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New Tech Application Adds to DTC Sales Potential

Vinome sequences DNA to help drive boutique wine sales
by Liza B. Zimmerman
August 21, 2017

It has long been a challenge for smaller wineries to broaden their consumer base and connect with far-flung markets without distributors, so when a new tech app launched this month, with the intention of helping a couple dozen small wineries ramp up sales, many producers were pleased.

Vinome officially debuted this month. The Healdsburg-based company offers consumers a taste profile test online and then sequences their DNA, through a salvia sample, to determine what types of wine they will like. They then recommend bottles from their 48—primarily California—partner wineries.
The goal of the company is to provide new consumers with a comfort level about wines they like; insight about them in various markets and a delivery vehicle to their homes. Thus far, approximately 750 people have been DNA-sequenced and a hundred have ordered wine.

The Geyserville-based Ed Sbraigia, owner and winemaker of Sbragia Family Vineyards, was part of Vinome’s initial test set of tasters in 2015 and said that Vinome is another direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales tool in his stable.

“As we are a boutique winery, this should be a fantastic way for us to reach a large number of people,” said Laurie Rich, a partner in the Napa-based Falcor Wines that is also part of the Vinome program.

The company, according to CEO Ronnie Andrews, is “trying to create an open marketplace in communities that are not going to come and taste in Napa and Sonoma and connect them with great wine.”

The Theory Behind the Science

Vinome is part of a greater tech platform called Helix, a San Carlos-based tech platform that offers a number of apps that cover fields from nutrition to ancestry. The concept behind the company is to offer consumers access to DNA sequencing that can better help them understand their taste preferences and make ostensibly wiser short- and long-term lifestyle decisions based on them. Wine Explorer, which currently costs $29.99 after the DNA is sequenced for $80, is currently Helix's only wine-focused app partner.

Most of the founders—both behind Helix, Vinome and the other apps—generally come from the medical and genetic side of the health and tech industry. Andrews worked in the cancer research field for years and is trying to apply some of the technology he used there for our olfactory system.

Two-thirds of the consumer’s taste profile is based on the taste preference survey—about how much they like black coffee and blackberries—and the other third is the DNA sequencing. The wineries that are part of app had tasting notes that mentioned flavors that are in Vinome’s taste profile survey: i.e. stone fruits or a preference for bitter flavors.

Andrews told me at the launch that generally people who like black coffee like “big red wines,” which he defined as coming in at 14.5 to 16.2 percent alcohol by volume.

“As Vinome grows we can gage a new generation of wine drinkers and help them be educated and not intimidated,” about wine, he said. Some of the first hundred guinea pigs to be sequenced felt positive about the experience.

“I did not experience any taste inconsistencies. The results were spot on,” said Sharon Gray, a retired insurance executive who heads up the Scottsdale Wine Society and was sequenced. The group’s members were asked to participate in a trial in 2015 and she said that she can “attest to the fact that everyone found their Vinome outcomes to be interesting and informative.”

A Producer Perspective and the Upshot

Both Andrews and Sbragia would not comment on the discount provided to Vinome, although Andrews said it was more modest than a wholesale pricing structure and several of his winery suppliers said it was tantamount to a wholesaler discount. He added that Vinome is currently shipping to 25 to 30 states. He added that the bulk of his producers make less than 5,000 cases of wine a year.

Matt Mullarky, a doctor who lives in Southern California and was sequenced, added that the Vinome’s feedback, “helped clarify the aromas and flavors that were in my wheel house. It has certainly expanded my horizons and allows me to better pair wines with foods and at home and in restaurants.” He is part of a six-bottle quarterly delivery service. “The shipped wines are extremely consistent with the flavor profiles determined by the DNA sequencing,” he said, adding that as a result, he could now better describe the flavor profiles he enjoys.

Winery executive Rich added she thought it was “an exciting, innovative concept. We are thrilled to be in on the ground floor with them.”

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