High Tech, High Touch | SXSW

Will technology homogenize the artisanal authenticity we value in wine?

That’s the question WineGame CEO Rob Wilder asked leaders from all corners of the wine industry—Heini Zachariassen, founder of Vivino, Camilla Marcus, restauranteur, investor and founder of Tech Table, and Florencia Palmaz, of Palmaz Vineyards —at SXSW in Austin, TX, this spring.

At Palmaz, technology is integral to pursuing best practices in farming and winemaking. But it doesn’t replace human interaction – just guides it. If technology shows a row in the vineyard is thirsty, they turn on the spigot. If it detects a hot spot in the fermentation tank, they stir.

“High tech data, low tech response,” Palmaz says of their philosophy. But the results literally speak volumes, as in 40 percent reduced water consumption.

Marcus, champions tech ‘elegantly intertwined’ to enhance the dining experience, citing OpenTable, and Resy (she started her hospitality career as a hostess). Though not a fan of iPad wine lists, she likes any platform that gets guests interacting on a more personal level. Like Instagram, where small producers can become storytellers, reaching a broader audience than ever before and engaging them in the life and vibe of a brand. One post of an out of the way find can shoot a wine to instant ‘cult’ status. And bypass the filter of critics and distributors.

This democratization of choice is the core of Vivino, crowdsourcing wine ratings as opposed to a few elite reviewers dictating popularity and therefore market. “People are going to drink better wine because they know what others said about it,” said Zachariassen. Vivino has 30m users, with 20,000 more downloading every day, looking up 2 million wines in their worldwide database everyday. Unsurprisingly, he’s allying with a network of merchants, in anticipation of a major shift to online wine buying. “They are making real buying decisions.”

So despite the dire, Chicken Little warnings of tech replacing terroir, these pros seem to be saying just the opposite. But what of tech that claims to replicate the world’s best coifs in a lab, no grapes needed?

“It’s going to happen,” says Zachariassen. “Ten, 15, 50 years., I don’t know. But it will.” He’s not worried about it, though — after all, you’ve long been able to buy a watch Made in China that replicates a fine one — but doesn’t have the story behind it.

And that is the good news: Millenials, who drink more than their fair share of the $6B US wine market, seek diversity and authenticity. They love a good backstory — and an original find of their own to tweet. And they’re using tech to do it.



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