Annual wine technology conference separates fads from trends

At the annual Wine Industry Technology Symposium, held June 30-July 1 at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel in Napa, technology and beverage industry experts gathered to explore the many ways in which tech is moving businesses forward. But as technology speeds ahead, with a constant stream of new devices and applications calling for attention, how can wineries tell the trends from the fads?

Sometimes even tech experts get it wrong.

Aliza Sherman, founder of Mediaegg LLC, told attendees that at a previous conference, she and others had predicted that “augmented reality” would be the next big thing. (One example of augmented reality is Yelp Monocle, which takes Yelp information and overlays it in text form onto the real world via smartphone). Although the concept generated a lot of buzz, it never really took off.

“What we got was QR codes,” Sherman said.

A surer bet, she said, is the trend of ubiquitous marketing and sales. Marketers now have the opportunity to reach out to potential customers through devices they carry with them at all times: smartphones. The key is getting customers’ permission to communicate with them, and they will give it if they trust your company. “Every moment is a potential sales touch point, she said. “But you have to create an experience and know what kind of experience your target market wants.”

She also pointed to geo-fencing applications such as iBeacon, and wearable technology such as Fitbit, as trends that are likely to become mainstream. And while these technologies may seem invasive or even creepy, consumers will readily agree to receive messages from companies that they like. But, she noted, “You have to deliver on what they want.”

Rob Grimes, founder and CEO of Contrata, a technology advisor to food and beverage companies, continued the trend theme. “As a company you do not want to invest in a fad,” he said. Therefore, you need to be able to predict trends.

Among the top trends Grimes highlighted in his presentation were mobile computing, location-based systems (i.e. geo-fencing), and digital signage and message boards that can be placed anywhere. Rather than being developed for a single device, such as an iPhone or Android, new apps must translate across multiple devices and platforms.

The ubiquity of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has made connectivity increasingly important to consumers, Grimes said, and wineries would be wise to offer free WIFI to their visitors. “If you’re smart, you will give them access,” he said.

To view presentation materials from the 2014 Wine Industry Technology Symposium, visit