, and as long as the bottle label is nice and the price is OK, it's fine. However, I also believe many people do (and a small percentage of the bottom pyramide does represent a lot of people, here in the US and throughout the world). We have countless studies to prove it. One of my favorite quote is by Leslie Joseph (Constellations's VP of Consumer Research) stating "We need to do a better job as an industry of helping overwhelmed wine consumers understand how a wine IS GOING TO taste". I really do believe in this statement.
        And as far as crowd-funding is concerns, yes it would be nice to raise a lot of money but if we don't, it won't stop us. We've been working on this project for several years on our own fundings, and more than a business, it's a great project and journey to be part of because we get to work and build something around a product we love and are passionate about; and that's what counts first. So "santé!" as we say in France, cheering our glass of wine with friends, family and colleagues ;-)
        You have a great day Joe.

        • 1WineDude

          You, too, Olivier! And best of luck, I hope I can come back to this topic in 12 months and be able to say “last year I said blah-blah-blah about VinoMatch, and 12 months later I've been proven totally and completely wrong!” (and you know me and this blog, so you know I would absolutely do that! :). Cheers!

        • Sasha

          Great feedback, all and thanks Olivier for the responses. I guess my point is, how the average person thinks about wine tastes, styles, etc. doesn't always sync up with how wine people think about wine. From the classes I've run, I've found that at least half the students don't know what "dry" means. And these are people who drink wine fairly regularly, and are pretty sophisticated about food, travel, etc. Yet they are incredibly perceptive about wine in their own language. One person said a Chardonnay reminded her of the circus — when I dug deeper, she said it was the smell of buttered popcorn and hay, both of which are good and valid descriptors of the variety, as we know. But if she were using a tool/app to look for a wine, what are the odds she would have said she wanted something with notes of hay and popcorn? Nil. Metaphor, associations, comparisons, references to a person's own, unique sense memories — that's how people really think about what a wine smells or tastes like.

          • 1WineDude

            Sasha – EXACTLY! I have heard this dozens of times from people when it comes to wine: “I do not understand why you are calling this dry… it is a liquid, right? It *has* to be wet!” And they are not joking – they are generally confused and with pretty good reason. Not saying our descriptors are not valid – they are – but we need to recognize when and with whom it is okay to use them, and when it is NOT ok because it will confuse the crap out of people. Cheers!

            • Olivier

              I cannot agree more with both of you. And that's why it is such a complex and challenging problem to solve. When my friends and I had the idea about VinoMatch, it's because we were exactly the target audience we want to reach out today. We loved wines, but knew not much about it. We all used different descriptors, sometimes correct and sometimes inaccurate. But as we were looking at all these bottles on the shelves, we just realized that something had to be done to help people like us find the one we would enjoy drinking. Even if it's not fully accurate, at least something that would point us in the right directions, narrow our choices and help us COMPARE different bottles using a "standardized, easy to understand" scale. The team behind VinoMatch is web techno savvy (working with fortune 500 web sites), and we are very pleased with what is currently being developed. Hopefully you will too when you see it? Will it be perfect and universal? Most likely not; nothing really is. But if we can build something that WE (as wine drinkers) would use, find useful and valuable, then hopefully other people will too. It definitively is a big challenge we've undertaken (and that's an understatement). And we'll learn much along the way as to what works and what doesn't. We are "web optimization geeks" (by professional trade; we get hired by large web properties for that reason), and we'll use our own optimization skills to drive the development of the site according to consumers feedback, consumer usage, consumer behaviors, etc. In the meantime, I love hearing back from you and take all your comments as serious constructive feedback. Thanks a lot for that. Best to all of you, and I'll go now "Spin a bottle" with a few friends ;-)

              • Sasha

                Thanks! Look forward to checking this out once it launches!

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