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Mondavi winery Slalom consulting wine tasting

When Mondavi wanted to enhance the wine tasting experience, we helped use technology to build lasting memories.

 

Wine-making is as old as the Stone Age. Wine tasting in the 21st century? It turns out, it’s all about getting—and sharing—the perfect photo.

That’s what the winemakers at Robert Mondavi Winery found out when they decided to create the most modern wine-tasting experience in California’s Napa Valley.

Adding a high-tech touch to the storied winery may seem out of place amid the winery’s mission-style architecture and heavy oak furniture. But Mark Lewis, Slalom’s digital practice area lead in our San Francisco office, said it’s not out of character for Mondavi.

“Mondavi is known for being a pioneer of technology within the wine industry,” said Lewis, whose team worked with Mondavi on the project.

The idea for a 21st century wine tour began almost by accident. Mondavi’s parent company, Constellation Brands, had hired Slalom to work on a separate project. But, in a casual conversation, the two companies’ employees got to talking about the fact that one of Slalom’s engineers was working on how to use Apple’s new iBeacon.

The iBeacon technology sends relevant information about a product or item to nearby phones, if the phone’s owners download the app and agree to have the information shared with them.

That morphed into the idea of using iBeacons to give Mondavi’s visitors more information about their winery’s grounds and wine.

Mondavi winery Slalom consulting wine tasting
Mondavi winery Slalom consulting wine tasting

Appetizers and apps

Before they took on the winery, Slalom and Mondavi decided to experiment with a wine-tasting party. The proof of concept took the form of an intimate gathering of top company executives, featuring four food stations and four wine stations.

When guests who had downloaded the technology approached a station, they were asked if they would like to know more about the wine. If they said yes, a description popped up.

About a minute later, if the guests were still there, they’d be asked to rate the wine they were presumably tasting.

Lewis said the executives liked getting the information about the wine, but they were most fascinated by a dashboard that showed, in real time, how guests were moving around the room, and what stations they were stopping at.

That makes sense. Thanks to online retail and other digital advances, consumer products companies now have more information than ever about their customers’ shopping habits. But that information is much harder to track in what Lewis calls “the last mile,” when the customer is physically walking through the store and trying to decide which bottle of wine, soap, or even shampoo to buy.

A technology like this would give customers more information, but also help the company understand exactly how people are moving through their stores.

“The value isn’t just in the engagement,” Lewis said. “(It’s) also the data.”

Technology that enhances, rather than detracts

The next stop was the winery. Mondavi’s famous California grounds attract everyone from sophisticated connoisseurs to casual tourists. More than half of its visitors take a guided tour, but the rest just taste some wine and perhaps have a look around.

Mondavi wanted to give the do-it-yourself types more information. What they didn’t want, however, was for people to wander the grounds staring at their phones instead of the beautiful views, or to have peaceful moments constantly interrupted by the buzz of mobile devices.

“You don’t want the technology to interfere with the experience,” Lewis said.

“What they really wanted was to take photos and share photos.”
Mark Lewis, Slalom consultant

At first, the team building the technology did nothing more than just observe. They watched how people walked around the winery, which paths they took, and where they stopped. Then, they started asking people why they’d come to the winery, and what they wanted.

What they found was that people who had come to get detailed information about the winery tended to take a guided tour. Those who didn’t had a different agenda.

In addition to enjoying the wine, Lewis said, “What they really wanted was to take photos and share photos.”

That insight changed the team’s thinking completely. They realized that the app they were building needed to have some information about the wine and the winery’s history, but it needed to be organized around great places for pictures.

In the end, it turns out visiting a winery was like so much in modern life: All about taking a great picture and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, or your social medium of choice. And, the Slalom team found, that wasn’t just true for millennials.

“Social is really a means of communication across age groups,” he said.

The final app, released in late 2014, includes a map that shows people three wine tasting spots, three restrooms—and eight spots that would be ideal for snapping a great picture. Got a good shot? You can even share it on Facebook without leaving the app.

So far, Mondavi is the only winery in Napa Valley offering this kind of interactive tour.

The winemakers hope it will help customers two ways. One, they’ll be able to find their way around, learn about wine, and get some great photos. And two, the information the company gathers about how people navigate the winery, where they stop, and what they are interested in will help create an even better experience for that next visit.

“I think that there are huge possibilities,” Lewis said.

Mondavi winery Slalom consulting wine tasting
Mondavi winery Slalom consulting wine tasting
Mondavi winery Slalom consulting wine tasting

About Robert Mondavi Winery

The Robert Mondavi Winery was founded in 1966, marking the first major winery to open in Napa Valley since Prohibition. It is known for producing some of the world’s best wines, including its iconic cabernet sauvignon and its signature fume blanc. The winery also has played a key role in establishing the Napa Valley as a world-class winemaking epicenter, on par with locations in France, Spain, and Italy.

Mondavi’s To Kalon vineyard and cellar is renowned for its innovative grape growing and winemaking techniques. The winery’s beautiful grounds also are a top tourist destination for wine connoisseurs and casual visitors. The winery is open daily for visitors, hosts a concert series, and features regular food and wine pairing events.