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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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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