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Wine is one of the oldest drinks known to man. It is prehistoric in origin. Humans were drinking wine thousands of years before they discovered electricity. Now, wine merchants are using all the facets of modern technology to stay ahead of the competition.

Virtual Vineyards and the early days of online wine

In 1994, online retail was seen as new, risky and untested. Amazon was only founded in July of that year, and eBay wouldn’t open its virtual doors until one year later. But that didn’t stop Silicon Valley developer Robert Olson from teaming up with his brother-in-law, wine guru Peter Granoff, to take wine online. Olson had been working on the art of ‘real-time programming’ which he thought would help online retail run more smoothly and reliably, but companies were reluctant to let him put his skills to the test. 

Granoff, on the other hand, was more than thrilled to combine his standing in the wine industry and links to small wineries with his brother-in-law’s coding prowess. Together, they founded Virtual Vineyards, a website that allowed customers to order specialist wines from unique vineyards all over California. 

Since online retail was fairly new, some customers questioned whether the wine they were ordering would be up to standard. This is still a concern today. Those wishing to invest in wine are advised to consult a fine wine investment guide, such as this one from the specialists at London Wine Cellar, to make sure they are not being scammed. The lack of similar online resources in the mid-nineties meant it was down to Granoff and Olson to put buyers’ minds at ease. They managed this, and the business was an instant success. First year sales were estimated at around $1 million.

But Virtual Vineyards’ success was short-lived. As the competition caught up with them and their website expanded to sell to 40 states, Olson and Granoff struggled to maintain solid turnover. Their company changed its name to Wine.com and was bought out by EVineyard, a much smaller online wine retailer, in 2001.

By this point, online shopping was nothing new, and buying wine on the world wide web was becoming more common. The next step forward in wine-drinking technology came not from retailers, but from suppliers and distributors.

Wine super-cellars and mass online operations

As fine wine became more widely available over the internet, restaurants and supermarkets had to keep up. Suppliers opened up huge warehouses that acted as wine super-cellars. Companies like Wine Warehouse, Alliance Wines and Liberty Wines rushed to provide the finest and rarest wines to venues and sellers around the world.

After this rapid growth in warehouse size, wine super-cellars began to compete with each other, determined to offer the fastest and most efficient service. The only way to effectively keep track of stock in warehouses of this size is through using database technology known as SAP. With SAP, next or same-day delivery can be achieved, so long as the SAP software is properly configured. With this technology in place, wine suppliers could keep up with the increasingly demanding retailers and restaurants.

But wine super-cellars are pushing the boundaries of technology in other ways too. Namely,  automated warehouses. As retail experts OCS Retail Solutions explain, warehouse automation utilizes robotics, remote controls and artificial intelligence to speed up the process of warehouse picking and lift the burden, literally, from human warehouse workers.

The USA’s largest wine supplier Southern Wine & Spirits of America partnered with Westfalia Technology to open a fully automated warehouse facility. Wine distributor Trinchero Family Estates are working with Power Automation Systems to create one of the most advanced wine warehouses yet. According to the CEO of automation solutions company W&H Systems, wine distributors are increasingly leaning on their automation as a selling point when trying to win new clients.

From super-cellar to super seller

After all these developments and innovations, there was one more. Some wine companies are using their wine cellars to become wine sellers. Rather than distributing their drink to restaurants, hotels and other retailers, they sell their wine directly to the public, over the internet. Firms like Hercules, a UK wine retailer with a super-cellar of its own, and Majestic, a series of chain stores that use SAP to achieve superfast delivery, are in many ways continuing the work of Peter Granoff and Robert Olson’s Virtual Vineyards. The internet has democratised fine wine. Automation and innovation make it more widely available than ever before.


Virtual Vineyards: Inside the Wine Super-Cellars
Digital Mag

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