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The Wine Web 2.0, or The Curious Case of The Cork Wine Web

20 Feb

New technology is often oversold as an engine of revolutionary change. This is usually a combination of marketing and perhaps honest but enormously un-objective hope by the inventors. One of the worst let downs of recent times was the near hysterical hype that surrounded the X device, which was its makers said going to revolutionise the ways humans lived and build cities.

Cities would be built around the device, which would change transport for ever.

The net, was alive with speculation. Most agreed that it seemed to be The Big One, a teleportation device. Airplanes and airports would be a thing of the past, a green future of instantaneous travel was ahead, maybe it would be a shortcut to interstellar travel.

Steve Jobs was apparently awed.

Unfortunately it turned out to be the Segway.

To say the world was disappointed is an understatement and the Segway has never recovered. Although across the US and even in Burgundy, in Dijon the capital of Burgundy you can take a Segway tours of the city and a few nearby vineyards.

Its gimmicky and most people spent their time giggling on the things trying to see if they can make it fall over.

Similarly, the internet we were told would transform the way good were bought and sold as well as putting the entire body of human knowledge at our fingertips.

I was very hopeful that this would be the case for wine, where it would give wine consumers access to every wine and wine region in the world.

Well so far I am still waiting for that revolution.

The problems for wine are a little more problematic than for music, films or books.

Wine is a bulky physical item that like food has to be physically in our presence to be consumed, so until we invent the teleportation device to turn my click on a bottle of wine and a slice of cake into a Pinot and chocolate cake on my desk we are always going to fall short of the ideal.

That said however, the other hope was to be able to interact with a wine region or chateaux. Streaming video, blogs and plenty of opportunities to buy wine would also suffice.

Even with this however, the real world quickly intervened. Wineries be they in France or Australia are primarily run by farmers who like farming their vines, not film-makers and writers who want to produce an all singing website.

So, most websites for wineries around the world are decidedly dull affairs that are really just a nice glossy brochure cut up and pasted onto the web. Worse, last year’s brochure. The amount of websites for wineries that have a short note about 2 harvest ago is astounding.

The Curious Case of Cork

All however is far from dull or lost in the wine web and in Ireland, one county is leading the way in revolutionising the wine web, and yes it is Cork.

One of the heroes of the wine web in Ireland is Curious Wines. Curious Wines is amongst the first of the Web 2.0 and soon Web 3.0 sites in Ireland, content rich sites that utilise the social networking ethic, blogs and tweets, video snippets and playful layout to enrich the cyber experience.

And we certainly need it. Not just in Ireland, but across Europe many sites are simply a kind of online version of their sales catalogue, worst of all, in many cases the mind set of the printed wine catalogue has been retained.

The most obvious hang over from the printed brochure is the lack of illustrations. In printing, full colour photographs, indeed all illustrations are extra expense. So a nice cheap list is favoured, maybe with the big selling wine getting a picture of its label or the odd bottle shot.

This is just unforgivable. Online, pictures, indeed all illustrations just demand effort, not expense. So the unillustrated spreadsheet of wines may have a certain, accountancy chic, but for the YouTube generation they are a real sign of a could-care-less attitude.

Once you have sprinkled your site with pictures you are in the lead in Ireland. Happily the very best sites take much more care, and add a bottle shot for every wine, in addition to say a picture of the winemaker, some links to the wineries website and some personally created content.

The personal content is what sets the best sites like Curiouswines.ie, Wines Direct.ie, Bubble Brothers, Onthegrapevine.ie, KarwigWines.ie and Robert Francis Wines.ie apart from the mass of wine brochures in cyberspace. Together with stylish sites like Terroirs.ie, Cases.ie and the increasingly slick O’Briens Wines vehicle, wines.ie these represent the more progressive side of Ireland’s wine web.

Plenty of other commercial sites do effective jobs with their sites, but they lack soul and a sense of vibrancy and way too many have banners proclaiming Summer Specials in November or alerts for a tasting evening back in June. These feel like empty rooms.

To find life and joy it is necessary to hit the blogesphere and here there is fertile activity from the like of thewrathofgrapes.ie which is the venerable mothership of Irish sites, with 13 years worth of tasting notes of the Preamble Club, one of the many Irish tasting clubs that form the bedrock of so much wine enthusiasm in this country. Then there is sourgrapes.ie, run with charm by Lar Veale, the meticulousness of RobertFranciswine.ie and many others.

It is not surprising that the Republic of Taste that is Cork city and county is responsible for a preponderance of blogging with sites like grapesofwrath.ie, dineandwinecork.blogspot.com and my stable-mate from The Examiner, Blake Creedon, tweeting and blog-rolling away. What is startling is how completely at ease one side of the Irish net is with web 2.0 and the social networking structures, while the other side are still banging out a spreadsheet with pretty colours.

If Enterprise Ireland or the government really want an actual knowledge based economy then someone needs to put this vibrant tech literate content side together with the, trying-but-just-not-getting-it commercial Irish sites in cyberspace.

There is no reason on earth or in cyberspace that Ireland could not dominate this space.

At present this tech savvy online world is dominated by a man named, Gary Vaynerchuk, the man who would be Parker for the facebook and twitter generation. He is an American, who transformed his parents wine business from the a regional liquor business into a solid gold online wine brand called The Wine Library, where he pioneered streamed online video wine tastings.

A key step on Vaynerchuk way to domination was to purchase the most popular wine bloggersphere of its day called Cork’d, which is still the go to blog central for wine. From an infrastructural point of view there is no barrier to one of our Irish sites playing on this stage. In addition from the commercial side, in the EU there are no barriers to shipping wine anywhere.

Why not a tech rich, twitter loaded, blogged up, RSS fed, video pumping Irish wine site selling Spanish wine to the Greeks or Italian wine to the Dutch, as well as Chilean wine to the Irish.

When it does all come together, as with Curious Wines, then it shows just how well Ireland can participate and revel in the exuberance of the cutting edge of the web right now, with lively constantly up-to-date blog, dropped in videos of food and wine pairing, twittering that seems robust and lively debates on wines, life and the latest bargains.

A visit to Curious Wines website feels like visiting Andy Warhol’s Factory in 1966, except its wine not 10 hour films of the Empire State Building that are on offer.

Heading up this iridescent experience is Michael Kane and his brother Matt, who is the web wizard and a third brother David completes the family picture. Michael Kane is the central figure who founded the Curious Wines business.

“I spent a long time in blue chip businesses, earning what we might call City salaries, before realising the dream of a business of my own in Curious Wines.” Says Kane.

“I worked for Texaco and GM Capital, so I knew what I wanted and I had the experience of that kind of view of the business world. Both those business are very pure, very focussed on two pure commodities, money and oil. Wine on the other hand is very different, though of course the big players would like to think that it is not.” Says Kane.

“I believe that you should only enter a business if you can add something, something better than is already there. That’s what we wanted to do. I want to put up a proper fight against the big players, the Tescos of this world.” Says Michael Kane.

“I love wine and all that it is, and I love sourcing wines in a direct and honest way. We don’t have suppliers, we have sourcing partners. People who share our passion and vision.” Says Kane.

“We have now formed a Wine Alliance, to sort of fight against these Death Star, Empire sized businesses with wines we can stand over. And I mean in price too. You cannot underestimate the price quality element.” Says a serious Kane.

“One of the things I loved when looking at models to start this business around, were businesses like Oddbins in its prime and most especially, Majestic in the UK. Majestic Wine Warehouses, these are businesses that are not all about selling a special or a bin end, they are about finding out what the customer wants and getting that. And of course that extends to the sites, exciting sites with great parking and real drama.” Says Kane “Its something, that business that I really admire.”

“On the web side, I just knew it had to be like this. I just travelled through so many sites which just never got updated. They are lonely and cold, there is no one home. It takes real effort and Matt my brother must take a lot of the credit along with our designers, but its Matt that keeps it fresh and makes it work.” Says Kane.

This seems to be the central point, and having won the Irish web industry’s best website award, he can speak with some authority when he suggests that running a website today goes far beyond an online brochure as we know, but that keeping it alive and truly social means working on the site, running it everyday as if it were a tv station.

“I cannot wait for people to see what we are going to do next.” Says a smiling Kane.

If our faltering broadband infrastructure allows, my money is on the Irish wine web breaking through UK and even US barriers, because the next wave of web apps are essentially micro-broadcasting and in conventional broadcasting the Irish lilt already has an edge that cannot be outsourced. Michael Kane and his brothers are ready to point that way.

Wine 2.0 Wines Top 5

Moillard Fleurie 2005 (89) €16.00

Chartron et Trebuchet Puligny Montrachet Meursault 2007 (92) €39

Domaine de Pellehaut Ampelomeryx 2006 (90) around €15

From Curiouswines.ie

Xanadu Estate Chardonnay, Margaret River 2008 (90) around €18.50

Chateau Simone, AC Pallete, Provence 2007 (92) around €48.90

Personalised Champagne from Champagne J de Telmont for €69

-This is a super present idea, a personalised label on a very solid bubbly, a picture of a loved one or the newborn perhaps.

From Bubblebrothers.ie

Caves de Lugny, les Charmes, Macon-Lugny 2008 (89) around €13.01

Ehrhard Roseneck Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) 2006 (89) around €17.31

Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge, 2004 (92) around €31.32

From karwigwines.ie

All three blog hosting sites hail from County Cork, but offer nationwide delivery. This is free in the case of Curious Wines, free in the case of orders over 100 for Bubble Brothers and a straight €9.50 from Karwig Wines, now celebrating 30 years in business.

Email the wine column at wine@sbpost.ie

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