WineMaps Helps Wine Lovers Find Wineries and Wines: An Interview with Ryan Ornelas

Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

In this exclusive interview, Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler (TCW) chats with Ryan Ornelas (RO), a San Francisco-area information technology expert about his latest endeavor, WineMaps.com.

TCW: Thanks for agreeing to speak with The Content Wrangler today, Ryan. For those who don’t know who you are, tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

RO: I am the former IT Director of Joie de Vivre Hospitality (JDV). I am now a consultant for JDV on the relaunch of their website which includes a new booking experience that will support social commerce. This new approach, we believe, will change the hotel booking industry. But, what I’m really excited about it my latest project, WineMaps.com.

TCW: What is WineMaps.com, exactly?

RO: WineMaps.com is a social directory that allows consumers to discover, learn and interact with wineries, vineyards, wine bars and wine-related events around the world. You can find vineyards in Mendocino, discover the wineries in Greece, choose which wine bar to go to in the city, or find an event to crash. With the help of your smart phone, you’ll soon phone be able to look for the nearest WineMaps locations, check-in to wineries, write reviews (and post them to your social networks), or map out your own, personalized wine tour.

TCW: Obviously, you think WineMaps.com is a good idea, but why? What need are you filling? For whom?

RO: Well there have been a couple of personal experiences that led up to my vision of WineMaps, primarily the difficulties I experienced trying to find wineries and wine. I grew up in Mendocino County, CA where many fine wines are produced. Wine is part of the culture and helps power the local economy. Since moving to San Francisco, I have realized how difficult it is to find the wines I like that are produced Mendocino. The same problem exists elsewhere. In San Diego, for instance, it is very difficult to find locally-produced wines from Temecula valley and Ramona.

When travelling in Greece on my honeymoon, I wanted to visit a local winery at the spur of the moment. I had difficulty in locating and choosing them. With some effort, I was able to find my way to an amazing winery where I learned about wine tasting and production practices. After that, I decided to make wine part of my career. I tried selling it online — but I quickly discovered that the challenges of an overcrowded, highly-competitive, regulated industry weren’t for me.

With these experiences under my belt, I created WineMaps to help boutique wineries get discovered by wine lovers outside the larger (more obvious) wine regions. Wine makers are good at what they do — making great wine. But, their not good at making people aware of their offerings nor are they masters of information technology. That’s where we come in. WineMaps helps wine-makers by providing them a free, branded web page designed to help them be discovered by people looking to learn more about wine and wineries. If we both do our respective jobs well, we’ll attract customers to local wineries by leveraging web and mobile technologies, location-awareness and social feedback from others who have had positive experiences at wineries that might not be easy to discover otherwise.

California Pinot Noir, Anthill Farm, Peters Vineyard

TCW: As a frequent traveler and lover of wine (California Pinot Noir, to be exact), I see the value of the service. But, I don’t always have my laptop with me. I do, however, usually have my iPhone and iPad handy. Can you tell us a little about your plans to make WineMaps available to users of smart phones and mobile devices?

RO: We are currently in beta only offering a free branded page to the wineries, which is better than most of the boutique winery websites out there. Our next version will integrate a social, commerce and hospitality layer for the wineries to use.

TCW: Location-awareness is a big idea that I have been in support of for a very long time. As someone new to Northern California, I have relied heavily on my mobile devices (iPad and iPhone, specifically) to help me locate places of interest. How will the WineMaps app take advantage of location-awareness?

RO: GeoLocation (location-aware browsing) is probably our most important social / mapping layer. Even without knowing who you are or what wines you like we can target your basic needs of finding a local winery, vineyard, wine bar or event to plan your next experience. Once you arrive you can be greeted with social promotions designed to enhance your experience.

TCW: I’m a big proponent of socially-enabled content and I’ve written a lot about it in various contexts. So, I really like the social focus on WineMaps.com. How successful have your efforts been thus far? Tell us a little about the social features of the service, how you envision them are being used, and by whom, on which social platforms?

RO: There was a point where I had to hand the site development off to more experienced developers to speed up the process, from there I undertook the social activities and vision of the site. With each branded page we built-in what we call “The Vine”. The Vine is a social activity stream that allows consumers to follow the winery in a real-time feed. You can watch the activity stream of public check-ins, tweets, posts, photos or videos, to help inform your decision or plan your experience.

TCW: So far, which social service — Facebook or Twitter — is most influential? Why do you think that is?

RO: Our social media strategy for WineMaps includes a Social Media Course for our 40+ social interns. So far, what we’ve discovered is that Twitter (follow us!) has by far has been the most influential, but the other social networks and review services are gaining attraction as well. Twitter is the most used social network in the wine industry. It provides us a way of staying up-to-date with what is happening in all of the regions around the world. In fact, we gained more than 3,000 Twitter follower in a few months, by offering a website that wineries and consumers want to see. By breaking up our regions into Twitter lists, we have been able to focus on certain parts of the wine world that should be discovered. We also view Twitter as our real-time feed for wine information that we our followers. From Twitter we discover and share interesting articles, images, and special promotions by wineries.

G+ has been gaining traction as well. With G+ we focus on providing quality links relating to wine regions, albums that describe our experiences with a short story, and special promotions by our wine locations. We also use G+ for our internal discussions, much like an intranet. With the creation of our Social Cluster Circle we have a place where we can bounce ideas of one another, share links with and ask questions of our social interns.

Our Facebook page will be enhanced with social commerce and feature maps, but currently view it much like our G+ page without the circles. Where we post quality albums that describe the experience and special promotions by our wine locations.

Linkedin has been a huge personal success as I have been able to connect to hospitality and wine industry folks from all around the world, seeking advice and answering questions. With Linkedin I also teach others on how to build out their resume.

TCW: What else do you want our readers to know about WineMaps.com?

RO:  Sure. Here’s a few things…

  • Help us go mobile – Going mobile is out of my development realm, so I am seeking to fundraise development dollars to put our existing database of 7k+ wineries into the palm of your hands with an Indie GoGo Fundraiser campaign.
  • Attend events and tours! – As we need to discover all of the wineries that we can, we are partnering with local wineries to provide a free tasting tour, starting in Temecula, California. Join us for tours and enjoy some free wine. Here’s a link to an upcoming event in Temecula.

TCW: Are you currently looking for investors?

RO: Yes, as I would love to be able to run the show on my own, but there are just too many things to manage and maintain. I have begun seeking Angel Funding and Co-Developers and Co-Creators that want to experience the culture of wine and speed up the process of creating WineMaps.

TCW: Well, it looks like we’ve almost ran out of time. One final question. Red or white wine?

RO: Depends on the type of experience that I am looking for!

TCW: Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us today. We appreciate it and wish you much success.

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