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Online tracking of wine customers' tastes growing in popularity

  • Tonya and Mark Parker of Oklahoma check the color of their pinot noir at St. Francis Winery on Thursday, July 18, 2013. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

On a computer screen at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards is a profile of Rosemary, a woman who has commented about the Sonoma Valley winery on sites like Facebook and Pinterest hundreds of times.

Her mug shot, pulled from her profile on one of those sites, is alongside her full name and a log of everything she's said publicly about the brand online.

Software that St. Francis and other wineries use to monitor their brands on social media channels also has the ability to track where customers go after visiting their winery, based on the digital trail they leave in their wakes as they check into nearby businesses on Foursquare.

"It's so wild," said Christopher Silva, CEO of St. Francis. "It's really mind-boggling how far technology has come, and how technology has allowed us to track customers more effectively."

St. Francis is one of a growing number of wineries working to enhance their relationships with customers by observing their behavior in social media and online.

Marketing executives say the practice helps companies to deliver more targeted pitches and to get to know their customers better using public information.

But privacy advocates are concerned about whether ordinary consumers are aware that their information is being searched and funneled into online profiles, and they worry about where that data may end up down the road.

Compiling data to create profiles

As the wine industry becomes more technologically savvy, companies are finding ways to connect the dots between the data they've collected about customers' purchase history with the digital trails left by their online behavior.

A popular program used by St. Francis and about 1,400 other wineries was developed by VinTank, a Napa company that makes social tracking software, also known as listening software, for the wine industry.

"It really enables me to monitor and engage anybody that's talking about our brand," said Dylan Elliott, e-commerce coordinator for Crimson Wine Group, which owns Healdsburg's Seghesio Family Vineyards and uses VinTank. "You can really dig into the customer database and see who your advocates are, all kinds of information."

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