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The Information Architecture of Wine

From the press section of, comes a story from Wine News about BestCellars’ innovative approach to selling wine. It includes this question-and-answer:

So how did this whole thing come about?

Most wine stores tend to be organized by grape type, or country of origin. But neither of those organizational directions allow for a consumer who knows nothing about wine to be comfortable. They both presume a certain knowledge and awareness on the part of the consumer, and when you put the onus of knowing what a cabernet or merlot is on the customer, you immediately narrow your customer base. We wanted to democratize the process. We really set about making it as simple as possible.

You’ve got eight categories set up. In red wine, for example, there are “juicy,” “smooth,” “big,” each modified by several adjectives. Why those adjectives? Why those categories for that matter?

First we started looking at all the adjectives commonly used for wine. We blocked out maybe two hundred and fifty of them on cards, and then aligned the cards in broad sweeps based on attributes we thought would tie to different colors of wine. Then we started to turn over cards that needed a glossary for the average person to comprehend, the words that were understandable only by someone with a substantial knowledge of wine. Then if they were so broad that they were essentially meaningless we got rid of them. In the end we had about thirty words that seemed to work.

I love that a business model is predicated on a way of classification.

  1. Yummmm! says Donna after a bottle of velvety smooth merlot.

    You know, I thought they ditched this years ago. Must have been thinking of something else.

    This is a good way of classifying, but food type is perhaps more useful. People are usually looking to eat with wine (well, some people) and want to know what to eat/drink together.

    Anyway, I like the idea of ditching words that need a glossary to comprehend or that are understandable only by the author. My card sorts could be ever so much slimmer 😉

  2. Different people different adjectives to describe wine. Leslie Sbracco even wrote a whole book, _Wine for Women_, describing wine like women’s clothing. For example, a chardonnay is like the “basic black” or the cab is the “classic suit.” I found her book really interesting and could make wine education more approachable for women.

  3. Different metaphors work for different people. While the “wine for women” thing works for ML, I find it horribly condescending. I think the Best Cellars adjective thing is nice, if simplistic, for wine – and I think they’re responding to a genuine perception in the market that “wine is too complicated and jargony”. That said, I’m not sure I buy classification as a business model.

  4. I wouldn’t find this system very helpful. Tasting perceptions are very subjective and IMHO the system described would merely result in cultivating stereotypes.

    However, the wine community seems second only to Dog Show participants in their love for a mythical standard of purity and grouping things into stereotypes marked by broad generalizations.

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