True to form

Every wine that’s created has to have its vintage, sugar, alcohol and more recorded. Felicity Carter looks at a new system that promises to streamline the administration.

Matthew Protti and David Gluzman
Matthew Protti and David Gluzman, co-founders, BlackSquare

Justin Howard-Sneyd MW is many things: a winemaker, a wine buyer, a wine entrepreneur. He’s also a form filler. Every time a wine is shipped, a form must be filled. When a wine is entered into a competition, out comes the form. Export sale? Forms. 

Howard-Sneyd has spent hours scrabbling through spreadsheets, tracking down the information required for the forms. But then he went to Wine Vision, a conference about wine business issues. As he needed a website that could work across multiple markets, he struck up a conversation with Matthew Protti, the co-founder and CEO of BlackSquare Inc, a Canadian wine and spirits ecommerce company.

Howard-Sneyd both moved his website to BlackSquare and kept the conversation going — and the idea for the Global Wine Database (GWD) was born.

Data for all

BlackSquare’s co-founder David Gluzman says that he knows all about the problem, as he and Protti built what they say is the largest wine club in Canada. Gluzman says getting basic information from producers can be so difficult that “we had to set up our own photography studio” just to get bottle shots. “We’ve been having this issue of getting high-quality wine data for as long as we’ve been in the industry, which is coming up for 10 years.”

Howard-Sneyd has sympathy for the plight of producers. “I’ve produced my own wine and I am very well aware how much time it takes handling all of the information that different people need at different times about wine,” he says. “A spreadsheet here, a web form there, a PDF over here, in order to pass on data to lots of different users.”

The solution, the GWD, is a database, which producers can link to their own website, where they can enter vintage and other technical data. When producers need the information again, they can simply download it or refer someone else to it. Not only is the information available in a usable format when they need it, but the producers get a marketing benefit as well.

Gluzman opens a search engine and says that if a user types in the name of any movie, they will immediately see top-quality information about the cast, the director, the reviews and so on. Enter the name of almost any wine and practically nothing appears except some bottle shots and information on where to buy it. This is because search engines can’t access information if it’s locked up in technical sheet or PDFs; the information in the GWD, however, is formatted in such a way that it can be found easily, giving the wine visibility. Not only that, but the GWD gives journalists, buyers or officials looking for information on specific wines the ability to download high-resolution photographs without having to contact the winery. 

There are good reasons to put high-quality wine information out there. First, because consumers and media want it. “When you go into retail, there is very little information about the wine there — maybe shelf talkers and the label, and that’s it,” says Gluzman. The second reason is because there might already be problematic information out there, with nothing to counterbalance it. He types some wine names into the search bar and comes up with crowd-sourced reviews — complete with terrible bottle shots. 

Not every winery will want complete transparency, such as those who create private labels. Gruzman says producers have complete control of their information. 

Who owns the data?

Eventually, the database will become a data treasure chest. It will be possible to see which regions are growing or shrinking, how wine styles are morphing and which producers are expanding. Gluzman says “the data is controlled and owned by the producers. If at any time they want to delete their information, they would be able to do so”.

Although the company is already thinking about how the aggregate data might be used in the future, “the biggest mountain that we have to climb right now is having more of the wine industry understanding the value of sharing accurate wine information,” says Gluzman, adding that academics, in particular, are struggling to find good wine data.

As for those forms, Gluzman says the GWD can turn information into PDFs, ready to send to anyone who needs it, and that they’re also working with industry bodies to create PDFs that are correctly formatted for specific needs, such as export approvals and major competitions. Howard-Sneyd said the GWD has already proved itself, such as when he was able to download data to create a tasting booklet, complete with a link to a microsite that had deeper information on each of the wines. 

 “There are a lot of potential applications,” he says. And it’s free to use.

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