Mike Ratcliffe: The Metaverse – a brave new world for the wine industry

By , 8 March 2022



We already live in a world that is a precursor to the metaverse. The metaverse describes an entirely new computing era. The metaverse describes the beginning of shift in behaviour. In the same way that the internet is not a single place, but a collection of websites, apps and services that work together, the metaverse describes a fast-evolving collection of interactions, technologies & business models that will look very different from today’s internet.

Our focus on the physical world has been declining for decades. Our kids have developed an innate level of comfort with existence in the virtual world. In the past few years we have comfortably moved from conference rooms to video calls. Friendships have increasingly formed online via dating sites and social media. Video games are replacing sports as the dominant activity of a new generation. Our identities are changing as we start to care deeply about our online personalities – just witness the explosion of Tiktok, Instagram and the selfie generation.

The metaverse will only truly arrive when the digital world becomes more meaningful to more people than the physical world. The physical world that used to be our only option. Smartphones now allow us to take our digital persona anywhere we go – 24/7. Participation in the metaverse remains a choice, however non-participation will increasingly become a significant disadvantage in business – and in life.

Ready Player One official trailer.

According to the New York Times, the term “metaverse” was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and further described by Ernest Cline in his novel Ready Player One, now a Spielberg movie you should really watch to experience a futuristic metaverse.

But what about wine?

The metaverse is like the internet – anything that you want it to be. A platform for creativity where our physical and digital lives will overlap and converge.

The metaverse is unlikely to digitise the art of winegrowing or winemaking. Wine marketers will see an immersive digital world which is increasingly fertile with opportunity. The onset of virtual wine tastings via Zoom have quickly come of age and become embedded as a norm – in a very short time. The next step will be much more interactive. Virtual reality and augmented reality will quickly immerse enthusiastic punters into a dramatically more realistic and interactive wine environment.

A few innovative wine companies have quickly grasped the early formative stages of the metaverse. Treasury Wine Estates pioneered the introduction of augmented reality in a masterful co-lab with Snoop Dogg. Hovering a smart-phone over the 19 Crimes wine bottles “living label” magically bringing the labels to life – a wine label actually “telling” a story. You will soon enter a virtual wine retailer in the metaverse and interact with the store avatar (digital persona). Each bottle will actually tell you about itself – before you make a physical decision.

Commerce will fuel the build-out of the wine metaverse. Wine marketers now comfortable with a DTC (direct-to-consumer) strategy will need to develop a DTA (direct-to-avatar) strategy. As our digital personas gain in confidence we will increasingly interact in the metaverse as we evolve from e-commerce to i-commerce (immersive commerce). The currency of the metaverse will evolve quickly to crypto, and the ownership of virtual wine assets, still in its infancy, will be conveyed by NFT’s (non-fungible tokens) and will be recorded on the blockchain.

The metaverse is an evolving 3-dimensional version of the 2-dimensional internet. An internet that you can enter, together with other people. A place where you can interact with wine lovers, a highly efficient environment for wine education, an increasingly familiar platform for wine sales and a place to make money – virtually.

What’s next? In much the same way that the arrival of the internet decades ago saw innovators build websites, platforms and businesses, the tantalizing prospect of the metaverse is already turning into a gold rush. The metaverse will need to find practical purpose and it will then be built for that purpose. It will need to be colonized, pecking orders will need to be established and new ways of doing business established. Huge ideas will fail, and nascent technologies will appear out of nowhere and flourish. Fortunes will be made.

The metaverse will not replace our humanity, our personalities, or our sense of community, but it will likely make our environment richer. It will be a catalyst for efficiency. It will change the way that business happens and money flows. It is not a substitute for the real world, but an alternative reality which we will choose to participate in.

The metaverse will be whatever we want it to be but will never be a substitute for a great bottle of wine with close friends.

  • Mike Ratcliffe is founder and chairman of Wine Business Advisors, providing advice to maximise the profit of new or existing commercial activities in the wine industry. He is also owner of the Vilafonté wine brand.


4 comment(s)

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    Stanley Edwards | 14 March 2022

    The biggest challenges are adoption and budget. The technologies used in the metaverse such as virtual and augmented reality have always been there – for many, many years – we just need to catch up. The wine industry like many other industries are slow to adopt new technologies and when they do, they often do it poorly because it’s not about the technology but about content – and good content.

    Many conferences speakers, webinars, articles, etc use Treasury Wines as an example of what augmented reality can deliver but it’s unfair as the reality is that to deliver the same execution, 95% of wineries in South Africa just won’t have the budget – as is often the case with VR & AR.

    For the wine industry, you need to make the metaverse practical. You need to make it real. How can this be done without breaking the bank? We’ve done it with ‘talking’ wine tasting kits which essentially links a physical wine tasting with a metaverse experience. It marries the physical and digital world perfectly. It’s interactive and uses both augmented and virtual reality where wine labels are brought to life and ‘tell a story’.

    We create a tasting kit with ten 45ml vinitubes. Each vinitube includes an augmented reality code which, when scanned automatically plays a personal voice note from the winemaker introducing themselves, the winery and describes the wine the person is about to taste and also offer food pairing suggestions. It’s like sitting with ten winemakers in their cellars while you’re doing a wine tasting.

    The AR code also links directly to a virtual reality tour of the winery so after you’ve listened to the winemaker you can then virtually walk around the wine estate. If you like the wine you’ve tasted, the AR code links directly to their e-commerce store as well as a sign up for their wine club, newsletter, videos, recipes and links to their social media and more. This is all done via your smartphone. The same AR code and be printed on wine labels, neck tags, wine lists, point of sale in retail and anywhere where wine is marketed or sold.

    It’s not a brave new world. AR & VR aren’t new technologies but have now been bundled together with other technologies as the ‘metaverse’. It’s not complicated. It’s about creating good, interesting and engaging content and making it easily accessible across multiple platforms. The metaverse is just a means to deliver it.

    Greg+Garden | 8 March 2022

    Very articulate and considered piece Mike. Thanks.
    But an alternate view: ” The metaverse will not replace our humanity {it will test and weaken it}, our personalities {it will make them uglier, more assertive, and less sensitive, per social media experince to date}, or our sense of community {it will accelerate community exclusivity and alienation} , but it will likely make our environment richer {more polarized}. It will be a catalyst for efficiency {of iconoclasm}. It will change the way that business happens and money flows {Absolutely}. It is not a substitute for the real world {it will pretend it is, and create alienation in the process} but an alternative reality which we will choose to participate in {by force of social or groupthink pressure, and those who don’t will be marginalized and ‘luddited’}.

    The metaverse will be whatever we want it to be but will never be a substitute for a great bottle of wine with close friends {May you be right, as this is a bit of a contradiction to the para above).

    There, I’ve made my bed …….. 🤓

    Mark Harrison | 8 March 2022

    A hurdle the Metaverse will have to overcome in wine selection will be to provide a means to physically taste wines without making the process even more exclusive than it is today. Take the relatively entry level WSET2 course as an example. Roughly 40-50 wines are tasted. The cost for participants is mitigated by sharing bottles amongst maybe 20 students. If individual students needed to acquire these wines for remote tasting, the cost for a good spread would amount to something like $1,000 on its own.

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