How Pay-Per-Taste technology democratizes wine tasting
A bottle of the Harlan family Promontory, one of Napa Valley’s cult next-generation taxis, sells for $ 1,000 and up, if you have the connections and patience to find even a bottle of the highly allocated wine. But at the oakville wine merchant, a chic Napa Valley wine retailer, anyone over the age of 21 can pay $ 47 for a taste of an ounce. This is just one of the selections on the 100 point wine wall, which automatically dispenses servings of wines that have received perfect ratings from critics, as well as rare Cabernet Sauvignon, including Harbison Estate, One hundred acres, and Bond vecina. Last year he was selling Flavors of Flight for $ 65 by Howling eagle, the ultimate in cult Napa Valley vineyards. With the swipe of a card, visitors can sample wines starting at $ 3 at a dozen wine stations focused on the major wine regions of Napa Valley.
Taxi enthusiasts flock to the Oakville Machine, which currently pours wines by Opus One, Ovid, the mascot and the debate. “Just kidding, this is the adult candy store,” says Ashley Ogburn, the tasting room manager. “You can sit here for five minutes or five hours and taste all over Napa Valley.”
With wine vending machines, visitors scan selections, swipe a charge card, and hold their glass under a spout that dispenses a taste, half a glass, or a full glass, eliminating the need to be served by a staff member. When a new technology takes over from work once done by humans, this is generally seen as a negative development. But there may be advantages to automatic wine pouring machines like Enomatics and the Wine Station, one of the most important being its potential to democratize the tasting experience.
“The idea was to open up access to wines and tasting rooms that are difficult to access,” explains Jean-Charles Boisset, owner of Oakville Wine Merchant. “Instead of paying $ 600 for a bottle, you can taste $ 60. He also installed wine vending machines in his Raymond Vineyards tasting room and his luxury Ink House inn, both in St. Helena.
A la carte wine servers are popping up in the Sonoma and Napa wine country, at retailers like Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, in premium tasting rooms and restaurants, and they return wine and tasting more accessible wines, if not always quite affordable. While sommeliers can help guide people to the wines they will enjoy, prejudices can seep into the process, turning them into custodians. This technology removes this implicit bias and allows wine consumers to help themselves to whatever they like.
People have a lot of stress around wine tasting, says Nick Moezidis, CEO of Napa technology, which makes the wine resort popular. Polls have told them that some people like to drink wine, but not choose it. “The most horrible thing that can happen is you have a wonderful date and then the sommelier comes in and they choke,” Moezidis says. “A self-serve option allows people to avoid embarrassment, have fun trying different wines and discover what they love.” Since the technology’s paid wine dispenser launched in 2005, Moezidis has said that more than 12,000 customers in 40 countries have set up wine stations in nail salons, country clubs, and even a few officers’ clubs around the world. ‘US Air Force.
As Chef Dustin Valette and his team planned the Matheson – his multi-level dining destination in Healdsburg with fine farm-to-table cuisine, sushi, and a laid-back rooftop terrace – they made room for a entire wall of self-service wine dispensers. The 88 wine stations serve everything from big names like Truth and the famous sweet wine Château d’Yquem sauternes to small discovery wines and sake that complement Ken Tominaga’s sushi. Valletta is proud to present to diners the gems of Sonoma as The devil’s proof, which Robert Parker called the best Californian malbec he has ever tasted, and Sam Lando Pinots Noirs.
Jon McCarthy, Matheson’s beverage director, says the wall is a low-key way for people to explore – and learn about – new wines. “I think there’s a bit of pressure when you’re in a traditional tasting room to know a little bit about what you’re talking about or to do a bit of a show with your friends,” he says. In October, customers’ favorite was a Sancerre du Roi des Pierres, while they achieved the most turnover with Cirq, the solo pinot noir label of Michael Browne, who rose to fame with his highly sought-after pinot noir from Kosta Browne. McCarthy said the wall helps sommeliers move bottles of somewhat obscure wines, like Kerner or Silvaner, because diners can try a taste before committing to the bottle.
Machines are also a low-pressure way to taste wine, says Kerry Thedorf, co-founder of Region. The Barlow’s inviting and bright tasting room offers both self-service wine dispensers and traditional counter service. “It’s handy to be able to choose what they want when they want it,” says Thedorf, who works in partnership with producers, including AldenAlli, Kobler’s wine estate, Three Wine Sticks, and Chenoweth wines. “They’re not pressured into joining a wine club, or doing a certain flight or listening to a spiel that they maybe don’t want to listen to.” They keep people coming back with the option to sign up for $ 20 a year and access free tastings each week, as well as intimate events for the winemakers.
Moezidis says that in the days of COVID, automated wine-pouring stations have become a boon to perpetually short-staffed hotels and restaurants. In August 2021, 6.8% of hotel workers said “I quit” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more than double the average 2.9% quit rate for the rest of the workforce. Thedorf says self-service machines have allowed the area to be opened as most tasting rooms at Sonoma County wineries have been closed due to county health restrictions; they offer food from their neighbors at Acre Pizza, Farmer’s Wife and Sushi Kosho.
Today, Thedorf says 60% of customers prefer the self-service side, while 40% choose to have a member of the team to serve wine and talk. But she says no matter how advanced wine technology is, the human element will always be important. “Machines are that shiny, shiny object,” says Thedorf. “It will never replace that connection between wine and people. With wine, people really want the stories.