Through A (Wine) Glass, Not-So-Darkly: Vintank’s Predictions For The Future Of Wine And Tech In 2011

Vinted on March 9, 2011 binned in going pro, wine 2.0

Vintank is a wine and tech industry think tank group based in downtown Napa, full of folks for whom I hold a great deal of respect (so much so that when they asked me to partner with them on trying out the concept of using badges for wine reviews, I jumped at the chance).

As think tanks do, they periodically release reports on the industry, for the most part in Vintank’s case concentrating on the intersections of wine and technology (predominantly on-line and social media tech).  Their latest report, titled To-And-Fro, was recently released and provides synopses of their 2010 work and the major developments in the on-line wine world over the last year.  Most interestingly, however, is that To-And-Fro also makes some bold predictions about what we’ll see in 2011 in the culminations of wine and tech. If you’re interested in the wine biz, it’s well worth a read (and the 150+ slides in this deck go by quickly), and you’ll find it embedded below after the jump.

But I should note that I had a strange, nagging ennui when reading To-And-Fro. It’s not that I think the predictions espoused in the report are incorrect (I agree with nearly all of them), it’s just that I can’t shake the feeling that the report is too optimistic.  If To-And-Fro has a flaw, it’s its pesky optimism: it seems to assume that the wine biz operates rationally and does so at the speed of normal businesses that have an on-line component – neither of which I’ve found to be true…

Vintank predict big jumps in the numbers of wineries embracing social media in 2011, for example, and the more sober part of me wonders if it won’t take (much) longer than the remaining nine months in 2011 before we see 50%+ of U.S. wineries getting their acts together in this area – though I suspect, based on experience, this is a lot more realistic than predicting the same for wineries in Europe.  Vintank are bold, but they’re not insane.

Where I’m most at-odds with the report is in the growth, success and maturation of eCommerce predicted for wineries.  It’s not that I disagree with the vision – I think it’s spot-on, actually – but with anti-competition, antiquated state alcohol laws still hampering the true interstate commerce envisioned in our Constitution, and very likely tons of money greasing palms in Congress to maintain the status quo, are we really likely to see great strides in this area in 2011?

I’m hopeful… but remain skeptical.  Read the report and you’ll understand what I mean.  Or, if not, we can debate it in the comments!

Skeptical or not, if I have one hope for the immediate future of the wine biz, it’s that everyone in it reads To-And-Fro and gets on-board with Vintank’s vision of the future – it might be too ahead of its time, but it’s as positive of a picture to shoot for as any that I’ve seen recently.

To and Fro from VinTank






  • @TerryLozoff

    Yea, i read this report the other day. I think you have a point in regards to the exaggerated optimism, but there are certainly signs of a large part of the wine industry at least starting to put their feet into the water… at least in the US. I've seen a lot more Facebook/Twitter icons on tasting sheets lately, and I've also seen quite a few old school wineries starting to participate in the online conversation. Both good signs that change is in the wind. I'd be curious what you see on your trip to South America. I have actually found a bunch of South American wineries participating on Facebook. But I think it's safe to say that the US industry is a few steps ahead.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Terry – that's not even the half of it. THough I have some hope for the brands here in S. America, they seem quite interested in their on-line presences. Cheers!

  • Steve Heimoff

    What difference would it make if 100% of wineries tweeted, blogged, Facebooked and everything else? The fact that a winery is "using" social media is in itself meaningless. There are 2 problems: (a) social media has to be used correctly to be effective, and (b) no one knows how to measure "effectiveness" through social media, especially with wineries. Anyway, I agree that the Vintank thing is overly optimistic. In fact, I'd call it blatantly self-promoting. And what is the difference between a "badge" and a score? The badges are cute, but are they any different from Charlie's puffs? They're visual symbols that consumers look to for guidance. That's all a score is.

    • Aaron

      While I think that questions around effectivenss of social media are paramount, I think that some use of social media is likely better than no use at all, except in rare circumstances. It increases the reach and connection of wineries to consumers, something that most wineries don't have at all outside tasting rooms and sponsored events.

      On the badge point I have to disagree. The badges communicate a bit more than the score. A reviewer might like two disparate wines equally, and score them, say 90. But if one carries the "Kick-Pow" badge (or whatever it is) and the other the "sexy" badge, that gives readers more useful information about the style of the wine. I don't know about you, but I've never said "I'm in the mood for an 89 point wine tonight". But I have said "I'm in the mood for a sexy/powerful/smooth/etc wine tonight."

    • @skadey

      While I don't know how to measure the successful use of winery social media arbitrarily by some rule or standard, I do know it when I see it, and I have ample evidence of it producing tangible results. Maybe there is no 'tipping point' for how many wineries adopt social media, but to be successful you have to try, and some will succeed. The more wineries that participate, the greater the chance of success, from which others may learn. I certainly don't think it can hurt anything. Only the successful wineries will be heard. Being unsuccessful in social media is going unheard, and if a tree falls in the woods…

  • Steve Heimoff

    Aaron, I do think the badge idea is cute (if a little adolescent). But don't forget that my scores are always accompanied by a review. I've even been known to use the word "sexy"! So it's not just a number, it's a number accompanied by a description.

  • @pmabray

    Sorry to jump into this conversation late (I've been up to my eyeballs in reviewing eyeballs).

    First, Joe, thank you so much for sharing the presentation. It was a labor of love and a continued effort from us to put out more and more content to help the industry to succeed in the digital arena. I agree that we are filled with optimism (slightly balanced by a bit of insider baseball and quite a few years experience). But isn't it optimism that has helped make some of the greatest moment in history? Isn't optimism the backbone of underdog success stories? If we all believe enough with optimism, perhaps we can make it reality faster.

    Terry – what is also really optimistic about the SM trend is that we see every conference for the trade including more and more time to social media. We also see employees in the wineries that are not yet on participating and creating momentum in their organization to adopt this key channel.

    Aaron – I couldn't agree with you more.

    Steve – saving you for last. There is no question there was some self promotion. We have worked hard in our two years in business doing many, many activities for free to help the industry embrace digital. All of them are created to catalyze positive disruption in an industry that is slow to adopt technology. If we have to revisit them to help explain the value and have the industry continue to evaluate them, then AMEN. They are complex subjects that require lots of education.

    In regards to badges – you said it best, "They're visual symbols that consumers look to for guidance. That's all a score is." The KEY difference is that a badge not a homogenization of a wine with a numerical representation and takes the soul out of wine. It is awesome that you have notes after a score (the meat) but most often it is only the bones that are served to consumers: e.g. Wine Enthusiast 88 pts. They also have more "soul" that represent the critic. As you constantly shout, your taste preferences are different that Laube, Parker, etc. However adhering to the 100 pt score system make the consumer think that they are no different, stripping the soul out of your review. Badges reflect that taste, character, and spirit of the critic and are a great tool that can be leveraged digitally and in the spirit of the new internet, for free.

    Finally, I disagree with you about Social Media and wineries. We are ramping up faster than most industries in this arena. Yes, it is a multi-faceted, complex issue that requires lots of time and learning. Is social media customer engagement tools, marketing, PR, content distribution, peer interaction, business intelligence, sales generation . . . its all! And that is what makes it complicated and takes time to learn. Though we as an industry tend to move slower and think "annually," don't be surprised that we grow up in social media 100X faster than expected. This is especially true considering the market conditions (increased competition, declining routes to market, the value of consumer direct, technology transplants in wine country, the unprecedented access of wineries to consumers).

    You may not believe Steve. But we do. Wine online in a big way. Get ready.

    • @pmabray

      BTW – apologies for the disjointed response and grammar. Trying to finish rating wine apps and typing way too fast.

  • tom merle

    Augmenting Vintank's report, Gary V on morning TV does a fine job in a short period of time explaining how social media is proving effective in linking friends to friends to friends concerning a favorite widget or service. Catch it here: . The Internet through various channels has created very efficient ways to connect. Producers and retailers are discovering this and realize they'd be foolish not take advantage of this opportunity. It's just a matter of finding the time which they will when they realize in the not too distant future, for example, that competitors are selling more and more wine on Facebook.

    • @pmabray

      Thanks for the kind note Tom.

  • Bill Smart

    This is a really interesting post, Joe. Thanks. The comments here are thought provoking for sure. No one has a crystal ball (as far as I know) so making predictions are just that – predictions. I know one thing – if gas crests over $5 per gallon by Memorial Day all this crap goes out the window and we'll be right back into the economic shit storm we've had for the past 2 years.

    All of that aside, I totally agree that wine online in terms of what Paul is saying is spot on. We all know that wineries are woefully slow to pick up on technology. Can you imagine if the geeks over at Pottery Barn or something decided to start selling wine online? They'd probably corner the market. Anyway, it's all very relevant and something I can say for sure I am thinking about every day.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Bill.  I am pretty sure that gas > $5 a gallon and Pottery Barn geeks selling wine online are both signs of the Apocalypse. :)

  • 1WineDude

    Thought-provoking stuff, everyone – thanks!

    I would note that I disagree that scores are soulless – it's their misuse in the industry that is soulless. Steve's notes, for example, are excellent and full of personality, and can evoke emotion about wines in the best examples; but as Paul points out, those notes often don't get used (just the score) which is sad.

    I also disagree that social media has no ROI (it's just not always *traditional* ROI) – Tom's comment is a great example of the power (key point from my view on this: with social media, wineries THEMSELVES can become trusted sources for consumers – that is powerful stuff when you think about it).

    Regarding badges – mine are deliberately silly. It's part of the whole point. Wine coverage gets too f*cking serious!

    Paul – I LOVE the optimism bro, I'm just trying to hit both sides of the story. Also, the Vina Vik folks say hello! :)


    • Steve Heimoff

      Thanks young Dude for the kind words. It's true, I have no control what some retailer does with the number once it's published. And you know what? I like your badges.

      • 1WineDude

        Thanks, Steve – as you know I'm sure, I'm not a hater on scores, I'm a hater on laziness that is rampant in retail!

        • Wineguys TV

          WineDude… Laziness is on every level…Winery, Dist and Retail … you cannot single out the retailer…. In facet I think you could list Winery/Vineyard 1st, Dist 2nd Retailer 3rd

          • 1WineDude

            Wineguys TV – You're right, I was probably to flippant in that comment response.  The laziness is indeed on every level, the point is probably better stated that the laziness is least on the reviewer's side when it comes to how scores and reviews are used (I'm not gonna rank the laziness factor of the remaining tiers of usage, but you could make a strong case for any combo. probably).  Cheers!

  • tom merle

    Can't resist guys; another forum to ride my hobby horse into. 100 pt scores, which is what we mean by scores, are problematic not so much because they are too blunt without commentary, but because they are proffered by a single palate, one that the possessor would agree, Steve especially (see his post on bloggers and expertise), does not reflect the taste of those who are not part of the cognoscenti, i.e., most everyone who buys wine to have with their dinner and doesn't read the wine mags. Even the panels at wine competitions have too few tasters of the wrong kind, Lodi/Tim Hanni's taste off notwithstanding. This limitation makes the scores unnaturally precise.

    We are in an era of The People, of crowds of people with opinions that get flung around cyberspace and when they are compiled as they are in Yelp, TripAdvisor and CellarTracker give us a composite sense of the worth of the item being rated, which scores are backed up with posts. Paul early on advised wineries to find ways to get their vino evaluated by the members of CellarTracker. He was once again prophetic.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Tom – even more thought-provoking stuff by you here!  I LOVE how you phrased what's happening with social media. “composite sense of worth” – that sums it up eloquently; not necessarily better than a single expert opinion, just different (and I'd argue no less valid).  cheers!

  • Anon

    Well, maybe not Potter Barn, but close enough. and

    • 1WineDude


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