This is my third year writing about wine iPhone apps for Palate Press and VinTank. You would have thought last year’s version would have been the hardest when we analyzed over 450 apps for 20 key factors. In fact, it was the apocalyptic remnants of the category we saw this year that really pained us.

What happened? Why are wine iPhone apps not succeeding when other niche apps like Foodspotting are doing so well? I needed to understand and have spent the last four months analyzing the challenges.

Over the last year and a half we have seen the most tragic case of inertia for this segment of wine apps, with many going out of business, others atrophying in the App Store, and most of the stars stagnating and wasting screen space on our iPhones. We watched as apps shot into the scene (Crushd) only to quickly burn out. We have seen apps that gained the attention of mainstream wineries (Blush) but never answer requests from a few major wineries to do something to accept revenue.

Why Don’t iPhone Apps Succeed?

Too Niche
I know that sounds strange, but only a minority of the U.S. population are wine drinkers. Depending on the source it is between 64 million and 77 million, which represents only 20%-25% of the population. Wine itself is still in the minority. When you look the people that drink wine vs. talk about wine you drill down to approximately 10 million social wine customers. Of that group only 2 million journal about wine, and most do so with pictures. We estimate that in the U.S. market there are only about 250,000 über-oenophiles who write detailed tasting notes. That leaves a very small market to target, just 2.25 million potential customers, and they don’t all have iPhones.

Competition for Mindshare
Even if you create the most amazing app, one that gets the attention of wine consumers, the app competes daily with others that consume much more of people’s attention (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, Pinterest, Stamped, and more). Further, those other apps are networks where consumers are more likely to share their wine experiences with their friends, followers, fans, etc. Maintaining this mindshare is key and no app has been able to fully figure out how to do this. Some have added gamification (Drync) to help increase usage, others like Social Grapes worked on leveraging social connections but as of yet, except for an active and passionate minority, they remain an afterthought for most. This is more pronounced for wine travel apps, wine & food pairing apps, and wine reference apps that are used at even less frequency. This is even more of a challenge for winery apps.

Disconnect in How Consumers Journal
Most apps are built the way an oenophile wants to record their wine experiences. Typically there is an area to give some rating (all variations), type in the wine details, and add tasting notes. But in reality the majority of journaling is done through photographs. Simply click a picture of the label to remember it. Corkbin was clearly the leader in this arena and looked like it could be one of the winning apps but I am sure they struggle, competing with photo tools like Instagram, Path, Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and even the Camera function on the iPhone.

Insufficient Data
It is incredibly hard to build a comprehensive app about anything in the wine industry. Travel apps that list wineries but don’t have updated data, or even wine listing apps that exclude previous vintages, are not useful. No complete database exists and ones that do exist are grossly inadequate or unreasonably expensive. As a result almost all of the companies lose a key amount of resources and time harvesting data.

They are not solving any real customer problems
Most of the apps are solving a perceived problem. But let’s not forget that wine is a luxury product and interacting with wine is a luxury allocation of our personal time. Very few wine apps solve a real problem or need. Some of the key WANTS are remembering the wine we like, helping us find new wines, helping us pair wine with food, helping us while we travel to wine regions, helping us learn about wine. There is only one real pain point in the consumer experience and it is often when a consumer is in a white table clothe restaurant and staring at wines they don’t understand. The only app (though through a closed network) trying to fix that goal is VinCompass.

No Business Model
Almost every app that has been launched has no way to earn revenue outside of charging via the App Store. Considering it takes approximately $15,000 to $25,000 to build a mediocre app and $50,000 to $250,000 to build a great app, that is an incredible amount of sales just to recoup your base investment, not even taking into consideration upgrades or maintenance for the service. Sustainability from apps sales alone is not a reality. One of the few apps that actually has a business model is HelloVino, which launched an in-store advertising program with Raley’s and Constellation (where the founder’s wife is the head of digital marketing).

The Wine Industry Doesn’t Invest in Digital
Even if an app did a great job with a compelling business model they are almost doomed if they depend on wineries, retailers, or wholesalers to spend money on their platform. In wine history there have been extremely limited successes in profitable wine tech companies even outside the mobile space. Those who have succeeded have taken years to even break even and only two software companies in history have over 10% market share (one because they have a virtual monopoly, the other because they give away their software for free). The sad fact is that the wine industry would rather spend money hosting an expensive wine maker dinner than investing in the digital world we live in.

Even in the face of the concerns described above, some apps have demonstrated the will to keep improving or continue to be the best.

Recommended iPhone Wine Apps

Journaling Apps

Vivino – One of the best image recognition apps, and as more pictures of wines are taken, the matching gets better and better. A great way to remember your wines. Plus it’s free.

Cor.kz – The only app integrated with Cellartracker.com. Great for the oenophile who likes to make detailed notes and wants their notes to integrate with the best cellar management solution in the world. $2.99

Drync – One of the first advanced journaling apps. Though a bit tired in its UI/UEX, they have an incredible upgrade on the iPad coming soon. Still a bit pricey but if you are serious about journaling, it has a limited free version & a $3.99 version.

Social Grapes – The best app for seeing what wines your friends are drinking. Not much has changed in the app in the last year but it was so ahead of the curve last year that it has earned a place in this year’s best list. It is also free.

Wine Angel – A great middle ground for a journaling app that can handle the most simplistic just taking a picture, to adding more complex notes. Also has some great content for learning about wine in the app. $2.99

Corkbin – The most intuitive (next to Vivino) journaling app for the user who just likes to take a picture and remember the wine they drank. Also has some basic social features. Free.

Food Pairing Apps

HelloVino – The king of food and wine pairing. They are one of the few apps with a viable business model that takes sponsorships from wineries and from retail partners. Every food pairing comes with a combination of paid and organic results from computer matched pairings. Free.

Natalie MacLean – One of the best and most accessible wine writers in the world, Natalie MacLean has a perfect app for everyone to have access to her personal (and extremely professional) food and wine pairings. It is also free, but with membership to her wine reviews ($2.10/month) it gives access to a even better list of features like online journaling and more.

Blush – Blush jumped into the wine app game with a fresh UI and unique approach to food and wine pairing. Free.

Winery Apps

Hahn Estates – Probably the most sophisticated winery app designed with interesting UI and some good consumer value if you like Hahn wines. Free.

World’s Most Curious Bottle – A fun wine promotion campaign that uses gamification and fun to help a consumer learn more about Brancott Estate. Kudos. Free.


Paul Mabray has been in the wine and spirits industry for over seventeen years. He has worked for Napa Ale Works, Niebaum~Coppola, WineShopper/Wine.com and also was the North American Beverage Consultant for Sumitomo Corporation of America from 2002 through 2005. He founded Inertia in 2002 as one of the first major companies established to bridge the barrier between wineries and their customers. Paul Mabray was CEO from 2003 until 2008 creating the largest and most powerful e-commerce platform for the wine industry, the Rethink Engine. VinTank is a continuation of his desire to help revolutionize the wine industry through e-business and innovative digital products and marketing.

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  • http://www.firstpourwine.com First Pour Wine

    Hi Paul,

    I think you have a pretty comprehensive list. It identifies a big issue with how wine apps are geared toward wine lovers. This isn’t to say that there aren’t tech heads that inhabit the same bed as wine lovers, but they don’t think in remotely the same ways.

    I think the biggest loss though is that wine is social. We don’t have apps that allow us to share our experiences quickly and organically. We need more wine apps that focus on how wine connects us, not how we connect to wine. I mean, I can’t recall the last time I had a conversation with a friend who likes wine who brought up journaling organically.

    Good summation though, and nice tips on whats out there for apps!

    Cheers,
    Nick

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  • http://www.hahnfamilywines.com Mark Buckley

    great article Paul

  • http://www.winedemon.com Sammy

    Hi Paul and Nick,

    Have you looked at the WineDemon app?

    It’s a free app that allows users to find the best wines nearby according to their friends. You can hook up to your social media and see who’s been where drinking what – rate the wines you try and recommend them to friends.

    It’s my favourite by far.

    Great article!

    Sammy

  • http://www.vintank.com Paul Mabray

    Nick,
    I whole heartedly agree about the need for social elements. Social is a key missing aspect but I think these core issues are more of a hindrance to the success.

    Sammy,
    Love the Wine Demon app but as of writing this article, it wasn’t available in the US store.

    Best,
    P

    • http://www.wineangel.co.uk Tracy Lee

      Hi Nick and Paul,

      Firstly a big thanks to you Paul for the inclusion of my wine app, Wine Angel, on your list. Superb article!

      The digital element is a big problem as you quite rightly commented. In such a niche market the wine industry doesn’t seem interested in offering many alternative media options to consumers! But it is encouraging that a new generation is stepping forward to change this. Slowly, but happening!

      The social media compatability of my wine app was one of my main goals. It is possible to share on facebook, twitter and email your wine tasting notes immediately. You can rate your wines and share them with friends. Its on the last icon. Maybe an update for the next version of Wine Angel would be to ‘see what other people are drinking’..watch this space. All the feedback is greatly appreciated.

      Kindest regards from across the pond.

      Tracy :)

  • http://www.drync.com Brad Rosen

    Awesome article Paul. Hard to argue any of those points unfortunately. Except instinctually I believe there are more than 250 super oenophiles in the US, and more than 2.5m wine drinkers worthy of a software company’s attention. But those numbers are probably directionally correct.

    And yes, we have a “super kung-fu” release coming. Actually two – one in the next few weeks for iPhone that adds insane (in a good way) image recognition for visual search on wine labels. And the iPad app, which is a whole new level of wine app (and will be free). We’re excited!

    The links to Drync FREE and PRO are missing above. Hopefully the Palette Press folks can stick them in, but here they are just in case…

    iOS

    FREE: http://dryn.cc/JrzBC2
    PRO: http://dryn.cc/gpjhdx

    Android:

    FREE: http://dryn.cc/Jrzk1K
    PRO: http://dryn.cc/Jrz4Qt

    Thanks!!

    Brad Rosen
    CEO
    Drync

  • http://twoshepherdsvineyards.com William Allen – Palate Shepherd

    great piece. Thanks for a few new apps to try. Time to delete most of the 20+ (save cor.kz) I never use.

    • http://www.vintank.com Paul Mabray

      Good plan my friend. I had to delete 446 from last year. I still have 6 left but their value is waning.

  • http://www.winemaps.com WineMapw.come

    Help make it wine app #451 with winemaps on our mobile campaign. http://www.indiegogo.com/Discover-Wineries-with-WineMapscom

  • http://www.jumbowijnmannen.nl Emilio Saez van Eerd

    Good post

    • http://www.vintank.com Paul Mabray

      Thank you Emilio.

  • Richard Auffrey

    Hi Paul:
    In last years’s article on the wine apps, it was stated: “Mobile is here to stay …” The article was very positive about the future of wine apps. So what has actually changed since then? Why wasn’t this implosion of wine apps predicted? many of the reasons in this article existed last year too. For example, wine has always been very niche. So it doesn’t seem like the market could ever handle 400+ wine apps.

    • http://www.vintank.com Paul Mabray

      Mobile is here to stay and I am still bullish about the opportunity. This article is really to say why these apps failed, not that a wine app can’t succeed. Of course an implosion was predicted and last years article didn’t say “the best apps” but instead said “the apps with the most promise.”

      The sad part of this is really two fold: apps not thinking through their business model and EVEN if they created an amazing and compelling value proposition, the lack of winery’s desire to invest in digital thus destroying the opportunity.

  • http://www.blogyourwine.com Kris Chislett

    The biggest problem that I’ve always found is that it doesn’t matter how a wine app works toward leveraging user-reviews, tasting notes, photos, and points etc., but if someone in New York is raving about a wine that I know I’ll have a hard-time finding in Florida, it instantly becomes pointless and a waste of my time.

    This is where the food apps have the big advantage. Food in all its forms is available everywhere.

    I truly think it’s going to be a long time before we see any wine apps truly take-off (however you want to define that). To me (and I’m just thinking out-loud here), there needs to be some way for wineries/retailers to leverage apps like Instagram to almost “tag” themselves in images i.e. “We sell this wine at our store in New York.”
    I guess it would have to be some type of image recognition software kind of like Google Goggles). Like I said, just a thought…

    • http://www.vintank.com Paul Mabray

      Vivino seems to be the one closest to help. Let’s not forget that even if the wine is NOT available in your local market the surge of wine e-commerce stores makes almost everything available in most states.

      I agree a multi-use app is more relevant (like the potential Oink had before Kevin Rose sold it to Google). But not enough bring wine in properly as a relevant category.

  • http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tip-this/id454248572?mt=8 Patrick Malone

    Please take a look at our app Tip This by Maitre d’ Malone. It is an entertaining and revealing ‘confidential’ from the front of the house.

    We’re pioneering the gamification of dining out with entertaining roulette ratings, realtime Crowdsourced wine recommendations and a new Stump the Sommelier feature. NYC Monkey Bar owner Graydon Carter called Tip This “West Point for Waiters”.

    I can send you a promo code if you’re interested.

    Thanks, Patrick Malone. West Vancouver, BC

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  • http://www.adegga.com Andre Ribeirinho

    Very good post Paul.

    I agree with all your points. My experience with Adegga.com in the last few years has been dominated exactly by the same issues you describe (and which I’m addressing but that’s beside the point).

    For whatever reasonable or not so reasonable reasons the fact is, like you say, “The Wine Industry Doesn’t Invest in Digital” and this basically means there’s no “ecosystem” for new wine related ventures to succeed. It ends up limiting investment and innovation in an industry that badly needs it.

    I have the opportunity of working together with European wineries, retailers, wholesalers and generics (with AVIN) and I can attest to their deeply-ingrained skepticism towards technology & anything digital (not to mention the Social). Even when there is a clear opportunity to acquire and retain valuable wine consumers.

    Of course with great challenges comes great opportunities and we’re here discussing to make sure we keep innovating and creating value.

  • Lizzy

    Nice and interesting article, Paul, thanks as usual!
    A so small niche – winelovers – and yet many people trying to launch the killer app about wine…
    curious, isn’t it??
    :D
    or maybe wine is important, neverthless…

    • http://www.vintank.com Paul Mabray

      Lizzy, I think that people are launching wine apps because for the small niche, we so want to know more. The problem is once we cross that chasm from casual wine consumer to aspiring oenophile, we forget that at one point we only cared if it was red or white or maybe, just maybe, what variety we were drinking.

  • http://www.adegga.com Andre Ribeirinho

    Great article Paul.

    The problems you talk about are in general the same ones that most wine technolgy ventures face. I know that all too well with Adegga.com.

    It’s unfortunate that the wine industry works in a way that doesn’t make it easy for innovation to come through, even when those exact innovations are bringing much-needed new clients to the doorstep of wine businesses.

    Still, with great challenges comes great opportunities and it seems that things are finally (but slowly) changing.

    PS: I had posted a comment yesterday (twice) but for some reason it still isn’t showing up.

  • http://geminimktg.com Angel Evan

    Thanks for putting together a great analysis Paul. As someone who works in the mobile industry (and more recently the wine industry) I can tell you that it’s a combination of problems that caused the demise of the wine app. Essentially, the formula of no customer value + wrong technology = failed effort. If wine brands are serious about mobile, they should explore alternative options like Mobile Web and SMS that create easier ways for customers to engage and focus on customer value—not just more marketing.

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  • http://winetable.com WineTable

    This was a terrific article and very timely for our research at WineTable.com. The right mix may not have been found yet, but that’s no reason not to keep trying. We just launched this spring, but we’ve got a lot going on behind the scenes–both on the social network and on a mobile app. Right now, we’re looking for some feedback to help us focus our development efforts on the features people most want and would use.

    We’d love to get your insight. Help build the best wine network by taking a moment to give us some feedback. Choose your survey:

    Wine Enthusiasts: http://ow.ly/aIebx
    Chefs, Food Bloggers: http://ow.ly/aIfqg
    Other Wine Business Professionals: http://ow.ly/aIfvD
    Wineries: http://ow.ly/aIfyQ

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  • http://www.wineidrink.com Ken Lee

    For a new Wineapp that is going to be bomb I think we should look at Evernote and then leverage off what they have done.

    You end up building your own searchable database on anything you want = awesome.

    Remember, looking at what is hot in another area such as food ormproductivity and then tweaking it a little for wine and market market market…

    It has only got to be niche, you don’t need market domination..

  • http://komengo.com mobile apps maker

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  • http://www.triviaknows.com Tracey

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the article. I know it’s a slightly different angle, but I worked on a wine trivia app for Thinkspring Interactive called Wine Knows (www.triviaknows.com).

    One way to engage more than just the niche audience is to encourage more interest in a topic that, for those of us who already have caught the bug, is deeply fascinating. Our app is witty and fun with a bottle scoring system that allows you to share your wine rack with friends on facebook. Every question includes a factoid and hopefully will move the wine novice over to the budding oenophile camp.

    If you’d like a free code, let me know. We’d be thrilled for your input or online mention/ review.

    Thanks for a great article,

    Tracey

  • http://www.vinoenology.com Petar

    Good One Paul!Nice article!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Petar@VinoEnology.com

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  • http://hungryforwine.org Cathy Huyghe

    My reaction to this article of Paul’s is bittersweet. My company’s app, Red White Boston, was chosen last year by Paul and his team as one of the 26 best wine apps out of 452 available options. In today’s blog post I identify three ways the app was imperfect — revenue, scalability, and platform — and I offer ideas on how to recalibrate moving forward.

    Please see the post here:
    http://hungryforwine.org/2012/06/25/is-it-the-demise-of-wine-apps-or-a-recalibration/

    Thank you!
    Cathy Huyghe

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