The iPad in the Wine Tasting Room

IPad on bar The sheet of paper with a menu of wines to taste.

Perhaps a binder with info on the winery

These are the primary and ubiquitous tools wineries tend to use for communicating to tasting room visitors. They are the same tools wineries have been primarily using for probably 40 years. Somethings gotta change.

I came across that change when I spoke with Felicia Alvarez, co-owner of Pithy Little Wine Company in San Luis Obispo, while attending the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference. Pithy has largely done away with paper menus and binders and has put the iPad to use in the tasting room. It's a brilliant idea.

What does Pithy Wine Company use the iPad for in their Tasting Room? According to Felicia:

-Collecting email addresses

-Wine club applications or changes to membership information (ie credit card, address, etc…)

-Collecting orders that will be shipped

-Presenting tasting notes

-Providing maps of wine regions from which they source grapes.

-Photo viewing of wine production, vineyards, labels, bottle shots, events and more.

-Quick links to Facebook, Twitter, & Yelp so people can view their pages and/or post reviews or thoughts on the platform of their choice about Pithy wines and the tasting experience.

-A platform for guests to take notes on their experience and the wines they taste that they then can email directly to themselves or friends.

According to Alvarez: "It is an unobtrusive tool that enhances the tasting experience. People can explore as
Landing Page Screenshot much or a little information provided about us on the iPad. If they want to know more about the winery/company they click on that icon. If they want to explore the wince club options they click on that icon. The exploration is truly endless. If they don't want to explore then they place the iPad back in the cradle on the bar or hand it to a tasting room attendant. I have found that most guests enjoy the new technology and the ability to access the information that they are interested in. If the tasting room host is helping another group of guests and someone is waiting to ask a question, they are most likely able to find the information they are looking for on the iPad."

In my view, integration of the iPad is a pretty brilliant use of this new technology. Certainly the presentation of the material is nicer than a simple piece of paper, while wineries can still provide visitors with a takeaway item about the wines after the visit. I fully expect more progressive wineries to incorporate the iPad into the tasting room experience.

Of course how a winery's information is presented on the iPad in the Tasting Room and how the visitor navigates is going to be key to the experience. Alvarez explains their approach:

"We place the icons we want guests to explore on the home screen. If a guest picks up the iPad from the bar or is handed one by the tasting room attendant the default screen has icons that link to the specific portion of our website for each topic. For example, 'Home Page', 'Mailing List', 'Order Wine', 'Wine Club', 'Tasting Menu'. We are always changing the icons and their positioning depending on what we want guests to focus on. For example if we are running a special sale or promotion we will have an icon with a link on the top icon row."

But what about guests that just want to check their email or look in on Facebook?

"Most guests do not surf the web or check email, Alvarez explains, "but it does happen since it is still a new electronic tool that many have never had the chance to experience before and they want to play around a bit. I have found that if they do want to explore the web or check email it is only a positive addition to their experience that we have a tool available for them to easily do so. In that way it is a great customer service piece that is an extra amenity we can provide. Many visitors we see are traveling and may not have smart phones with email or web capabilities. They are appreciative that we have it available for them to use. To date we haven't had a problem with a guest abusing the iPad by spending too much time exploring other sites."

Technology has invaded the tasting room over the past decade. However, little of it has been customer facing, while most of it has been back-end tools for wineries to manage customer relationships. Pithy Wine Company's addition of the iPad into the tasting room strikes me as a most obvious promotional and sales tool that really can changed the customer experience for the positive.

Posted In: Wine Business


14 Responses

  1. @nectarwine - July 1, 2010

    I plan on having this in our tasting room. Thought about one at every table and a few at the front as well. I can imagine a table that has this in the center where folks can interact with the wines, sign up for updates, etc. The folks at Pithy are doing cutting edge stuff. Love it!

  2. Doug Croll - July 1, 2010

    Absolutely agree that when used PROPERLY digital devices can enhance the wine tasting experience. How about remote “tasting” or Q&A with the winemaker, any where in the world?
    Doug Croll
    Aka Tolerant Taster

  3. Mike Duffy - July 1, 2010

    Pithy is missing a small, but clever trick: design a custom background, which can be used as a way to merchandise particular activities and provide immediate information (no click required). It’s the same trick that smart Twitter users use for their profile backgrounds.
    At the very least, the background should relate to the winery and its brand, not some shot chosen by Apple.

  4. hopefamilywines - July 1, 2010

    We’ve had an iPad in our Tasting Cellar for around 2 1/2 months and have seen great enthusiasm for the gadget. Not only do customers love to play with our iPad but we’ve seen around 75% of tasters sign up for our email list. We really believe it adds to the experience and is a great way to show off our iPhone app – “WineDJ.”
    Hope Family Wines
    1585 Live Oak Rd – Paso Robles

  5. Chicago Pinot - July 1, 2010

    This reminded me of a recent visit to an NYC wine bar in the new Time Warner Center. I really don’t want to out them, because the wine and service were fine. But it was one of those “cutting edge” places with touch screen menus that pointed to the wine you touched and gave you all sorts of useful info about the wine. I am pretty comfortable with techie things and excited to play with new electronic devices, but really had a hard time navigating their equipment. The whole atmosphere was a little too “Blade Runner” for me.
    From your description, Pithy Wine is onto a unique way to promote their inventory; but just remember the wine should always be the star, not the technology.

  6. Steve Lindner - July 2, 2010

    Great story, we have been using an iPad in our wine room (cellar door) since the begining of May too,here in the Barossa Valley at Yalumba. Find customers love to use it, hopefully it will still be effective once the novelty has diminished! Collection of database members, vintage review videos from wine makers, photo gallery of vineyards and winery, and we encourage visitors to send an email from the ipad to family and friends, which we have set up as a seperate account. Like Mike’s idea of the backgorund and changed ours this morning! Agree the wine is the star of the show, but if we can gain any advatnage to make the visit memorable it’s all good!
    Google maps comes in handy to, directing folk to other wineries.
    Steve Lindner
    Wine Room and Events Manager
    Angaston South Australia

  7. Anita - July 2, 2010

    This strikes me along the same lines as self checkout in supermarkets, removing the customer from the human experience. I don’t want to go into a tasting room and face a computer – I go to wineries to get away from the office and have a delicious experience. Poking around on a computer at a tasting bar is too clinical for me.

  8. El Jefe - July 2, 2010

    You might think this article would be about Twisted Oak, but I have some real concerns about something as “liftable” as an iPad in a busy tasting room. When you have 20+ tasters on a holiday weekend it would be so easy for your $500 toy to leave the building. For a smaller intimate room like Pithy’s this might be easier to manage.
    Also, when we opened our first TR several years ago we talked about having a PC set up for much the same purpose. I opted out of doing that for the reason stated by Anita, but also because that added an element of “technical support” to my tasting room management. While I will agree that an iPad probably has fewer support issues, you still have a network to maintain. And if someone goes “out of bounds” on your iPad (messes with configuration etc.) you gotta deal with that too.
    As Chicago said, the star needs to be the wine, and the tech can’t be a distraction.

  9. tom merle - July 2, 2010

    Surprised that Jeff, Mr Technoid, is pushing back on the iPad. There are easy ways to secure the device. My reaction is that there are other ways to augment what the tasting room personnel can do without having to buy ipads. Kiosks have been used for a decade to provide the same service. Any PC/laptop can do the same, though without the touch screen technology.
    Sure there has to be some technical support, but it is outweighed by the advantages, which Tom/Pithy enumerated, added to by some of the commenters.

  10. El Jefe - July 4, 2010

    “Easy ways” to secure a device that can so easily slip into a bag? Please do tell Tom.
    The other thing I didn’t mention is the matter of collateral and access. Say I have 10 couples in the TR and my tasting menu is on the iPad. Who gets access? How many iPads do I now have to provide? The “advantages” presume that all tasters are receiving the same level of access. A paper tasting menu, on the other hand, allows all tasters to see the same info at the same time, to make notes, and is something that can be carried away and stimulate future sales.
    I’m also a little horrified at the concept of allowing tasters to sign up or make changes to their membership information in the TR on the iPad. A paper signup or change form gives my staff the chance to look at the info and verify it for completeness. More often than not, they find something missing.
    Don’t get me wrong – I love the idea! But this current incarnation is not suited to a busy tasting room environment.

  11. Grant - July 10, 2010

    We’ve had a couple of terminals in our tasting room for a while, with a new one on the tasting bench as well with our Twitter, Facebook and web pages open and a clear invitation to use as they wish. Obviously this is something that will evolve pretty quickly as all technology seems to at the moment, but we see it as an essential aspect of keeping the lines of communication open and of making our cellar door experience that much more engaging.
    Grant Dodd
    Haskell Vineyards
    Stellenbosch, South Africa

  12. Mitch Tarr - July 22, 2010

    Great comments. It would be a great idea to do a simple marketing test. Measure week 1 with old fashioned paper signup form and count signups vs visitors. Measure week 2 with the newfangled technology and count signups vs visitors. If you get more signups using the new technology, then the $500 investment is well worth it. Bigger list. If, on the other hand signups drop by half, then . . . well you have to decide what’s important. Bigger list or cool form factor.

  13. Thomas Hansen - July 23, 2010

    Awesome 🙂
    You might want to check out our product for doing exactly this at
    It’s basically allowing the user to rate the wines he’s tasting and send these ratings to his own emails. The winery gets to keep the email address, and the user gets to remember which wines he liked.
    Yes, that is a real danger, and should be taken seriously. However, with great lead from the vendor of your iPad application, and at least a minimum amount of vision from the winery, these types of apps can easily be implemented such that they enhance a 2500 years old tradition instead of disrupting it …
    But you are right, people come to experience wine and taste wine, not to play with technology. Though as every other place in society, technology can, if used correctly, enhance the experience …
    Who created the app that Pithy uses …?

  14. iPad - September 22, 2010

    Its not surprising the ipad has made such a difference to your business because it is the must have gadget.

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