The digital revolution is spreading across the wine world — whether the industry is ready or not.
More than 450 wine-related applications are now available on the iPhone and other mobile devices — more than six times the number that existed only 18 months ago, according to a recent survey.
Last year, people on Facebook, Twitter and other social media had 14 million online conversations about wine, providing recommendations, reviewing vintages and suggesting the best wineries to visit, said Paul Mabray, chief strategy officer for VinTank, a Napa consulting firm.
Social media and mobile technology, which have garnered widespread coverage for playing a key role in the Arab uprisings, are now quietly usurping the wine industry's traditional marketing powers and fueling a revolt among the hordes of casual wine drinkers.
"As an industry, we can no longer ignore digital," Mabray said. "We now live in a Google economy."
Mabray and others are pushing wineries to develop strategies that incorporate the widening arsenal of digital tools such as social media, data management and company-wide integration of workflow technology.
Some wine executives, such as John Jordan at Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Healdsburg, are already more than two years into implementing their digital strategies.
"It's a constantly evolving, messy thing," said Jordan, the winery's chief executive officer. "But technology makes it possible for a company to really become customer centric."
Some executives are struggling to adapt to the fast-changing online landscape, a place that increasingly influences everyday consumers, Mabray said. But they don't have a choice: this is the future of the industry, he said.
People can now use their phones while standing in a grocery aisle to research the best wine to purchase. Mobile applications make it easy for them to read online reviews, watch videos of North Coast winemakers, or get recommendations on what wines to pair with the cheese already in their cart.
"People aren't doing this for their soap purchases," Mabray said. "But they're doing it for wine."
While some of these new programs are still rough around the edges, people such as Mabray and Jordan believe that wineries need to co-evolve with these technologies in order to engage wine drinkers and stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Fortunately, wine executives are not powerless in the struggle. Sites such as Cruvee.com let executives monitor what people online are saying about their wine brands. They can also use the site, which doubles as a clearinghouse for digital data, to fill in information about their wine brand so that mobile applications can easily grab all the data and relay it to consumers, said Mabray, whose firm operates the website.
"The wine industry really needs to focus on how they manage their data," he said.
Because if they don't, someone else surely will.
Consumers can now access more than 1 million user-generated reviews and winery profiles on www.cellartracker.com, or pull out their iPhones to use a mobile application such as Snooth that scans a wine bottle's barcode to provide instant reviews. The mobile application Hello Vino offers suggestions for the best wine to pair with anything from pineapple and ham pizza to Cornish hen prepared for Thanksgiving.
The marketing strategy of focusing heavily on key influencers in the industry is a thing of the past, said Lisa Mattson, communications director at Jordan.