The new language of wine tasting
‘Wine-olojists’ Maciej Zimny, Josh Pointon and Jessica Wood created a start-up to help wine drinkers gain further enjoyment of wine by understanding exactly what’s in the bottle.
‘Wine-olojists’ Maciej Zimny, Josh Pointon and Jessica Wood created a clever new start-up to help wine drinkers gain further enjoyment of wine by understanding exactly what’s in the bottle. It’s already proving highly popular.
Let’s face it. Buying wine can be a lottery. What does it really taste like? Is it sweet? Acidic? Full-bodied? Will it complement the lamb burger? The confit duck?
Choosing wine can be a complex decision – no matter what the situation. Labels can offer few clues, and how often do you get it wrong?
When three passionate wine and hospitality professionals, shackled by the March 2020 lockdown, put their heads together to solve the problem of wine selection for consumers, a world-first wine language was born.
Maciej Zimny, Josh Pointon and Jessica Wood, the highly experienced sommelier trio at Wellington’s Noble Rot Wine Bar, are the brains behind Wine-oji. They have created a modern image-based guide for people that takes the guesswork out of choosing wine by creating a visual connection with its flavour profile.
As a business start-up, it’s already demonstrating excellent potential, and not just in New Zealand.
“We looked at the current model of wine communication, especially around reviews and the language being used, and felt it needed a change,” recalls Josh. “Wine is a very complex beverage and has a certain prestige around it that many people can feel intimidated by.
“We wanted to break this barrier down and give everyone the ability to feel more comfortable and knowledgeable when buying and enjoying wine.
“We also felt that producers and trade suppliers of wine needed a fresh, modern take on wine communication as other beverage industries like craft beer and spirits are forging ahead in this aspect.
“In short, wine was being left behind and falling into the old fashioned, boring category.”
The trio researched world markets, and with Wine-oji (based on the concept of ‘emoji’) they knew they had a unique product. They quickly set about trademarking the name for New Zealand and across the globe.
The team began brainstorming aromas, flavours and the key structural components of wines from around the world, before engaging a local graphic design studio to turn those words into Wine-ojis – a modern, visual language for wine. Each Wine-oji icon required an individual design, and there are now 190 individual icons in the Wine-oji Library.
Individual producers were also visited for feedback on the concept. The positive response from wine producers gave Wine-oji even more credibility, says Jessica. “We truly believe we’re doing something beneficial for the industry – one that’s desperate for a refreshing change in the way wine is communicated to consumers.”
Subsequently receiving the first wines for profiling was a major milestone for the team, as was seeing guests of Noble Rot Wine Bar interacting positively with the whole concept.
Printing, boxing and packaging Wine-oji’s Classic Cards range was also a proud moment, Jessica adds. They even managed to have them stocked by Wellington’s Unity Books before Christmas.
Looking back – yes, a few things might have been done differently, such as deciding on the company’s final brand and changing the website domain at the 11th hour – although these changes were adopted by the team following invaluable advice and feedback from both the wine industry and experienced business leaders.
“It meant transferring the whole website onto a new domain with a completely new look,” remembers Jessica. “It was a huge effort by everyone concerned but it was certainly worth it.”
As for Covid-19, Jessica says while it perhaps slowed down some lead time into production, it didn’t slow down Wine-oji’s progress.
Once wine consumers understand the idea behind Wine-oji and how it can help them choose wines based on flavours they enjoy, the response is overwhelmingly positive.
With the launch timed just prior to Christmas 2021, revenue goals have now been set for 2022 and beyond.
“We can’t take the finger off the pulse. We’re 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.”
Wine suppliers have been glowing in their feedback too. All see 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 old-school stars and stickers, which appear on multiple bottles of wine.
“Winemakers see the potential for a fresh way to present their hard work to consumers,” he says. “There’s particular excitement around the digital potential of Wine-oji, which is extremely relevant in today’s climate with so much now happening online.”
The enthusiasm of winemakers for the concept can perhaps be summed up by Ben Glover of Marlborough’s Zephyr Wines. “The opportunity is an absolute 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 supplement their existing marketing activities. “We recognise the importance of optimising the value exchange between producer and consumer.”
The ‘wine-olojists’ are now concentrating on gathering hard data from retail and wineries that proves Wine-oji helps consumers make a purchase, and that they are likely to buy a wine that has a Wine-oji profile over one that doesn’t.
“We are lining up trials in a few different areas where wine is sold, including supermarkets and specialist wine stores, to get a broad range of data,” says Josh. “Then we’ll be in an excellent position to promote Wine-oji to a wider market here and overseas.
“Our other immediate focus is to set up international distribution of our Wine-oji Classic Cards range through online channels. Think Amazon or Alibaba to take our product across the globe. We’re also working on our next set of Classic Cards to broaden the range and give customers more opportunity to learn and enjoy wine.”
3 tips for starters
Having navigated the start-up process, the three sommeliers share three tips for new entrepreneurs:
1. Think and dream big. “Never cast an idea aside until you’ve given it real consideration.”
2. Get advice from people in other areas of business with experience you may not have. This lends perspective and insight. An advisory board or mentor can also provide a valuable second opinion.
3. Engage people with additional skillsets. “There are always things you aren’t good at. We know wine but we didn’t know about graphic design or marketing.”