What are the chances that two wineries, one in California and one in Washington, come up with an idea to crowdsource a wine and launch within a week of each other?
Odd but true. First comes a breathless news release from Columbia Crest announcing that the Washington winery is the first (FIRST all in caps) to "crowdsource a wine from vineyard to table."
What exactly does that mean? Through an online experience over 18 months, participants will be able to weigh in on every decision that goes into making a Columbia Crest "Crowdsourced Cabernet" from the 2014 vintage. Armchair winemakers will decide when and how much to thin the fruit, how much to water the vines, when to harvest the grapes and what the final blend will be.
Hold on, Columbia Crest isn't ceding control of the whole winery to Internet wine geeks, just the making of 1,000 cases of the special crowdsourced Cabernet, which of course will be sold online to the very people (and anybody else interested) who followed along and voted during the virtual winemaking process.
By signing up (and surrendering your email) you'll get to vote on the weekly winemaking task, check in on the vineyard and grapes via web cams and receive updates and alerts about your grapes. A two-minute video explains the concept. "Welcome to the internet's first vineyard!" The voiceover goes on to say, "If you think you have what it takes to make a great wine, then this is your chance to become a winemaker and get all the glory without getting your hands dirty."
The week after Columbia Crest's announcement, La Crema Winery in Sonoma launches Virtual Vintner, "which will take participants on an interactive multi-step winemaking journey, culminating in the first ever community-created Pinot Noir or Chardonnay." Note that the release does not mention Cabernet Sauvignon, the grape that will go to make Columbia Crest's crowdsourced wine.
While Columbia Crest has designated a 5-acre plot of reserve Cabernet for its project, La Crema is letting participants decide the varietal, the appellation and the specific vineyard. They'll have a say, too, in the name of the wine and the label design (very brave of the winery, I'm thinking).
La Crema's Virtual Vintner Experiment begins today. The wine will be released late fall of 2015. Much of the emphasis seems to be on learning. The project will include videos and winemaking education from La Crema winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas. She'll provide maps, food and wine pairing quizzes and more. Very organized, she's laid out exactly what online participants will be doing each week of the project.
The first week? Deciding whether to make Pinot Noir or Chardonnay and from which appellation — Russian River Valley or Arroyo Seco. The next week they'll have to select the vineyard. The third week, hey, this is getting serious now, choosing which yeast. And after that, which kind of barrel toasting and whether new French oak should be a factor or not.
What do you think? Being part of a crowdsourced winemaking experiment could be a lark or, if you take it seriously and consider each decision, it could mean learning a little more about what goes into making a wine.
Winemakers guide both of these projects, it's true, but still the crowd vote rules. Will the wines earn big time points from the critics or will they turn out only middling fair? Time will tell.