Wine Goes High Tech: Local Vintners Launch Smartphone App

By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on July 21, 2011)

A simple tap on your phone’s screen now puts the Santa Barbara wine scene is in the palm of your hand. 


Meet the newest virtual tool for the thirsty from the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association: an interactive application for Apple’s iPhone that goes way beyond just listing its 110 member wineries.  It showcases facts, details, images, maps and updates that will enhance any wine tasting trip.  I’ve been playing around with it for days now.

This app is free; you can download it from the App Store by searching for “SBCVA.”  It was developed by a Lodi-based company called Go Local Apps, which has also devised smartphone apps for wine associations in Santa Cruz and Sonoma.  And Dave Yates, who’s going on 10 years as general manager at Jaffurs Winery in downtown Santa Barbara, put his UCSB training in software development and internet applications to use and acted as consultant.

“I designed the home menu, did all the requirements for the application and oversaw the development of it,” Yates tells me, modestly.  But he’s most enthusiastic about the potential of this app to satisfy the needs of, and expand the experience of, the local and the visitor alike.

“It’s a great reference tool for people who are familiar with the local scene,” he says, “and a great marketing tool for people coming here for the first time.”

Is this the first app built to guide people through Santa Barbara wine tasting?  No.  But because it’s run by the SBCVA, it may well be the one with the most accurate information; members are able to update information like tasting room hours and events regularly. “I’ve seen information on other apps that’s six or seven years old,” says Yates.

If you’re an iPhone user, like me, then you know that the right app can be extremely useful, and tons of fun.  I use one to organize my upcoming travel; one to find the real-time drive down to L.A. at any time of day; and one to discover new music I might like.  I use several to pass the time; move over, Angry Birds, here comes Talking Tom.

This SBCVA’s new app has joined the fray of a couple dozen apps on my phone for a few simple reasons, : its ease of use, its practicality and its dependability of information.  The home menu features eight categories, shaped like slices on a pie.

·       Wineries: tapping on this slice brings me to the association’s 110 members.  You can access them alphabetically.  But I like the fact you can hunt through them by specific grape variety and by amenities, too.  When I tap on albarino – that classic Spanish white wine that would be a perfect sipper on a warm summer afternoon --  I see that five wineries will pour or sell me some, including Tre Anelli and Longoria.  If I decide to go on an exploratory merlot-tasting trip soon, I see close to three dozen options, including Shoestring near Buellton and Daniel Gehrs in Los Olivos.  Then I tap on “amenities” and see that several wineries are dog-friendly, many feature picnic areas and at least one features live music every weekend.  And if I’m seeking a winery with an onsite vineyard, or perfect space for a weeding, this portion of the app will tell me.

·       Near Me: tapping here take me to a Google map teeming with virtual thumbtacks.  They represent the location and, based on my GPS positioning, the distance to wineries, restaurants and more.  Los Alamos catches my eye and I tap on a tack that brings up Bedford Winery.  One more tap and I can read about Bedford’s history; I also have their phone number and tasting room hours, the list of wines they produce (gew├╝rztraminer and rieslnig are on the list), their tasting fee ($10 in this case) and even a one-tap link to their Facebook page.  Yates admits that, with Google maps, directions to some of the more rural wineries can be obscure.  “So we went through to see which directions made sense and which didn’t,” he says, “and we put in the right sets of coordinates to point you to the right place.”

·       Events: this is planning made easy.  Wine events throughout the county are sorted by date, so you’ll find things to do today or weeks down the road.  Earlier this week, listings included this Saturday’s Chardonnay Symposium as well as Buttonwood Farm Winery’s fabulous “All Farm Dinner” on August 13th; everything you eat or drink at this yearly feast is harvested on Buttonwood’s very fertile property off Alamo Pintado Road in Solvang.

·       Lodging: Why wine taste one afternoon when you can make it the ultimate staycation?  Hotels that come up when you tap here include options for people doing the Urban Wine Trail in downtown Santa Barbara, like the Upham Hotel and the more cost-conscious  Cabrillo Inn on the Beach.  And there are plenty of fabulous places to stay in the Valley, like Solvang’s Petersen Village Inn and the quaint Meadowlark Inn along Highway 246 near Santa Ynez.

·       Restaurants: wine tasting makes me hungry, so this link’s perfect.  For now, no restaurants are paying to be featured in the app; instead, these eateries represent long-time partners of the SBCVA.  “They’ve been involved with our festivals over the years, and been included in our hard copy maps,” Yates says.  Olio e Limone and bouchon come up in Santa Barbara while some of the great wine country spots I would recommend to any thirsty explorer pop up, too, like the Ballard Inn and the Los Olivos Caf├ę. 

·       Tasting and Wine Shops: here, you get dibs on stores and wine bars that pour wines from multiple venues.

·       Touring: feel like leaving the planning and driving to someone else?  This spot on the app gives you plenty of options.

·       Wine Trails: this makes your phone your very own wine tour guide.  Seven unique wine trails throughout the county are listed here, from downtown Santa Barbara to Solvang to the Santa Rita Hills.  I tap on the Santa Ynez Wine Trail and my homework is done: 10 award-wining wineries pop up, including Gainey and Brander, with their contact info, directions and plenty of ideas of special things to see and places to visit as I meander between tasting rooms.  Can we swing by the miniature horse ranch, please?

One neat aspect of this app is that it can be used as a springboard for social networking.  A finger tap connects you to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, allowing you to see who else is using the app at the same time and to publish your location every step of the way.  Who wants to wine taste “alone”?

Though the app is only available on the iPhone now, a version for its most formidable smartphone competitor, the Droid, is in the works.  “We’re looking at a rollout in the fall,” says Yates, who admits he’s not just a co-creator of the SBCVA’s new app, he’s also a user.  “The other day, I had an appointment to do some barrel tasting at Ken Volk’s winery but I hadn’t been there before,” he tells me.  “So I took out the app and got their phone number and directions and I was on my way to Santa Maria.”

I’ll do the same when I head up to the Chardonnay Symposium at Bien Nacido Vineyard this weekend.  With one caveat, of course: AT&T, don’t fail me now!