The wine purchase decision is a confusing, anxious moment for many consumers, and a critical opportunity for wine brands. How does, will, should, one decide which wine to purchase when not in a position to taste it first? Many marketing strategies vie for influence over the consumer with critic scores and curation, competition medals, premium packaging, brand positioning, and now DNA based taste targeting.
Vinome, a wine club that sends its members wine based on their DNA, launched last month as part of the Helix marketplace. Helix is a DNA sequencing platform that will sequence people’s DNA for the relatively low entry fee of $80, and then allow them to purchase add on services from Helix’s partners, who then query Helix’s database to customize their products to the consumer. The marketplace launched with 18 partner companies, mostly health, fitness and nutrition focused, but also with Vinome representing wine in the entertainment category.
Helix wants to empower people to use their DNA every day by sequencing the DNA once and then querying that data as often as possible to unlock a lifetime of experiences tailored to the individual by adding more and more product to their marketplace, and though it may be a little surprising to find wine among the first products, it makes sense both from a consumer and winery perspective.
Explaining the idea behind Vinome at Helix’s launch event in San Francisco, Ronnie Andrews CEO of Vinome started by pointing out that it was increasingly difficult for small wineries to get distribution and get in front of consumers, and that Vinome was a way to do that. He then went on to explain how Vinome works and why it’s valuable.
To illustrate the conundrum that many consumers face when selecting a wine, he presented two wines, one from Balletto and the other from Stonestreet; both Chardonnays, both quality wines, but very different. One was crisp and steel fermented, the other textured and barrel aged, so to choose a bottle that fits their tastes, the consumer would need a high degree of knowledge, or they could let Vinome make the selection for them.
According to Andrews, the selections Vinome makes for their customers have an impressive 98% positive response, but they are not entirely based on querying the DNA.
When setting up a Vinome account the user is asked to answer a series of questions about tastes they prefer like sweetened coffee, chocolate, and other food flavors. That information is then added to the DNA information from Helix’s database to create a taste profile. “The survey gets us in the right neighborhood, and then the DNA narrows it down to exactly the right street,” Andrews explained.
Vinome analyzes all the wines in their store for their flavor compound and matches them with the customers’ flavor profiles to ensure a happy marriage. Currently, Vinome offers wines from around 25 boutique wineries, but they are looking to expand their selection and offer a wider variety for all their customers’ taste profiles. Andrews also sees a future where Vinome taste profiles have a reach beyond the wine club and online store to restaurant wine lists and retail shelf talkers advising consumers on which flavor profile best matches a given wine.
From a consumer standpoint a 98% likelihood of getting a wine you’ll like is a good proposition, and, at least at this early point in the DNA customization market, it is also a novel concept, which in itself adds to the experience.
For wineries being introduced to consumers they may not otherwise have engaged with is obviously a benefit, and the Vinome customers might be particularly desirable as early adopters of new technology and therefore likely trendsetters, not to mention that they had $80 to pay for the initial DNA sequencing, which says something about their disposable income.
While much of the Vinome model isn’t new, we’ve seen curated wine clubs with customer taste feedback algorithms before, Vinome has taken the extra step in bringing the hard science of DNA sequencing for taste preferences into the wine business, and as the science grows and becomes more prevalent, it may well play a sizable role in the future of consumers’ wine choices.
By Kim Badenfort