There’s an app for that… or is there?

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I have a list of topics that I refer to when I start work on a new blog, and as 2014 rolled round I realised that there is one that I have been avoiding since I first started writing about wine.  Initially the reason why I didn’t get round to it was that I didn’t really regard myself as someone with any authority even to write about it in a comedy way (and my better half confirmed this), but more recently it has been because I just find it, well, a little tedious.  Nonetheless, in the interest of New Year’s resolutions, today is the day I am finally going to tackle it.  (I bet you’re thinking, ‘wow, I’m so glad I decided to tune into 12×75 on this dreary winter’s day…’)

The topic is Wine Apps.  I’m no longer the technophobe that I was a few years ago, I even traded in the Blackberry I haven’t had the faintest idea how to use for the past 4 years for a swish new iPhone a few months ago.

Looking for an angle to write about, I stumbled upon this piece on Harpers website about Absolut Vodka’s new app to help you find friends which I initially thought sounded like an appealing invention that might help lonely vodka drinkers to find a kindred spirit to share their pain and heartache with, but in fact it is actually a sophisticated means of keeping groups of vodka drinkers from losing one another while downing shots at the bar.  Sort of like a drunken Sat Nav whose GPS is so finely tuned that it recognises staggering distances rather than postcodes.  If any of the group stagger too far away, they can be rounded up – sort of a digital cattle prod.  Or at least that’s what I understood – and for the first time, I found myself interested in apps.  I wondered whether the wine industry offered anything similarly innovative.

Aside from our own By the Bottle digital magazine (which is available as a free app from the iTunes store) I didn’t really find anything as good as the vodka sat nav cattle prod.  Most wine apps relate to scanning the bottle to get a tasting note, and others will also recommend food to go with the wine.  On others you can build up a portfolio of tasting notes, or you can search for a particular wine and buy it online– similar tools have existed on the web for years.  Is it really such an exciting step to have them available to us on mobiles and tablets while we are out and about?   Having survived all these years without requiring any assistance to buy wine, and only liking my iPhone to the extent that it didn’t enrage me the way my Blackberry did, I just wasn’t motivated to download any of the wine apps I looked at.

And I wasn’t alone, it seemed.  Reviews of wine apps on the web are pretty mixed, with many critics highlighting the same fundamental problems.  Wine apps are competing in a new, busy marketplace that the wine industry hasn’t properly embraced yet.  They are pretty niche – in the first instance they only appeal to drinkers, and then of course you’ve got your beginners, those who think they know a lot, and those that genuinely know a lot, and there isn’t much room for a ‘one size fits all’ app.  And then there’s the lack of structured data in the wine industry that makes it difficult to gather sufficient information to make the app actually deliver what it’s supposed to do each time you use it.  All in all, ‘novelty that wears off’ seems to be a recurring theme.

Still, apps are still a relatively new phenomenon, so perhaps the best is yet to come.  Entrepreneurial success in business is about identifying things that would make people’s lives better and finding a way to make them a reality, so in my quest to come up with a wine app more useful than the ones on the market (and maybe even develop it myself on my homemade iPad), I decided to compile a diagram of wine related problems that, if solved, would make my (drinking) life easier.  Here’s what I came up with:


Although my rather splendid diagram identified a lot of problems that most drinkers face, I hadn’t identified anything that could be adequately solved by an app.  And all of these unsolved problems were making me think I could really do with summoning up some vodka swilling friends to share my pain with.

So it turned out I am not a good person to review wine apps – My heart just wasn’t in it.  I kept getting sidetracked by really stupid non-wine themed apps and then somehow ran up a $12 iTunes bill downloading Leonard Cohen tracks that I would like my iPhone to play to me while I am drinking surly, brooding Italian reds.  That doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on wine apps though – I’m sure the best is yet to come.  And when it does, I’ll be right there with a Champagne flute and an ice bucket waiting to be whisked back to a simpler time when an ‘app’ was just a twinkle in the as-yet-uninvented smartphone’s eye.