I’ve never been a big believer in the power of social media when it comes to selling wine. The idea that someone might become enamored with a new winery or wine brand because of some pithy antidotes on Twitter or a few hyperbolically colorized photos on Instagram has always seemed far-fetched. However, what we are seeing now is that social media coupled with technology is helping to fuel unprecedented volatility that will eventually spread to the world of wine.
What has become evident as social media and technology have evolved is that they go hand in hand. Instant communication of one’s opinion or experience is becoming the new normal and is causing tectonic shifts in how brands, businesses, governments and even society function. It appears this volatility will continue and even be enhanced when augmented reality and the use of artificial intelligence become more ubiquitous.
At present, children in middle school can create realistic videos of a friend, parent or teacher augmented so that the background appears they are at the beach, a brothel or church. Beyond the addition of virtual backgrounds, researchers at the University of Washington recently used A.I. to create a video of President Barack Obama based on hundreds of hours of footage to show the former president realistically saying virtually anything they wanted him to say.
Social media has fueled movements such as Brexit, bitcoin and the election of President Donald Trump. Some would argue that fake news and opinion-based selections of data were behind at least some of these changes. Wine has stayed unsoiled in any moment or cause up to this point, but look for some wine brands to find themselves embroiled in the torrent of various social-media onslaughts in the coming years.
Synthetic wine and the robots
Some companies make wine for pennies a gallon by mixing chemicals together that mimic fine wines from around the world. At present, these are small companies that are not taken very seriously by the industry, but this is a mistake. When the consumers can’t tell between a wine mixed in a lab and one that has been created at a winery, the industry is in danger of losing a valuable opportunity to define what “wine” means.
Though not a perfect comparison, take a look at the milk market, whose dairy farmers are now fighting lengthy and costly legal battles to limit the word “milk” to only those products derived from the mammary glands of animals, whereas the almond industry and other such organizations argue that their products might also share the valuable name.
And don’t get me started on robots! Please understand that I have a love-hate relationship with robots. I know they’re coming and can often be helpful, but I also worry about the workers and struggling families who are often displaced by such technology. (And yes, I know the data suggest that ATMs did not cause the demise of bank tellers, whose numbers have continued to grow.)
This year I went to the Calistoga Tractor parade. This quaint and historically small gathering has grown into a tradition with thousands lining the streets to watch the local agriculture community drive through town with their tractors covered in festive lights.
There I was, smiling with the rest of the joyous parade crowd this year when around the corner came an automated harvester all lit up with flashing lights, the single driver smiling and waving. I looked around at the crowd, most of whom were all smiling and waving back. One exception was a teenager who was filming the approaching technology on his phone. The boy lowered his phone, tapped a few times on the screen and then slipped it back into his pocket and grinned up at the tractor. I couldn’t help but wonder if I might soon be seeing an augmented reality version of the scene, with this new imagined version replacing the driver of the tractor with the Godzilla monster from an old movie as it crashed through a city, the tractor’s horn blast replaced by an eerie screech, fire now belching from its cockpit.
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