Wine tells the story of our lives. In a world populated by vineyard visits, cellar tours, wine-making workshops and grape harvests, one wine club makes its quest to stand out and be your personal sommelier—using data science to track personal palate preferences.
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a famous French gastronome and epicure, was said to have once proclaimed: “A meal without wine is like a day without sun.” And who could disagree? Not his countrymen surely, as France produces seven to eight million bottles of wine yearly, making it one of the biggest winemakers globally, alongside Italy and Spain.
In 2018, it generated 49.1 million hectoliters of wine, a 34.8% increase from 2017’s 36.4 million hectoliters. Together with the U.S., Italy, Germany, and China, it represents the world’s wine consumption totaling 49%.
COVID-19 has changed the way many of us buy wine and we are all on the hunt for novel wine delivery apps and other solutions. Palate Club with its unique algorithm is a wine club which not only provides a unique way for consumers to get wine delivered but a data-driven way to improve your wine experience overall.
Wine is a fine art
The heritage of French wine traces back centuries. It is a fact long held to be universally true that when it comes to making wine, France considers it serious business. It has dedicated itself to this sophisticated mastery, with different regions being known for specific kinds of wine:
- Bordeaux is famed for red wines that are a mix of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon
- Burgundy has Pinot Noir for reds and Chardonnay for whites
- Rhone Valley has fertile vineyards that boast of full-bodied red wine from Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Grenache grapes
- Loire creates Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc
- Champagne is celebrated for its sparkling wines like Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir
- Alsace is known for Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc white wines.
Today, none comes as more artisanal than French wine, made by vignerons all the way back to the Middle Ages. Moreover, it has a historical reputation as being one of the most preferred alcoholic beverages by connoisseurs all over the world.
Wine without borders
It comes as no surprise then that wine tourism is in demand today in numerous places. It is sought after by casual wine buffs to the most devoted of oenophiles. The World Tourism Organization, a specialized agency under the United Nations, recognized the significant connection between wine, culture and history, so much so that in 2016 they held the first global conference dedicated to wine-making, “one of the most cherished and eldest traditions” of civilizations.
According to UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, “Wine tourism is intimately related to the identity of destinations and comprises cultural, economic and historical values.” Moreover, it has become important not just for enthusiastic wine travelers but also for wine producers, who count on vineyard visits as a major factor in boosting their sales.
Florian Beck-Hartweg, who manages a vineyard in Dambach-la-Ville, Alsace, is thankful for these tours: “We sell 40% of our production to visitors who’ve come to see us and another 30% goes to export. There has to be one person on staff at all times for cellar tours and tastings. Afterwards, our clients keep up with us on Facebook. We post news almost every day on what we’re doing. Social networks allow us to stay in touch.”
Indeed, in France, an estimated 10 million went to explore French wines in 2016, reflecting around $5.6 billion (€5.2 billion) in total spend. Then, in 2019, sales climbed again, a record $15.3 billion (€14 billion), per the Federation of French Wines and Spirit Exporters.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., wine tourism is said to contribute $2 billion (around €1.8 billion) every year to the economy. Grape farms number more than 23,000, and about 60% of these grow wine grapes. California produces 90% of the wine in the country, though the number of wineries and vineyards in the rest of the states have also increased over the years.
Of tasting rooms and wine clubs
From discovering wine cellars to staying at chateaus overlooking vineyards, wine tourism is a universe of its own that promises nothing but delight if one loves spending time with a glass (or two) of red or white. There are also wine-making workshops and wine academies, as well as grape harvesting events. Then again, the most hyped about in recent years are wine tasting rooms and wine clubs, which have found patronage from people of varying ages and locations.
Tasting rooms take the form of storefront retail spaces, more or less, which usually are an extension of a winery. Some are built or projected as a “wine bar”—though there are far too many claims of these as of late that lessens the uniqueness of the experience. Nevertheless, it can be educational as well as enjoyable, since there’s usually a discussion about the vineyard where the wines came from, as well as the climate and the terroir.
Wine clubs, on the other hand, ship a selection of wines, together with an assortment of information about the winemaker and the region of origin. Some also include newsletters and recipes to try, or even gourmet foods to pair, depending on the membership. Clubs can also be selective on their offerings, i.e. some concentrate on boutique wines only, or place emphasis on wines made in small batches, etc.
SomMailier is the brainchild of Laurent Yung. Coming from a family of winemakers in Bordeaux, he came up with the idea of a wine club which offers bottles not usually found in markets. Calling them “hidden jewels and lost treasures of French wine,” Yung works with importers and distributors that are willing to send their product to a North American audience.
Then there’s Fat Cork Wine Club, hosted by Bryan and Abigail Maletis, which is devoted to the love of champagne. Importing bottles directly from the Champagne, France, they ship every other month and also hold wine tastings regularly at their headquarters in Seattle. They also provide glassware and other materials for the beloved sparkling wine.
Using AI to enhance the wine experience
But perhaps the most remarkable is California’s Palate Club, who promises to be a personal wine stylist, selecting and shipping artisan and sustainable bottles to its members, and continuously developing its recommendations over time with the use of data science. It’s an ingenious idea, in an arena full of wine clubs promising customers—but eventually failing to deliver—exclusive releases or reserve brands.
With a commitment to bring the service of a restaurant sommelier (“without the markup of a middleman”), Palate Club’s formula makes use of over 200 wine traits to further analyze data. An algorithm is used to track one’s wine ratings and bottle profiles, giving the experts behind the company a better idea of what to recommend. More ratings mean more personalization—in essence, customers also learn what they really like over time.
Created by entrepreneur and innovator Nicolas Mendiharat, the Palate Club is the pièce de résistance of wine clubs. By employing statistics to track personal palate preferences, recommendations truly become individual and customized—a far cry from those designed to merely promote mass-market labels.
Life is better with wine
Truly, wine is an integral part of numerous cultures. It is quite symbolic—from being a delicious complement to food to being part of religious sacraments. It can be used for cooking, or to improve health, or can just be a friend at the table during late nights. It has also been the companions of missionaries and conquistadors, of kings and merchants, of warriors and poets.
Ultimately, whether one associates it with a memory of a special time or place, one cannot deny that wine is history and tradition—every sip tells a story of where it came from. In the famous words of Victor Hugo: “God made only water, but man made wine.”