As the pandemic closed tasting rooms, many in the wine industry — not historically at the forefront of high-tech adoption — shifted to maintaining customer sales through video conferencing, e-commerce and digital marketing
Now, Web3 technology, the pioneers say, promises to enable deeper interactions with a newer generation of consumers who have learned to expand their desires and purchases beyond their screens.
Winemakers who have ventured into Web3, aka Web 3.0, over the past year include Treasury Wine Estates and Constellation Brands, which offer non-fungible tokens or NFTs associated with their luxury brands, Penfolds and Robert Mondavi, respectively. Treasury offered 300 bottles of penfolds via tokens sold on BlockBar, a new NFT marketplace for wine and spirits brands.
Constellation has minted 1,966 unique actual bottles of its Robert Mondavi x Bernardaud NFT Collection wines, available with the purchase of associated NFTs, and the actual bottles are scheduled to be available in September.
And now a handful of other North Shore companies are taking their first steps into the uncharted world of Web3.
Cuvee Collective, the business of San Francisco startup Libation Labs, launched its first offering NFTs Wednesday, giving buyers — known as minters — VIP access to deals on exclusive wines and experiences from 25 wineries across Napa and Counties Grant Sonoma including Robert Craig Winery, Goosecross, Massican, Schug Winery and Arcudi Wines.
According to CEO Andrew Allison, the company’s goal was to sell 1,000 of its 4,000 collectible NFTs on opening day and hit that mark at $179 each. This NFT gives the holder access to all future drops 24 hours before they are open to the public, as well as other digital benefits such as customer service priority, access to the private Discord forum, and voting status in the Cuvee Collective.
Some have likened the role of NFTs in the wine world to a better way in which in-demand North Shore wines are currently being distributed to those who want to buy them.
Traditionally, winemakers with such iconic status have a mailing list. Those on the list will be given the first opportunities to purchase each wine edition. When members leave the list, those on the waiting list may move up. Early adopters of Web3 see NFTs as a way to sell such spots in line, and the blockchain digital ledger would note what benefits were granted to each owner.
“The core of Web3 is asset ownership, and we truly believe that with blockchain technology, allocation spacing should be an advantage, not a liability,” said Allison, who grew up in Napa Valley and has a bachelor’s degree in wine from Sonoma State University Finance. “It shouldn’t be three strikes and you’re out. It should be your seat, and your seat can be filled by whoever you sell it to.”
In Calistoga, winemaker Mario Sculatti has teamed up with “The Wizard of SoHo,” the world-renowned moniker for an anonymous former Wall Streeter and now mastermind of decentralized finance behind the launch of some high-profile digital tokens. One of them was Azukis, which raked in $300 million in just one month earlier this year, according to Vanguard Media.
Sculatti and “The Wizard” met a few years ago while the latter was building his collection of Napa Valley wines. That year, they launched Evinco Wine DAO, starting with an offering of 5,555 NFTs that can be “cellared” – or kept – in the owner’s digital wallet to “unlock” more benefits over time, such as: . B. Exclusive tastings in the Evinco tasting room also the Salon Vault Wines in Calistoga, which Sculatti previously opened. Sculatti has produced its own brands through rotating ownership licenses at existing wineries and agreements or leases for several Napa Valley vineyards.
“What’s exciting about Web3 is this democratization of what your community wants that you’ve built,” Sculatti said. Evinco has a base of approximately 1,000 members for its discussion forum on the Discord platform, originally the digital meeting place for video gamers but increasingly the place where Web3 fans share ideas, reviews and concerns about their favorite digital assets.
To date, approximately 1,400 NFTs have been minted by Evinco, raising approximately $500,000 for the fund, which will ultimately allow token holders to vote on how the winery’s decentralized, autonomous organizational structure will be spent. Options include investing the money in lower bottle prices for exclusive offers or purchasing exclusive vineyard land with an event estate.
“That kind of self-government in business isn’t going away,” Sculatti said. “Web3 is not about artworks and cryptocurrencies, it’s about the democratization of this business.”
On the Napa County side of the Carneros wine region, Web2 wine pioneer David Harmon, who founded Wine.com in the early days of e-commerce in the late 1990s, is part of a Napa-based company called NFT Wine Club. While there’s no start date yet as the company is still working on developing its own blockchain, one goal is to offer NFTs, which would be virtual versions of the 3,600 real vines that Harmon cultivates in his Own a Napa Vineyard for a year each and sells car.
“I thought NFTs were a pyramid scheme, but when I saw Mondavi commit to it I decided to check it out,” Harmon said. “When a friend sold an NFT for $5,000, I realized it’s like a baseball card or a stock.”
But some big fans of digital marketing for the wine industry and early adopters of the technology are skeptical that Web3 is ready for prime time.
One not in favor of blockchain technology for the wine business is Paul Mabray, a longtime advocate for better customer data analytics in the industry and now CEO of wine information startup Pix.
“We’re trying to squeeze a buzzword into a use case,” Mabray said. “People claim to do it with clubs, but there’s a very small audience that gets it. It’s good to put a tradable good in a wine club, but you need to make sure the benefits are usable first. There is a lot of work that needs to be done first with better customer service.”
Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before joining Business Journal in 1999, he wrote for the Bay City News Service in San Francisco. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-4256.