RP startup releases store-aisle smartphone wine guide

ROHNERT PARK -- After three years of work, ThumbsUpWine has released a smartphone app packed with hundreds of video reviews, up-to-date price comparisons and the startup's own value-for-the-price comparisons, features the venture aims to be an in-aisle guide for the perplexed aspiring wine consumer.

The first version of WineFinder debuted quietly on Apple's iTunes Store late last year as a free version to help work out kinks in bringing to the smartphone the massive amount of information on thousands of wines in thousands of food, pharmacy and alcoholic-beverage stores compiled by Chicago-based store scanner data service SymphonyIRI Group, according to ThumbsUpWine founders Joe Gaspardone and Matt Eschoo.

"Because we've tasted all the wines in the grocery store, we know where all the best values are," Mr. Eschoo said.

For a given wine, the app provides a "value" price in addition to average retail price. The founders say it's the price someone might guess a wine should cost just by tasting it. That value is what the app uses to rate a wine, rather than a score on a points or other scale.

"This is not just for wine connoisseurs," Mr. Gaspardone said. "We taste every $40 wine at Costco and every $20 wine at Safeway. To us, the real business model is opening up wine for everyone at every price level."

Mr. Gaspardone, who has been a real estate investor and broker, and Mr. Eschoo, whose real estate appraisal career involved vineyard and wine-industry work, put their more than two decades of friendship and passion for wine toward helping consumers find new wines to try.

To be able to handle the large amount of weekly updated data, they brought in two software engineers with experience building and maintaining high-speed, glitch-intolerant bond-trading systems.

Version 3.0 of WineFinder launched in late September for $2.99 on iTunes Store and $1.99 in the Google Play marketplace for Android operating system apps. It allows consumers to search by store chain, price range, grape variety or type of wine, and flavor and palate descriptions. It offers large-sized images of bottles to allow consumers to find a selection on the shelf.

Currently, the app offers searching for more than 50 store chains nationwide, totaling 5,700-plus locations. An "other store" search option offers wines commonly found in independent grocery and wine stores. The system was designed to add store-specific inventories and local stores and chains, two future goals for the app.

Also part of the app are the more than 400 video wine reviews, produced in the entertaining, some might say irreverant style that Guy Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV popularized several years ago.

With wine videos becoming an ever-important part of wine marketing, ThumbsUpWine (thumbsupwine.com) envisions offering its quick-turnaround video production services for staff-stretched small wineries.


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