Smart Wine

Shocked to see Jan 406 tweet that I’m not a fan of bloggers and tweetsters, when I had this to day about them in the Sunday Times on Sunday, a week ago.


The news that Saudi King Abdullah offered $150 billion to buy Facebook to end the social media-driven revolt in the Middle East set the Twitosphere into a twitter at the end of February. It turned out to be a Facebook fantasy, but the price was probably not too far from the valuation a merchant bankster would place on the social networking site. But if Facebook is worth more than Fiji, what price for Real Time Wine [RTW], a tri-platform (blog, Twitter and Facebook) site with 3000 “uniques” (distinct visitors) in its first month? $150 000? $15 million?

An attempt to “monetize a hobby” for social networking guru Andy Hadfield, RTW caused something of a storm in the local spittoon for mocking the meaningless and pretentious waffle that passes for descriptions in SA wine guides.

Tweets about wine are the way forward. These were my thoughts on the role of smartphone wine apps on last month when I wondered whether SA wine had misplaced its Mojo.

Hardcopy wine guides are the Crouchen Blancs of the wine room – dildos for dipsomaniacs without a smartphone. Somewhere between Stellenbosch and the supermarket checkout in Staines, SA wine misplaced its Mojo. If anyone finds it, please return to sender. SA wine is suddenly deeply unfashionable all over the place but as Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan told us all in the sixties, the medium is the message and that medium is increasingly a smartphone.

The Hello Vino free wine app lists SA last among major wine producing regions in a recent poll of 120 000 users of this US-based mobile phone application. But does it even matter that iPhonists in Indianapolis don’t search for a Pinotage to go with their pepperoni pizza or that Android anoraques in Albuquerque are confused by Chenin?

You betcha, as the US is the largest retail wine market in the world with a $30 billion-a-year spend, having recently overtaken France as Bachhus’ largest customer. It is also one of the fastest growing in terms of both consumption and production as the average consumer age falls – unlike the increasingly sclerotic drinking populations of Europe, traditional consumers of SA wine exports.

SA producers accepting that the USA is the promised land for exports until Eastern Dragons embrace Elgin, should pay attention to what wine app users want, as according to Google chairman Eric Schmidt “78% of smartphone owners use their phones while they shop. This is the future and everyone will adapt. People are fundamentally better off with a better and smarter and more empowered, if you will, customer.”

In the case of wine, it’s probably closer to 100% if the US has the same level of product support for the wine category as is found in SA, where asking for in-store advice is like searching for rocking horse droppings. After all, which self-respecting anorak would admit to a shop assistant he was confused between the merits of Claret and a Bordeaux blend? Far less embarrassing to surreptitiously Google the Apple in your manbag.

Hello Vino serves up one million wine recommendations a month and of the 120 000 respondents in their recent poll, 70% called themselves either beginners or novices. Over half drank wine at least once a week with 80% spending less than $20 on a bottle.

That SA does not feature in the Hello Vino stats comes as no surprise when you look at what consumers want to know. The most popular varietal searched for is Moscato and we’re not talking Judah Moscato here, the 16th century Italian rabbi, poet and philosopher. SA certainly does make wine from Muscat grapes – in fact the first grapes brought to SA three and a half centuries ago were Muscat de Frontignan yet the most famous SA wine, Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia, does not disclose this on the label.

Then there is Muscat de Alexandrie that we call Hanepoot, Muscat Ottonel that a proud Romanian like Razvan Macici must have on the Nederburg drawing board and Black Muscat, or Muscat de Hambourg, that PG Slabbert makes at Stellenbosch Hills. Then there’s always Barefoot Moscato imported by Namaqua Wines from California. So clearly a translation of Muscat to Moscato would help mobile US consumers.

Top three Hello Vino reds are Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel with Zin a rarity in SA and Pinot by far the most expensive single cultivar wine in the SA cellar. For whites, its Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, with once again Pinot Grigio very much a rarity and De Grendel even calling the stuff Pinot Gris. But perhaps the most confusing thing for a smartphone shopper would be the bewildering style of wines with the same name. That largest volume SA white, Chenin Blanc, can be wooded and unwooded and range from bone dry to super-sweet botrytis infected stickies.

Pinotage is in even worse shape, as styles range from banana surprise to Starbucks coffee mocha to Estée Lauder toenail varnish. But it’s all there in the SA cellar – the challenge is to translate into mobile. Not beyond the abilities of SA wine if Château Lafite can incorporate a lucky 8 and a Chinese symbol into their labels to promote sales in that market.

It’s certainly worth doing, as global market intelligence firm IDC predicts mobile app downloads to reach 77 billion within three years, providing the kind of market penetration WOSA might call a wet dream.