The Sommelier is Dead... Long Live the Sommelier
The sommelier as we know it is dead. Too long have the experts held the keys to a castle of guarded wine knowledge. Only the sommelier could make recommendations, only the sommelier knew the wine list, and the sommelier was in charge of the wine you drank. As media grew, so did the sphere of influence of sommeliers and wine experts. An industry took note, and because we were too afraid to ask, because we were too afraid to understand, and maybe because learning was not accessible to us, the general public, we were unable to see the lines being blurred.
The wine industry flourishes on relationships, as should many industries and businesses, thats just how it works. Its fine. In wine however, it is very easy to go down a multitude of paths in an industry, especially when you make your way. It is not uncommon for a sommelier to become a grower, or a distributor to become a winemaker, a winemaker to become an importer, or even a writer to open up their store. It is very easy, especially when the path that you start on takes you to high places. Everybody who dreams about getting into the wine industry dreams about owning a vineyard or a winery. The problem is when these paths and relationships start to blur the mission you set out to achieve.
For sommeliers, the more you grow your relationships, the more entrenched you become in the business (say your friend owns a vineyard, or you befriend a winemaker). Natural course sure, but this is the era of transparency and neutrality. Consumers feel duped, or misled, much in the same way wine writers give higher ratings to friends, winemakers they are trying to impress, and anything that they have a bias towards in the beginning. Which goes to show that there is an underlying flaw in the whole ratings and recommendations system, thats its all based on opinion and feelings.
What if we could automate the sommelier?
Yes! And in doing so we breathe ever lasting life into the influence of the sommelier, for the better. Automating much of what a sommelier does allows will allow genuine somms and experts to focus more on the relationship between themselves and the person drinking the wine. What we would in fact be doing is shifting the realm of the sommelier from the fine restaurant to focusing on the consumer, potentially at every point of their wine purchasing endeavor.
That is to say, what if you had a resident person in your hands who could teach you everything about wine and was on hand whenever you needed them? The sommelier shifts from the role of steward, simply taking care of your immediate needs, to that of a wine guide and mentor. The sommelier becomes a personal guide on your very own wine adventure.
But wine apps already exist, so what is new?
Who said anything about an app? Though that may ultimately be where this is going, to exclude any other solutions would be foolish. Anyways, the problem with a lot of wine apps out on the market today is that they offer nothing new. They offer an innovative way of getting some of the information about a wine, information that you would now otherwise have had such as ratings and reviews. Only it is the same bullshit that has been perpetuated by the industry anyways. The same ratings from the same experts. Though slow to emerge, apps like Vivino, Hello Vino, Wine Ring, and Drync, offer a lot of the same thing. Information on how good a wine is or is not.
Its all the same though, catering to the final decision point and maybe uploading a review. There is nothing new, not from a tech perspective yet alone from a service perspective. As consumers grow in their appreciation, knowledge and personal tastes, they rely less on the app. The conversation is dead, and the newly minted wine enthusiast thrown once more into the wine wilderness, this time with a pocket knife. This is where the sommelier of 2016 and beyond should be taking over as that mentor, as that of wine shaman. Automated, personal, a relationship where and when you need it.
The sommelier of tradition is dead, but if we automate a lot of their work, create a system for growth and knowledge focused on the drinker, then the sommelier of 2016 and beyond will thrive. Long live the sommelier.