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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

What is Palate Club? The ‘new kid on the block’ of wine delivery services is starting a wine revolution

The wine market is unlike almost any other on the planet, with its own quirks, traditions and institutions. Yet sometimes a commercial or technological idea comes along with the potential to change the way we interact with or benefit from it: Palate Club offers a bit of both. Let us examine what sets it apart from the competition and what makes it such a unique and intriguing innovative idea.

We’ll take you step by step through the model offered by this wine innovator, focusing first on what is familiar, then turning a spotlight on what sets it apart. In doing so we will explore and expose some of the strengths and weaknesses of the wine industry as a whole. Examining problems facing consumers and winemakers in the current market which Palate Club is committed to upending by changing the rules of the game to favor both.

What is familiar: wine delivered to your door.

The concepts of wine subscriptions and online shopping are not new. Wine of the month clubs have been choosing wine for customers for years (or in some cases decades). Online shopping platforms allow the purchase of wine from high end vintages to bulk orders. The convenience of home delivery is practical and appealing especially for a commodity so difficult to come by quality products at a price we are willing to pay. These services also help tackle the fundamental problem of choice, one of the biggest barriers to entry for customers wishing to delve into the world of wine.

Since this is familiar territory for many, we shall not dwell on it too long, but for those who have yet to experience the pleasure: a wine subscription service delivers wine every month (or in the case of Palate Club, every 1, 2 or 3 months at the consumer’s preference) to your door. While some are easy to get into and tough to get out of, Palate Club prides itself on easy entrance and exit, with the option to pause the service indefinitely as well if you are not feeling so dramatic.

In addition to a subscription service, they also offer an e-commerce platform where the customer can pick out wines they would like to try, or let Palate Club suggest some (soon you will see the appeal of the latter!). This combines the convenience of online shopping with the knowledge and expertise of the wine industry. Both services can also be managed directly from their convenient app.

They also work with a company specialized in delivering wine, which is ideal, because wine is a  commodity with a delicate flavor (and container) and should not be shipped any which way. This means that Palate Club can focus on the other aspects of the process which is where it’s real innovations kick in.

Tasting with a twist: the benefits of going in blind.

Unlike other delivery services, when you receive the bottles from Palate Club do not be surprised to find them covered. That’s right, they hide the labels so that, at least at first, your taste is minimally impacted by the design, marketing or information on the bottle. This is to ensure that when you do finally pop the cork and taste the contents, your review is as unbiased as possible, without depriving you of the information on the bottle, as ultimately you can just remove the paper when you are done rating it (or even before if you are a bad sport). And if you liked it? You can open up the app and order an entire case before you are done finishing the glass.

Why go through the bother of wrapping each bottle individually before shipping you ask? Because the data you send them is crucially important, so the more accurate it can be, the better. And not just for them, for you too. This is because as you do so, you update their taste matching technology with renewed understanding of what you like. This allows them to map your preferences so that the bottles they send you next will be even better suited to your taste.

Unexpectedly it also adds a certain element of fun. Putting the customer in the chair of the expert wine tasters, throwing a spot of mystery and adventure into a date night, or providing the perfect set up for a small party blind tasting with friends! Though ultimately the purpose of the blind tasting is one of perfecting the service they are offering you, it ends up giving the experience a certain je ne sais quoi, just like a fine french bottle.

Data driven delivery: discover your preferences and enjoy them

The fundamental promise behind Palate Club is that they will learn your preference through your choices and ratings and use them to deliver or suggest better bottles for you. The first step in which is gathering the data on their end. This is why they have teams of internationally recognized sommelier and wine experts traveling the world, seeking out interesting wines from fascinating places (more on this later). The few wines that make the cut (less than 5%) are then carefully tasted by the experts, trained to detect the fine aroma’s and nuances that differentiate good wines from great ones.

They fill out a 200+ questionnaire designed to pick up each subtle aspect of the wine. This gives them a precise and detailed notion of the wine’s content and flavor; yet unlike the widespread practice of wine rating or rankings, they make no value judgments about these traits. Instead they build their database, such that when a customer enjoys one wine, they can identify similar wines for them to try. Each rating and tasting then gives them more data points to build the customer’s profile. Eventually they will not only be able to tell them what wines that are similar they might enjoy, but even wines that are very different, but still have some similar underlying tastes or profiles that they might enjoy.

Finally, this offers us the chance as customers to learn and understand our own preferences. Speeding up the process of picking out wines we enjoy by fast-forwarding the tedious task of refining our palate to detect such minute variations. Oh and we get to enjoy discovering new wines in the process, wines which are specifically tailored to our preferences from the hundreds or thousands currently available, numbers which are only likely to increase as Palate Club builds its data and client bases. Each wine it adds can then be featured on their online store, where their algorithm will suggest it for the customers most likely to appreciate its unique character. Increasing both the breadth of options to choose from, and our ability to make the right choice.

Making a subjective experience objectively more accessible

The insight behind this approach is simple: wine is inherently a subjective experience. Even if it has traits that can be objectively judged by trained professionals, they are the first to recognize that each individual will not just sense, but enjoy, these traits differently. Hundreds of factors from genetics to the weather can affect the personal perception and appreciation of wine. Thus each person will approach wine differently, and each wine will taste subtly different to different tasters. So how can ratings or rankings make sense, even from professionals, if they are both marred by bias and useful only to similar consumers?

The solution to this conundrum is not nearly as simple, and is the work of Palate Club creator Nicolas Mendiharat and his team of wine and tech experts. Their taste matching tech takes the data provided by their professional tasters to build the profile of each wine, then starts to create bundles of wines depending on their shared characteristics. With humorous named clusters such as ‘The Boss’, ‘Baron’ or even ‘Salty Aquaholic’[1] . Once customers have started tasting and reporting their preferences, their algorithm ‘learns’ and adapts what it offers to that specific consumer…but also takes their preference into account for other customers with similar profiles. This dual ended learning is the height of A.I. tech applied to one of the most ancient industries around and the best part, it changes nothing about how the wine is lovingly made, carefully stored or artfully presented to the consumer.

Bringing a global and sustainable touch

Beyond its commitment to deliver wine the customer will enjoy, Palate Club is committed to encouraging and rewarding more sustainable and organic producers. They focus on artisanal small scale producers and avoid the mass-marketed brands. Similarly, they seek out wineries and vineyards whose practices are most in line with the highest ecological and oenological standards. Not only does this help ensure high quality products for their consumers, but it also connects these producers to a consumer base they might be unable to reach. The exposure offered by the blind tasting, and the access to customers through their online platform can help level the playing field between big budget industrial wine companies and smaller, responsible wineries.

In addition to rewarding and encouraging more sustainable viticulture practices, Palate Club also makes an effort to bring clients wines from across the globe, not just California where they are based. Their sommeliers travel the world, and they have resident experts in the heart of wine country in France. Their selections include all the obvious countries, rich in wine lore and history such as France, Spain and Italy, but also daring innovators in South Africa, the US or even distant Bulgaria. This means that customers will be exposed not just to the standard fare that any wine delivery service can offer, but will give them a chance to explore and push their own boundaries.

Conclusion: the Palate Club Revolution puts taste at the heart of the wine industry

Palate Club is determined to bring these fundamental flaws and features of the wine industry together into the 21st century. Using modern tech and scientific determination combined with ancient wisdom to put the consumer first: removing the burdensome barriers to choosing good wine, ensuring that their preferences are the priority and delivering and suggesting, month after month, bottles better suited to each customer. Yet as it accelerates, Palate Club stays true to the values of the wine industry and the modern consumer, bringing them sustainably produced wine at fair prices from around the globe. What are you waiting for, time to sign up for your first blind test kit.

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