wine industry

French vineyards blow dust off the barrels and embrace a digital revolution in wine

Digital-media tools such as augmented reality, apps and online games have a vast potential to reinvigorate communication about wine.

Most commonly associated with notions such as tradition, authenticity and terroir, the French wine industry doesn’t instantly jump to mind as a leader in innovation. But its deep traditions are no impediment to finding new ways to showcase the sector’s know-how, enhance its reputation, and promote engagement with and exchanges about wine.

For France, the challenge is both commercial and cultural. While the wines of the Champagne and Burgundy regions were granted Unesco world-heritage status in July, the European single market is structured to empower the “free movement of goods and services”, with all the risks and opportunities that entails. To meet this challenge, in July 2014 a French senator proposed a bill emphasizing the importance of the wine industry’s shaking off some of its dust:

We must empower the important actors in the wine industry to better promote this patrimony and culture via new technologies, so as to not compromise its future. Such promotion has become urgent … in a context of global competition and conflicts between winemaking practices that are starkly different.

The text concludes by noting that the responsible enjoyment of wine and its culture requires knowledge and education – and today, its communication is necessarily digital.

The use of digital tools for purely commercial purposes has its place, of course, and it’s growing quickly: Just this year, more than 500 e-commerce websites accounted for more than 10% of the wine sold in France. Still, even double-digits sales increases can be offset by unforeseen events in a unpredictable and highly competitive market.

In the digital vineyards

The challenge is thus how to use digital media to convey the essence of wine itself. Many foods and beverages have leveraged digital communication, but wine, with its distinct character and evocative force, occupies a unique place in our society. Online tools must not only faithfully convey a wine’s image, but also create an experience that is every bit as vivid as the real thing, if not more so.

Here augmented reality has the potential to allow aficionados to interact with both physical and virtual environments – vineyards, cellars, exhibitions and catalogues.

One example is Bordeaux’s Cité du vin, which promises a “unique experience” with immersive interactive displays, virtual settings, fragrant environments and more. These experiential features are also part of the Cité des vins in Burgundy (Beaune). Both sites harness digital technologies to support three phases of the wine experience: awareness, exploration and appropriation.

By fully immersing us in the world of wine, digital media can enhance our subjectivity, and enable a kind of rediscovery of magic – “the willing suspension of disbelief“, as Coleridge put it. For example, virtual tours can be created through the use of drones, which capture aerial images of vineyards that are then remodelled. This opportunity to live in the present yet rediscover the world in new and wonderful ways is the promise of digital media.

Narrating the story of wine

While sensory immersion can open new doors, digital media is at its richest when it plays a narrative role. The most striking example of this is seen in the context of wine tourism. Already more than 10,000 vineyards, wine cellars and other facilities welcome more than 8m visitors annually – and the best is awarded the distinction Vignobles et Découvertes. Many regions have already developed digital apps that allow users to tour vineyards (Smart Bordeaux), follow wine trails and learn about local events (GeoVina Languedoc-Roussillon), or get involved in wine tourism (Œnotourisme Bourgogne). And an online game, Vinoga, combines social networking and e-commerce to put the user in the boots of a wine-maker.

While there’s still considerable room for the improvement of such apps, they make it clear that, when it comes to communication, a traditional website that conveys basic information – where, what, who and how – is no longer sufficient. Certain regions of France have worked to get this movement off the ground: A Nantes-based firm, Komka Vigneron, offers a customisable website adapted to the needs of winemakers and vineyards. Ultimately, effective marketing requires not only digital tools, but also a deep understanding of what a region can offer both nationally and internationally.

Together, such apps, websites and experiences can help build communities of wine enthusiasts. Furthermore, they all reflect a shared desire to be more conscious of the food and wine that we consume, to take back control, and to defend and share it.

Jean-Jacques Boutaud, Professeur en Sciences de l’information et de la communication, Université de Bourgogne

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.