By Elizabeth Hans McCrone
Editor’s Note: eProvenance is one of the Wine Industry Network’s 2016 WINnovation Award winners for excellence in wine industry innovation.
No one knows exactly how much wine may become damaged due to temperature fluctuations during transport, but data collected by a savvy entrepreneur suggest the problem is much more widespread than commonly believed.
Eric Vogt, the Founder of eProvenance, a global, monitoring services business, has been studying the issue with his colleagues for the last nine years. After conducting extensive laboratory research on the aromatic and flavor changes in wine subjected to extreme heat, Vogt set out to discover what happens to wine shipments as they travel to and between different countries.
He accomplished this by developing a sophisticated, web-based monitoring system and proprietary algorithm that assigns what his company calls an “eProvenance Score” to quantify temperature fluctuations that wine shipments encounter throughout the transport and delivery process.
What Vogt and his team discovered was nothing short of startling. After collecting data on more than 4800 Direct to Consumer (DTC) shipments from Napa wineries to customers around the world, eProvenance was able to detect that as many as one in three shipments was subjected to potentially damaging temperature swings during transport and storage.
While these statistics are sobering, the exciting news is that through Vogt’s system, the industry now has the ability to track what happens to wine throughout the distribution chain, and therefore make the necessary adjustments to ensure that the quality of fine wine remains intact.
“Generally speaking, people do not set out to cook their wine,” Vogt explains. “There’s no one person with overall responsibility. The industry effectively, needs its own nervous system, like the human body.”
According to Vogt, the eProvenance “nervous system” is built through lightweight, wireless sensors that travel with wine cases, pallets or containers, collecting information and feeding it back to a digital cloud. From there, an Online Monitoring System (OMS) can provide alerts, summaries, analysis and comparative views of those incoming data that allow customers to potentially alter faulty shipment practices and reinforce good ones.
“It’s important to know if you have a problem in the distribution chain,” stresses eProvenance Director of Marketing Louise Domenitz. “You can’t expect people to change their behavior if you can’t demonstrate to them why they should.”
Vogt has long been interested in the preservation of fine wine. In addition to serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War, Vogt has degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Business School. According to his website, he is credited with starting several high tech companies before eProvenance, and has enjoyed a long career in leadership consulting and business strategy. Vogt was even knighted by the French Minister of Agriculture for his service to the wine regions of France.
Vogt says his inspiration for the work of eProvenance is rooted in his passion for great wine and a deep commitment to customer service.
“Our customers get the whole picture,” Vogt attests. “We give them what they want to know, what they want to communicate to their own customers. They participate, they feel involved. And there’s an enjoyment factor – they buy more wine. Their customers say ‘I like this. They’re taking care of it.’ This information can improve DTC sales.”
Vogt cites several examples about how eProvenance has already worked to help improve distribution processes, including one about a London merchant who had a “perfect cold chain” on wine shipments all the way to Tokyo, but once there, the system detected temperatures rising to between 24-28 degrees Celsius, even though the wine was traveling on refrigerated trucks.
“It turns out the drivers weren’t actually turning on their refrigeration units,” Vogt notes wryly.
He recounts another instance of cases of wine from Bordeaux that sold for 14 percent higher at a prestigious wine auction because bidders were able to see the entire history of the wine’s storage through eProvenance graphs depicted in an online catalog.
“We’ve started to do more work with that auction house as a result,” Vogt reports.
“Damage can happen with no visible sign,” adds Domenitz. “Wine might look and taste merely okay; in other words, it doesn’t live up to a consumer’s expectation. That’s damage to a brand. There are lots of reasons why people should care about what happens to the wine along the way.”
While the benefits to eProvenance tracking are huge, it turns out not everyone has embraced the technology as might be expected.
“There are some people in the wine world who don’t want this information,” Vogt acknowledges. “They say, ‘What if there are cases that are cooked? Who bears the cost?’ And as soon as consumers realize they can get access to this information too, that’s huge. When it gets out to consumers as well as wineries, there’s a lot more interest in protecting the wine.”
That being said, the trajectory for eProvenance success is definitely upward. The eProvenance team has racked up several awards for their groundbreaking technology, including most recently a WINnovation Award for excellence in wine industry innovation.
“We’re delighted to be recognized for this innovation by the wine industry,” Vogt says. “It’s our reason to exist.”