The new language of tasting | New Zealand business magazine
Wine olojists Maciej Zimny, Josh Pointon and Jessica Wood have created a smart new startup to help wine drinkers better appreciate wine by understanding exactly what’s in the bottle. It is already proving very popular.
Let’s face it. Buying wine can be a lottery. How does it really taste? Is it sweet? Acid? Corsica? Will it complement the lamb burger? Duck confit?
Choosing a wine can be a complex decision, whatever the situation. Labels may offer few clues, and how often are you wrong?
When three passionate wine and hospitality professionals, shackled by the March 2020 lockdown, came together to solve the problem of wine selection for consumers, a world’s first wine language was born.
Maciej Zimny, Josh Pointon and Jessica Wood, the trio of highly experienced sommeliers at Noble Rot Wine Bar in Wellington, are the brains behind Wine-oji. They’ve created a modern, image-based guide for people that takes the guesswork out of choosing wine by creating a visual connection to its flavor profile.
As a start-up, it is already showing great potential, and not just in New Zealand.
“We looked at the current model of wine communication, particularly around reviews and the language used, and felt there needed to be a change,” recalls Josh. “Wine is a very complex drink and has a certain prestige that can intimidate many people.
“We wanted to break down that barrier and give everyone the opportunity to feel more comfortable and informed when buying and tasting wine.
“We also felt that commercial wine producers and suppliers needed a new and modern approach to wine communication as other beverage industries like craft beer and spirits move forward in this aspect.
“In short, wine was left behind and fell into the old-fashioned and boring category.”
The trio researched global markets, and with Wine-oji (based on the “emoji” concept), they knew they had a unique product. They quickly set about trademarking the brand name for New Zealand and across the world.
The team began brainstorming the aromas, flavors and major structural components of wines from around the world, before hiring a local graphics studio to turn those words into Wine-ojis – a modern visual language for wine. Each Wine-oji icon required individual design, and there are now 190 individual icons in the Wine-oji library.
Individual producers were also visited to get feedback on the concept. The positive response from wine producers has given Wine-oji even more credibility, says Jessica. “We truly believe we are doing something beneficial for the industry – which is desperately looking for a refreshing change in the way wine is communicated to consumers.”
Subsequently, receiving the first wines to be profiled was an important milestone for the team, as was seeing the guests of the Noble Rot Wine Bar positively interacting with the whole concept.
Printing, wrapping and wrapping Wine-oji’s Classic Cards range was also a proud moment, adds Jessica. They even managed to get them stocked by Wellington’s Unity Books before Christmas.
In hindsight – yes, some things could have been done differently, like deciding on the final branding of the business and changing the website domain in the 11th hour – although those changes were embraced by the team following the valuable advice and commentary from the wine industry and experienced business leaders.
“That meant moving the whole website to a new domain with a whole new look,” Jessica recalls. “It was a huge effort by everyone involved, but it was certainly worth it.”
As for Covid-19, Jessica says, while it may have slowed some production timelines, it hasn’t slowed Wine-oji’s progress.
Once wine consumers understand the idea behind Wine-oji and how it can help them choose wines based on the flavors they enjoy, the response is overwhelmingly positive.
With the launch scheduled just before Christmas 2021, revenue targets have now been set for 2022 and beyond.
“We cannot remove the finger from the pulse. We are using the next 12 months to push the concept to both consumer and trade,” says Jessica, “with the intention of gaining international recognition in the short term.
The wine suppliers were also brilliant in their feedback. Everyone sees the need to change the way producers and distributors communicate about wine in order to speak to a new generation of potential consumers, explains Maciej.
And you can forget the old-school stars and stickers, which appear on many wine bottles.
“Viticulturists see the potential for a new way to showcase their hard work to consumers,” he says. “There is particular excitement around the digital potential of Wine-oji, which is extremely relevant in today’s climate with so much happening online now.”
The winemakers’ enthusiasm for the concept can perhaps be summed up by Ben Glover of Marlborough’s Zephyr Wines. “This opportunity is a complete game-changer in how we communicate about wine to the global wine imbiber,” he says. “Bring it on!”
With a small, but growing, number of wineries now committed to having their wines profiled by Wine-oji, Maciej says the focus is on working directly with wine producers to complement their existing marketing activities. “We recognize the importance of optimizing the exchange of value between producer and consumer.”
Wine-olojists are now focusing on collecting hard data from retailers and wineries that proves Wine-oji helps consumers make a purchase and that they are likely to buy a wine that has a profile. Wine-oji rather than one that doesn’t. .
“We are preparing trials in a few different areas where wine is sold, including supermarkets and specialty wine stores, to get a wide range of data,” says Josh. “Then we will be in an excellent position to promote Wine-oji to a wider market here and abroad.
“Our other immediate goal is to establish international distribution of our Wine-oji Classic Cards range through online channels. Consider Amazon or Alibaba to transport our product to all over the world. We are also working on our next series of Classic Cards to expand the range and give customers more opportunities to learn and enjoy wine.
3 tips for getting started
After navigating the start-up process, the three sommeliers share three tips for new entrepreneurs:
1. Think and dream big. “Never put an idea aside until you’ve really considered it.”
2. Get advice from people in other areas of business with experience you may not have. It gives perspective and insight. An advisory board or mentor can also provide a valuable second opinion.
3. Hire people with additional skills. “There are always things you’re not good at. We knew wine but we didn’t know graphics or marketing.