Intel Steps into the Wine Biz with “Sommely”

By: Joyce Deuley

In this age of connected things, why shouldn’t someone’s wine cellar be connected, too? That’s just what Intel and Uncorked Studios thought when they joined forces to produce Sommely, an intelligent, high-value asset management system for wine. What started off as an “invitation-only development day” opportunity that would demonstrate how to quickly take Intel’s IoT tech and turn it into a reality, Sommely has progressed beyond a prototype to a real solution.

Wine lovers everywhere know how difficult it can be to keep track of which labels are in their collection as well as whether or not anything needs to be turned or which bottles are—finally—perfect for drinking. Well, Sommely is here to help. Rather than keeping tabs on those pesky vintages via sticky notes or laborious spreadsheets, Sommely will put a cap on it. Using Sommely as a digital sommelier, wine enthusiasts can not only keep track of what’s in their collections, but Sommely can provide them with crowd-sourced “smart” recommendations and pairings, as well alert them of which bottles have passed their primes.

Using the Intel Quark Microcontroller D1000, Sommely seeks to provide frictionless user interaction by placing battery-powered, Bluetooth LTE-enabled “caps” that fit on top of bottle corks and screw tops. The microcontroller perpetuates this “set it and forget it” experience by maximizing the cap’s battery power via its standby mode and “fast wake” capabilities. LED lights communicate with the collector about the status of each bottle and an interactive mobile application supplies the long-term data tracking information along with recommendations and pairings. Both Intel and Uncorked Studios make the claim that Sommely is still an evolving solution, but one that has quite a bit of possibility—and they’re right to do so. In fact, there have been several other forays into the connected wine industry, including Libelium’s on-the-vine sensors and Vivino, the self-proclaimed “Facebook of wine apps”.

For the past few years, Libelium has offered IoT sensors to vineyards to track a variety of environmental stressors that can impact the quality of wine produced. By planting sensors in the ground and by attaching them to the vine, vintners can track soil moisture and temperature, leaf wetness, solar radiation and ambient temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity, and so much more. Because the quality and taste of wine is so delicate, dependent upon the weather, mineralities in the soil, and are easily susceptible to diseases, yielding consistent results can be tricky. Libelium’s Waspmote sensors seek to improve predictability and improve overall vine health.

But while the quality and variety of grapes are very important, a large part of participating in “wine culture” would be the social aspect, which is where Vivino shines. Last August, I spoke with the mobile wine app’s Chief Marketing Officer, Stephen Favrot, to gain insight on the company shortly after it announced it had surpassed 9 million users. During our conversation, Favrot excitedly shared Vivino’s success in the market, projecting it to be “right at the cusp of tipping” and that the “worldwide party” is just getting started. With more than 5 million wines in its database, Vivino prides itself on being the go-to place for anyone who wants to know anything about wine. What separates the company from other wine apps is its unique proprietary imaging scanning technology; users can use their smartphones to snap photos of wines they want to know more about and Vivino will supply information on its ratings, pricing, pairings, and much more. Users can even scan restaurant wine lists to pick the perfect wine, which is helpful since roughly 90% of wines on the market are currently unrated. This is all part of Vivino’s “edutainment” philosophy, where it wants to make learning about wine fun and easy. The only thing lacking, however, was that—as of last year—the company still hadn’t taken into account the power of the data it was collecting. While Vivino can isolate down to the city the kinds of wine locals are drinking, Favrot hadn’t really considered the impact that data could have on suppliers, consumers and the company itself; let’s hope they’ve reconsidered the notion.

A good friend of mine and fellow wine enthusiast recently claimed that he would become nervous when his collection dipped below 50 bottles of wine; and when I consider the effort of manually keeping tabs on a collection that size (or bigger) I start to get nervous. But the good news is that there are companies out there that are keeping the struggles of wine enthusiasts in mind by developing a solid blend of connected device technologies and quality yields that's good to the last drop.