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Instant Gratification

Author: Mike Davies
April, 2015 Issue

By using online booking services, people can now book entire tasting adventures via a single app or website.

We live in an age where people want things to be streamlined and immediate. Yet when you think of wineries, you probably don’t think about how Apple, Android or anything from the Internet could improve that business model. Because even though wineries often like to promote themselves as rustic, preferring to focus on the land and family traditions, that doesn’t exclude them from playing by 21st century rules.
In its beginnings, the Internet (as with many modern, technology-based developments) was embraced mostly by the young. But today, the ubiquitous smartphone culture has changed that way of thinking. Now, most of us, no matter what age, are glued to these devices. It’s become imperative for businesses to incorporate smartphones and the Internet into their plans…or get left behind.
When it comes to wine tasting, the addition of technology into this classically person-to-person business, while seemingly mismatched, is actually a perfect marriage. By using online booking services, people can now book entire tasting adventures via a single app or website. NorthBay biz spoke with some local companies about what they’re up to in this burgeoning industry and what consumers and businesses can expect from their offerings.

VinoVisit, founded in 2009 and located in Napa, is a mobile-friendly website for booking wine tasting tours. Users can line up multiple experiences, create an itinerary and have it all confirmed instantly—making it easy to schedule a day out wine tasting through a single hub instead of requiring multiple contacts.
On the winery side, tasting room managers can use the profile information users create via VinoVisit to see guest notes from previous visits (if any) to learn about preferences, purchase history and any other notes or requests from visitors. This creates a more immediate bond between the visitor and the winery and lets wineries better accommodate guests by being able to plan for better staffing and have the correct quantities of items that guests will likely request; it also lets wineries gather valuable customer contact data for post-visit marketing.
VinoVisit also ensures both wineries and their visitors that appointments won’t get forgotten or lost. Users can confirm appointments instantly, and wineries won’t lose an appointment even if they can’t immediately respond to an email or voice message seeking a reservation. Additional benefits include VinoVisit’s ability to let wineries send customers reminders or special offers before and after visits. Best of all, the site is free for all involved.
One of the goals of this type of technology is customer data capture. Most recently, VinoVisit launched the “Tasting Room Abandonment” app. Basically, a tasting room can set up iPads with the app, and employees can ask visitors to take a short survey regarding their experience. The survey has four simple categories: quality of wine, service, ambiance and overall experience, all of which users rate on a scale from 1 to 5. Those who take the survey will also be asked to input their name, zip code and email address. As an incentive for taking the survey, visitors can opt-in for marketing offers from the winery and can also enter to win a gift certificate or other prizes. Within 48 hours, the app will also send an email (including a special wine purchase offer from the winery) to anyone who completed the survey. It’s a direct-to-consumer marketing method that enables more informed follow-up marketing and communication between wineries and their visitors.
Jenny Talbott, tasting room manager of Tamber Bey, says “VinoVisit is helpful because you have one place to put all of your reservations.” She explains that she also can use the program to add reservations made through phone calls, emails or personal additions. VinoVisit blocks out further reservations during a scheduled visit so the winery won’t get over-booked, which, Talbott says, had been a small issue at times in the past. “About a quarter of our reservations come through VinoVisit,” she says. She also says that, since implementing VinoVisit, things have been a lot smoother.


CellarPass takes online booking one step further and offers both a responsive website and a smartphone app. Jonathan Elliman, co-founder of, was originally inspired by OpenTable, a website and app that offers real-time restaurant reservation services (it started as a website in 1998 in San Francisco and just recently sold to The Priceline Group) by letting users search for restaurants and available reservations based on certain parameters they set, such as number of people in the party, times, dates, cuisine, location, price range and so forth. Users receive email confirmation and can redeem points earned through using OpenTable’s booking system for future discounts.
CellarPass originated in 2006 but, at the time, it didn’t get a lot of support. So the founders, Elliman and his wife, Sarah, waited until 2010 to have an official launch when demand had caught up with their vision. In the beginning, Elliman noticed that people coming to Wine Country could book everything except the actual wine tour or tasting online. He wanted to change that—and to make sure customers could find the best wineries in the area to ensure their visit would be a good one. “How disappointing would it be if you went to Disneyland once in your life and you only rode the boring rides?” he asks. It’s the reality of any major tourist attraction: You don’t want to end up with a bad taste in your mouth because you didn’t hit the right spots—in this case, the right wineries.
At the start, CellarPass had a humble site and app that would let users book wineries for tasting and touring. Since then, CellarPass has recently undergone a bit of rebranding. While keeping its name, it’s updated its logo and set its sights on launching a one-stop trip planner for the areas it serves, including Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Central Coast, Livermore, Lake County, Sierra Foothills, Solano County and San Francisco. It also offers booking for other popular regions such as New York, Willamette Valley, Pennsylvania, Texas Hill Country, Virginia and Washington state.
In an effort to highlight quality over quantity, Elliman and his team researched the new content by road tripping to choose which wineries, breweries and distilleries they wanted to feature. Since then, Elliman has teamed up with other websites to make booking an entire trip to the North Bay (wineries, lodging, dining and other businesses and locations) absolutely seamless. Partners for booking hotels include, Travelocity, Expedia and Trip Advisor, and he’s also partnered with OpenTable for restaurant reservations.
CellarPass has also partnered with Yelp, so now Yelp users can use their login information to link to the CellarPass website and book an appointment at a winery. Through the new CellarPass website, users can now plan wine tours and tasting, book a hotel, line up transportation, make reservations at restaurants and find other local activities. It also offers “Getaway Packages,” which help those not familiar with an area set themselves up for a great trip with minimal effort.
Elliman liked what he saw in sites like Yelp, so, through CellarPass, he’s made sure users can rank anything that’s bookable through the website, whether it’s a hotel, transportation service, winery, restaurant or activity. “It’s really important that these reviews are accurate and legit,” he says, adding that reviews for featured destinations can only be left if a user has booked through CellarPass and checked in at that location—this means no phony reviews to bolster a ranking. It also lets business owners address any specific negative reviews or learn exactly why a customer had a bad experience so it can be corrected for the future. Consumers decide what shows up first on the site by rating the business they booked; the highest-rated places will show up first. Companies won’t be able to buy their way to the top of the page through featured listing advertising.
Other CellarPass features include the ability for business owners to claim and edit their business page through CellarPass so they can add menus, prices, hours, phone numbers and update other pertinent information. An interactive map, much like Google Maps, will illustrate how customers can get around. For example, users can see where the best place is to fly or drive in, how to plan a trip and how to get transportation once there. They can also see what’s in the area on the hotel’s page, click on the link and go right into booking a wine tasting through CellarPass. This will create communities and partnerships through the surrounding businesses and will also help travelers, who may only have one place in mind and need more suggestions. Wineries will be able to recommend each other as well as restaurants, and create relationships to help each other grow while creating a positive consumer experience.
If you’re a winery club member and book through CellarPass, the system can be integrated with popular club management systems to recognize that membership and apply discounts for tastings and tours accordingly. Possibly the most exciting part for wineries is that they won’t have to ask for payment because all that information will be in their system and they can bill visitors through CellarPass. And since the whole trip can be prepaid, users are free to simply show up and have fun. Wineries can put additional purchases on the card in the system, if necessary.
Asked if there were any plans to include flight packages, Elliman confirms there’s a soon-to-be-announced partnership with a travel site. The unnamed site is making a platform that multiple domains can use; search engines will use it and social sites as well, similar to the Yelp transaction model.

The bottom line

It’s common to go without a telephone landline these days, and businesses like VinoVisit and CellarPass are poised to make an impact for this demographic of wine lovers. They’ve taken the comfort of 21st century technology and put it into effect in a way that both wineries and their fans have taken to quickly.

Winery Geek

The most recent local app to hit the scene is Winery Geek. Launched in October 2014 by Wine Country This Week, it has a database of more than 2,100 California wineries. Mike Giangreco, publisher of Wine Country This Week, boasts that, though it doesn’t provide online booking, “it’s best equipped to meet the need for comprehensive information about California’s wineries. We have a complete and expansive database that, we feel, is highly beneficial to individuals who enjoy wine tasting in California.”
The app focuses on a user’s current location and provides a list or map that shows all of the closest wineries. It also includes hours, directions, click-to-call and links that lead users to the winery’s official website and/or Yelp page.
When people search via Winery Geek, they can narrow down which winery they’d like to visit by selecting specific attributes such as type of wine, caves, family-friendly, pet-friendly, food and wine pairing, picnic areas, vineyard, winery tours and more.
Wine Country This Week sets itself apart with Winery Geek via long-standing relationships with wineries (since 1981). According to Giangreco, the app is “perfectly poised to bring users a wide range of tasting deals. They can visit a winery, claim the tasting deal with the app and experience a range of savings on individual wine tasting visits.”

The CellarPass Name and Logo

Elliman says the word “cellar,” works for breweries, wineries and distilleries. When designing the new logo, he turned for inspiration to his wife, Sarah, who’s been referred to as “The Vineyard Vixen,” while he’s been called “The Silver Fox.” Upon deeper examination, they discovered that the symbol of the fox implies a demand for the finer things in life, quality entertainment and love of exploration. He also likes the reference to the fox being a hunter-gatherer, since that’s exactly what he had to do—not only to find all the places he wanted to include on CellarPass but to gather all of the data to include on the site.


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