May 12-13, 2020
Santa Rosa, CA
The world of Virtual Reality (VR), once primarily thought of as a gaming platform for young millennials, is making its way to the wine industry. In wine regions from Australia to Napa Valley, winemakers are experimenting with innovative uses for VR technology. In some cases, VR technology is being used to up-sell consumers to more expensive bottles of wine. In other cases, VR technology is being used to open up entirely new demographic markets of untapped customer demand. It’s all adding up to a very exciting future for the wine industry, which is growing increasingly sophisticated in using this new VR technology to achieve specific business goals.
The primary use case of VR technology within the wine industry is to support virtual tours and tastings. The idea is simple: wine lovers who might not be able to visit a winery in-person can now visit that winery by putting on a pair of VR goggles or VR headset. This is an especially useful strategy for wineries in far-flung destinations. One use case, for example, is from Brancott Estate Wines in New Zealand. While wine lovers might be tempted to pick up a bottle of Brancott Estate wine at the local retail wine shop, they probably would not be scheduling a flight to New Zealand anytime soon. That’s where VR technology can play a huge role.
Back in 2016, Brancott created an epic, multi-sensory VR experience called “The Red Shed” that was designed to include both a virtual tour of the vineyard and wine cellar, as well as a tasting experience featuring wind machines and scented sprays that completely immersed users in the experience of what it would be like to be hanging out in New Zealand, enjoying a glass of wine.
And Brancott is hardly the only winery using VR to build these types of multi-sensory experiences. Flora Springs winery in Napa Valley, for example, has created a VR tour experience, in which the owner of the winery explains the history of the winery, and gives guests a walking tour of the winery. In Spain, VR technology has been used to explain the winemaking and horticultural practices at specific wineries.
Winemakers in Australia are now at the forefront of using VR technology to boost local wine tourism initiatives. For example, in May 2018, the Australia government allocated over $500,000 in grants to create VR experiences. The goal was to attract foreign wine lovers in China to come and visit Australia. The best example of this VR technology up and running is from Seppeltsfield, a 165-year-old wine estate in the Barossa Valley. Its VR trial is generally considered to be the first-ever for the promotion of local wine tourism. And what the winery created was truly epic – sweeping VR panoramas of different “precincts” of the estate. Thus, Chinese Internet users could simply put on a VR headset and experience the wine, food and art of the estate. A VR photography firm was brought in to photograph every aspect of the winery – the vineyard, the wine cellar (including both barrels and the cellar door), the winery, the art gallery and the on-site restaurant. To make this VR experience as accessible as possible for possible Chinese tourists, Seppeltsfield included QR links on its wine bottle labels and made sure that even Chinese wine drinker without VR headsets could access the panorama views by using 360-mode in their web browsers.
China, already one of the largest wine markets in the world is viewed as being particularly ripe for VR tourism simply due to the uptake rate of the technology within the nation. There are nearly 400,000 VR headsets sold every month in China, meaning that virtual reality is no longer an “exotic” technology out of reach of the average consumer. Australia has already sent a state government tourism mission to China, in which they gave presentations to tourism agents and travel partners about how to use VR to experience Australian wineries.
Since VR is such an immersive experience, it’s perhaps no surprise that wine festivals around the world are looking for ways to integrate VR into the overall fan experience. If, for example, you would like to know what it feels like to be hanging out a wine festival in California, France, Italy or Germany, all you would need to do is download a VR app for your smartphone and then put on your VR headset. In the Palatinate (Germany’s second-largest wine region), VR technology was used to bring a wine festival to virtual festival goers.
What better way to bring a wine conference to life than via virtual experiences? Imagine VR booths on the showroom floor, where guests and participants would be able to find out more about a certain wine region, winery or grape varietal. Just as there are now VR cinema experiences, winemakers can create the equivalent of short films or trailers, all in virtual reality. A Napa Valley symposium on the DTC market was the first in the world to feature a VR keynote. Instead of listening to a speaker in the real world, participants enjoyed a short VR experience to kick off the event.
Finally, VR can be used to build out new wine retail concepts. Any time a consumer walks into a wine shop, he or she might be able to have multi-sensory, tactile experiences. In the United States, some retailers have already experimented with VR experiences at the point-of-sale. For example, some skiing and adventure gear companies now provide customers with the chance to check out amazing outdoor experiences via VR before buying expensive outdoor gear. That same type of thinking could also be applied to the wine buying experience. Before buying an expensive $100 bottle of wine, wouldn’t you enjoy a chance to step into a special “VR cellar” from Burgundy or Bordeaux and see, touch and smell everything about that wine?
Ultimately, the willingness of winemakers and wine regions to embrace VR technology comes down to the matter of sales. If VR leads to more purchases (and, preferably, the most expensive bottles in a portfolio), then it will be adopted more and more. For now, virtual tours are the biggest application for VR technology. As VR headsets go mainstream, though, look for new and more innovative uses of VR throughout the entire customer experience.