Wine experience app Melier to bridge gap between tech, hospitality – Napa Valley Register

The Supper Club event put on by Melier was a success for the company, and included food, entertainment and an Alfresco Tasting Party. 
The Supper Club opted for a more traditional outdoor tasting experience, but Melier also has planned for more adventurous offerings. 
One of Melier’s clients, The Supper Club, visited Cuvaison for an afternoon of food, wine and entertainment earlier this year. 
A tech ex-pat with a knack for wine, Greg McBeth thinks his newest project, Melier, can hold its own in the world of wine apps.
To McBeth, digitizing wine was inevitable, but in order to make his brainchild stand out among the hundreds of apps available to smartphone users, he is taking a page out of everyone’s book to curate his own one-stop-shop for Napa Valley wine country. 
Melier is an online platform that enables folks to search for and book curated wine experiences, and will soon also have an e-commerce platform for wine sales and a membership model replicating a social media community. By taking certain aspects from apps like Vivino, Banquet, Vintg, and the like, McBeth seeks to connect the different players in the wine industry — sommeliers, vintners, winemakers, entertainers and chefs — with passionate members both online and in-person. Thus, users should be able to buy bottles, book experiences and chat with other winos through Melier’s functions. 
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“We want people to go in and search and find interesting wine experiences, both ones that we are creating and advertising publicly, as well as give them the opportunity to request and design their own experience,” said McBeth. “The second piece is that we want to be able to sell wine, and that’s going to be going live here in a few weeks.”
The third component, the membership model, is a bit more up in the air, though. McBeth and Melier’s 20-some partner wineries will need to assess the needs of their customers now that they are launching, but they are primarily focused on connecting consumers with wine professionals they wouldn’t otherwise engage with.
“If a user has particular preferences, if they want to follow or engage with particular wineries, what are the different touch points they can use that we can build to help them connect with those people that they’re interested in connecting and engaging with?” he said. “So that’s going to be the next step … What does that look like? Hard to say at this point, but that is our next focus.”
As with many online platforms, Melier seeks to aggregate information pertinent to its users, which in this case, has to do with all things related to wine. Since there are so many apps and platforms doing interesting things in the wine space, McBeth likes to describe what he sees as Melier’s advantage in terms of tech.
“The last company I worked at, the way that we positioned our products was this idea that you have all these different data points and everybody has these data points, but if you can create the node that actually connects them intelligently, then that’s valuable,” he said. “And I kind of see the wine industry and what we are doing in the same way.”
“There are all these people who are doing amazing things in the space, but connecting them in a way that provides a total, unified experience to the consumer and you also leverage that to provide interesting insights to the wineries … that is valuable in itself.”
In a tangible sense for McBeth, this means helping plan and organize sophisticated wine experiences unique to their customer. For example, not too long ago Melier hosted a drag-racing Lamborghini session followed by a wine tasting for a slew of thrill-seeking attorneys.
More relaxing was the first-ever Melier event, which ended up being a yoga weekend at Cuvaison Winery in the Carneros region of Napa. McBeth was a tad skeptical of the idea at first, but once he saw the event come together, he said he had a good feeling about the whole endeavor.
“When I first talked to [the instructor], I thought it was going to be that we were going to do a yoga class and then start drinking, but she actually did a ton of research on the winery and the backstory and the wines themselves and wove that into the entire program,” he said, “And then we had Dan (Zepponi) come over and host a tasting afterwards.”
Partnerships with wineries like Cuvaison are integral to the success of Melier, as McBeth says the intimate and unique nature of these excursions and the app’s mission relies on authentic relationships between the players involved. McBeth credits many of his connections to folks like Zepponi, who ultimately helped him bridge the gap between the tech and wine worlds to create the app. 
“Since I incubated this concept with Greg, we are a first adopter and beta winery,” said Zepponi. “Cuvaison, like a lot of the smaller wineries in Napa, needs a way to cut through the sea of options and be heard, [and] this is a great way to connect consumers who are looking to discover something unique, intimate and personalized to those smaller wineries without the marketing power to reach an audience across the country.”
When McBeth first started coming to Napa, he says fell in love with wine but found that the best experience was when he got a recommendation from someone, and it was the place that, “you would never see on the ‘Best of Napa’ list,” he said. Thus, he and Zepponi wanted to integrate this mission into their app. 
“This is more of a discovery and access platform than it is ‘get a deal on wine,'” said Zepponi. “As a matter of design, Greg and I discussed early on that this is not a way to relieve excess inventory on discount – there are plenty of those models out there that we do not compete with. This is connecting people and providing experiences that otherwise would not have been easy.”
Many of Melier’s current customers are young-to-middle-aged professionals, but McBeth says they are constantly assessing the coverage they have regionally and in terms of varietals, styles and price points to make the service accessible for all wine lovers. Similarly, while McBeth estimates Melier will probably double its number of partner wineries moving forward, they are currently in the stage of hand-picking wineries that have an overlap in mission and interest.
“It is easy to be skeptical initially with anything new and social or tech driven app that is going to do great things,” said Zepponi. “The biggest concern was to ensure the brand stays on message, in the right light and preserves the luxury value of the business.”
“In deeper design conversations with Greg, we aligned quickly on ensuring that Melier brings additive value to what wineries are already doing by opening more access to aligned consumers.”
Given the state of the hospitality industry this past year-and-a-half, though, more folks may be interested than McBeth previously anticipated.
“Prior to the pandemic, if you had said to small winemakers, ‘Are you going to have something potentially catastrophic disrupt your business and force you to think more digitally?’ and probably most of them would say no, because the tasting room model, the referral model, worked really well until it didn’t,” he said. “Also, the wine industry is not like a software program in that you can just turn on another license at virtually no cost. If you are a winery, you have physical limitations … your tasting room can only get so big, you can only have so many vineyards.”
McBeth says Melier is cautious of turning their “off the beaten path” aspirations into becoming the path-beaters themselves, but given their clientele’s yearning for authenticity and winery’s wishes to stay intimate, the potential problem may solve itself. By establishing relationships with winery owners like Zepponi, McBeth wants Melier to meet the needs of their partners during this time without exceeding their wants, and clients are consistently looking for more exclusive and intimate experiences.
“There’s almost this convergence towards authenticity, and post-COVID especially, there’s an opportunity to help capture that,” he said. “You have a younger demographic, and they are looking for a more authentic experience because they’ve been mass marketed to for so long, and they are looking for something that’s going to be unique. And on the other side, if you look at the really, really high end market, these folks have a lot of money and they can go spend that anywhere … but that’s not unique.”
While partnering with a wine experience app wasn’t always in the cards for wineries like Cuvaison, Zepponi says the partnership can help them meet folks that maybe wouldn’t normally visit them. And with a new tasting space under construction, that doesn’t hurt.
Miguel Garcia shows how he uses technology to help sustainably manage the demonstration vineyard owned by the Napa County RCD.
You can reach Sam Jones at 707-256-2221 and sjones@napanews.com
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A hot weekend kept the Napa Valley grape harvest humming along steadily, as growers report low yields but high quality.
The Supper Club event put on by Melier was a success for the company, and included food, entertainment and an Alfresco Tasting Party. 
The Supper Club opted for a more traditional outdoor tasting experience, but Melier also has planned for more adventurous offerings. 
One of Melier’s clients, The Supper Club, visited Cuvaison for an afternoon of food, wine and entertainment earlier this year. 
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