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Review: Benziger Family Winery and V Sattui Winery iPhone Apps

On April 22, V. Sattui Winery released an app for the Apple iPhone. Benziger Family Winery released an iPhone app using the same developer and template on May 7. Both apps have excellent ratings in the iTunes store, but no useful reviews there. I downloaded these free iPhone apps Friday and gave them a run through myself.

Summary
This is a comprehensive (read long and detailed) software review. I know that some of you just want to know quickly if the apps are “good,” what benefits they offer and whether you should get them. The following seven paragraphs give you that info in a nutshell. The remainder of the article provides a full walk-through of the apps and my additional commentary.

Both the Benziger Family Winery and V. Sattui Winery apps for iPhone are attractive, fast and effective windows into their respective winery. The Benziger app in particular puts details on all of their current wine releases at your finger tip. Both apps provide good information about the wineries and their events.

Multimedia and social media are a big part of these apps for iPhone. They allow you to quickly and easily follow both mainstream and social media news about the wineries. You can see winery and vineyard photos and watch informative videos they have produced. The apps are full of Wine 2.0 connectivity too. Almost every page of the apps allow you to share your thoughts about wineries, wines and news via email, Facebook, Twitter or on the app’s own Fan Page.

While the two apps were built using identical templates, there are slight differences. These differences are presumably based on the types of information provided to the developer by the wineries and options they chose. In general, the Benziger app provides richer content. There is much more detail on the specific wines in their app. They also provide many more useful links to areas of their website than does V. Sattui. For example, Benziger links directly from a wine in the app to that wine in their online store. V. Sattui does not offer any wine buying option at all. Given V. Sattui’s focus on direct sales, this surprised me. On the other hand, I think that Benziger Family Winery, which puts a big focus on biodynamic agriculture, has missed an opportunity by not having making a top level reference to biodynamics in the app.

The apps are not perfect, but they are substantially better than some apps from huge media corporations with (theoretically) big budgets. During my tests, I experienced only one crash and I suspect that was a web issue. There a few things things I would change in the interface, but they are minor and won’t impede your enjoyment of the apps or access to the information to which they lead. My biggest concern is that the apps rely very heavily on web connectivity. If you aren’t connected, there’s not much you can do with these apps. That said, they work well on 3G, so WiFi is not a requirement. I would prefer to see more of the text-based information resident in the app rather than served up via web links. That would make the apps slightly larger, but faster to access, easier to read and usable offline.

These are both very good apps. They represent the wineries well and should exceed your expectations. They make me want to hop in the car and visit the wineries. But, I’m a tough grader. I give the V. Sattui app 3.5 stars and the Benziger Family Winery app 4.5 stars. Functionally, the two apps are identical. The difference in ratings between the two is based on the amount of content and useful links they provide. As V. Sattui adds information via updates, I’ll increase my rating.

I recommend these apps highly if you are:
A current fan or customer of the wineries

Someone who wants to learn more about two of the most prominent wineries in Northern California
A winery looking for a model upon which to base your own app
A large media conglomerate which needs proof that info-centric apps don’t have to crash every 5 minutes

The Details
The V. Sattui Winery app is 3.0 MB in size and the Benziger Family Winery app 3.1 MB. Both downloaded very quickly via WiFi. I used both an iPhone 3G and an iPad with 3G for my testing. The apps are designed for iPhone, not iPad. That means that they will run on the iPad, but don’t take advantage of unique iPad features or the larger screen size. (The iPad has a feature which can magnify the display size of an iPhone app and this works with the apps, but the graphics in the apps get blurry because they were designed to be displayed at the smaller size.)

The apps load within about 6 seconds of tapping the icon on the iPhone desktop. When you load the apps for the first time, you’ll get two messages immediately. The first is a request to allow push notifications which would enable the winery to proactively send messages to you via your phone. The second message is a request for you to join their mailing list. You have the option of answering yes or no to each question.  If you choose “no,” the app doesn’t ask you again when you reopen it. As with many iPhone apps, this one does frequently ask to use your current location. Again, you  may choose “yes” or “no.”
Once you’ve gotten past these requests, you see the Home screen which features a nice photo. The winery name is at the top of the screen. Just below that is a button labeled “Recent Activity >”. At the bottom of the screen, there are five menu items. In the Benziger app these are Home, Wines, BzTV, News and More. In the V. Sattui app they are Home, Wines, Events, Videos and More.

Both apps include News and Events. Benziger chose to emphasize News and they put Events one layer down in the section called More. V. Sattui did the opposite. The Video and BzTV sections are functionally identical too, Benziger just chose to brand their section.

Selecting Recent Activity> takes you to pages that show social media messages. There are two different pages, Fan and Official, selectable via buttons at the top of the page. Both pages scroll to show multiple messages organized by day (ex. Today, 5 days ago, 6 days ago). The Fan page shows messages posted to the “Fan Wall” within the application. It does not show messages from the wineries’ Facebook Fan Pages.

Tapping on a message takes you to the app Fan Wall. Here, the interface becomes slightly confusing. To return to the Recent Activity screens, you need to tap on the Home icon at the bottom left of the screen. The button in the upper left that would normally say “Back” says “More” because the Fan Wall is in the “More” section of the app. This makes sense given the way the app is structured, but is slightly confusing and you may find yourself in the wrong section. Even more confusing is the fact that clicking on “Home” in this instance doesn’t actually take you to the Home screen but rather back to the Recent Activity screen.

To return to Home, you need to tap Home twice. This appears to be consistent within the rest of the app. This is because he app remembers what page you were last on within each section. So, if you’re on the Home screen and tap More, it takes you directly to whichever section you had been in, the Photos gallery for example, rather than to the top level More page that lists all of the pages in that section. I can see why they choose to do things this way, but I do think that it’s confusing. It’s made slightly more confusing by the fact that the app only remembers what page you were on during that session. If you close the app and reopen it, your last pages are forgotten.

The Official page within the Recent Activity section shows Tweets sent from the official winery Twitter account. It also shows notifications of photo uploads to the app’s Photos gallery. It’s possible other items may show there too, but only the items mentioned above appear at the moment. (It might be nice to show Facebook Fan Page updates.)

Tapping on a Tweet takes you to Tweets tab of the “News” section of the app. Again, to return to Recent Activity you tap Home. Tapping on a notification of photo upload takes you to the Photos gallery (in the More section). However, it does not open the specific photo referred to in the notification. Currently, there aren’t an overwhelming number of photos in the gallery so this isn’t a problem. Later, when there are many more photos, it might become tedious trying to find that new photo you want to see.

Tapping on the Wines button at the bottom of the home screen gives you access to information on what appear to be most, and may well be all, of the Benziger Family Winery current releases. The V. Sattui app shows only 12 wines at the moment. The majority of the Wines screen shows the wine labels in a “Cover Browser” style that lets you flick the central label left or right to scroll through all the wines. Beneath each label, the name of the wine is listed. At the top of the screen, is a “variety bar” on which the varietal (ex. Chardonnay) of the currently shown wine is highlighted. This works like the tabs on a rolodex. You can scroll left and right in the variety bar to see and select a different varietal. Doing so takes you to the first wine of that variety. There are also little “<<“ and “>>” symbols in the corners of the varietal bar. These don’t work very well though because they overlap the varietal names. It’s hard to tap on “<<“ rather than a variety.

Once you’ve found a wine that you want to know more about, touch the label. That opens a detail screen. At the top is the name, the variety, a thumbnail of the label, a red “like” button and text showing the number of times the wine has been “liked.” Below this section are two tabs. One tab is for Comments and simply shows any comments that may have been left by users about the wine. The primary tab is for the “Info” page. Here, the Benziger app provides very detailed information whereas V. Sattui just provides a brief descriptor of the wine. For example, “Rich estate-bottled Cabernet with aromas of cocoa and dusty earth, flavors of raspberry, herb and sweet oak.” Benziger includes several paragraphs on each wine, including the vineyard and winemaker’s notes. The latter includes alcohol percentage, dates (harvest, bottling and release), production volume, and info on yeast, total acid, pH, and both type of and time in oak.

At the bottom of the individual Wine screen are two “social media” tabs. On the right is a Comment button which opens up a text edit screen and keyboard so that you can write a message about the wine. On the left is a “forward icon” which opens a pop-up allowing you to share info about the wine via email, Facebook or Twitter. The email option automatically puts the name of the wine, a picture of the label and a link to get the app from the App Store in the body of the email. The Twitter and Facebook options do essentially the same thing, but you don’t have the opportunity to edit the message. I think that’s unfortunate as a person may wish to communicate more about the wine than just that it exists on the app. And I believe the feature would be used more often if people could personalize the message rather than sending out a generic advertisement for the wine and/or app. Using the Facebook and Twitter options require you to authorize MobileRoadie.com, the app developer, to push notifications on your behalf.

The retail price is not listed anywhere on the Wine Info page in either app. However, the Benziger Family Winery app provides a “Buy the Wine >” option. Tapping that takes you to another page that simply says “Buy In Our Online Store >.” Tapping that opens the Benziger Family Winery web store within the app, complete with the pop-up window asking you to select your state or opt for “pickup at the winery.” While taking you to the web store isn’t ideal from a convenience standpoint on an iPhone, it does seem to be effective. And, once you get through the initial pop-up, you are taken directly to the page in the store for the wine you had selected. Having experienced the feature in the Benziger app, I really miss it in V. Sattui’s.

The intermediate page listing only “Buy In Our Online Store” seems to have been designed with the idea that other purchasing options may be added in the future. These might include a “quick buy” option for repeat customers or deals with specific resellers that you allow you to buy from your favorite shop rather than winery direct. That said, the latter type of arrangement is always difficult to manage because of issues with inventory tracking, real-time exchange of data, etc. I wouldn’t hold my breath while waiting for such an option.

The third button at the bottom of the Benziger app Home screen is “BzTV.” In the V. Sattui app, this is labeled Video and is button number four. The buttons do exactly the same thing though. Tapping the button takes you to a scrolling list of videos provided by the winery. The list shows a thumbnails on the left, the name of the video in the middle and a comment button on the right. Tapping a video in the list opens it as a YouTube video within the app. Some of the  items are actual videos, others are photo montages with text and audio overlays. They all load quickly on WiFi. The load time was okay for me on the 3G as well, but your experience may differ depending on your exact location. Some of the V. Sattui videos are a little choppy, even on WiFi, because they are hi-res.

Tapping the “News” button at the bottom of the Benziger app Home screen takes you to an area showing the latest chatter about Benziger. [In the V. Sattui app, News is not accessed via the Home screen but rather from the More screen. News functionality is identical in every other way though.] The default News screen is Tweets. Using buttons at the top, you can elect to see all Tweets about and by the winery, only their “Official Tweets” or only Mentions. A button allows you to comment on the Tweets.
The other screen within News is called Buzz. It shows a scrolling list of articles about and accolades for the winery from the media.

Tapping an item in the list takes you to a digest page that shows the first 25 words or so from the article and the url. Tapping on the url or the headline link takes you to the article on the source website using the app’s built-in browser. You can also share or comment on the news item from the digest page.  The bottom of the digest page has forward and back arrows so that you can move through the various news items without going back to the main Buzz page. That’s very convenient.
The last button at the bottom of the Home screen takes you to the More section. The More screen shows the following list for Benziger: Photos, Events, Links, Benziger Bio, Store Locator, Mailing List, Fan Wall, and About. For the V. Sattui app, the list is as follows: Photos, Wall, History, Links, Mailing List, About, Accounts, News. Photos and Fan Wall have been covered sufficiently above.

Tapping Events (on the V. Sattui Home screen  and on the More screen in the Benziger app) opens a screen showing a list of upcoming events in which the winery is involved. [You can also choose to see past events.] Tapping an event in the list opens a screen with details about the event. This includes general information and other options that may include the ability to view a map, buy tickets, see who’s going, see or add comments, and view photos related to the event. Of course, you can also Share the event.

Beniziger’s Links item opens to the following list: Benziger Website, Come Visit, Shop our Wines, Events Calendar, Wine Clubs, Facebook, Twitter, Winemaking Practices, Our Story, The Benziger Family, In The News, and Imagery Estate Winery. Facebook takes you to their Fan Page and Twitter to their feed. Imagery Estate Winery in Sonoma Valley is within the Benziger family and that link opens the Imagery site. The other items open the relevant pages from the Benziger website using the built-in browser.

V. Sattui’s Links item opens to this list: V. Sattui’s Facebook Fan Page, @VSattui1885 (their Twitter feed) and Weather. Weather takes you to the Weather Channel web page for V. Sattui’s location. This is a very nice idea, but the site loads so slowly that, even on WiFi, it’s not very practical.

The Benziger Bio item in the More section shows a group photo of Benziger staff, provides a bit of winery history, information on their philosophy and some contact info. The Store Locator item takes you to that page on the Benziger site which allows you to search for stores by zip code. Mailing List opens a sign up form in the app.

About in the Benziger app is just legal text and a link to MobileRoadie.com. I believe this item is named inappropriately. To me, About should list details about the app: who made it, what version you have, when it was released and perhaps an option to check for updates. The legal disclaimers should be listed under a separate Legal heading.

The V. Sattui app About provides general info about the winery rather than legal text. However, it doesn’t provide any details about the app either.
These apps are said to work with iPhone, iPod touch and iPod running iPhone OS 3.0 or later. The apps support English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish. I have not tested the foreign language support. However, I suspect that the localization is for the app itself, not all of the specific wine information.

In Conclusion
My overall conclusions are in the summary at the beginning of this article. I won’t repeat them here. However, I would like to share some other thoughts. Both of these apps are good, but they are really compelling if you are a fan, particularly a local fan, of the wineries. If you live in the Finger Lakes region of New York, or in Europe, there’s not much reason to download them.

I think that Benziger could make their app a “must download” for a vastly wider audience by leveraging the winery’s experience in biodynamics and adding significant content in this area. There is a big focus now being put on green initiatives by wineries, the media and consumers. But there is also a lot of confusion about how the different initiatives are defined, the differences between them, certifications required and definition of terms. Many people still think biodynamic growing is all about burying cow horns and dancing under the moonlight.

There are lot of “fan targeted” apps being released now. Not just wineries, but restaurants, clubs, car companies, etc. doing so. While these apps may be well executed and of genuine value to fans, I see a future in which there are so many of them that it will become impossible to find new ones above the noise. And, like those discount and membership cards for airlines, coffee shops and burrito joints, eventually people will stop using most of them because there are so many and it’s a hassle keeping track of them.

Eventually, the only apps that will get long-term and frequent use will be those which offer significantly more value than just connecting with a company and it’s products. As I suggested above, for Benziger that added value could be related to biodynamics. For V. Sattui, it could be expanding their event listings to include non V. Sattui events in the immediate vicinity of their winery. Once people are attracted to the area by some other event listed in the app, the odds of them stopping by the winery on the same trip are high. Or, they could offer recipes from their deli or information about Italian foods. Those are just suggestions and any company should be able to better pinpoint the right hook for their app than I. But I do hope such a trend starts soon.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Free: Hospice du Rhone 2010 iPhone App Available

I'm really looking forward to Hospice du Rhone this year. it's coming up soon, April 29 - May 1, in Paso Robles. To help people like me, and you, get up to speed on everything that will go on there, the wineries involved, etc., the HdR organization has put out an iPhone app. This is the first event based iPhone app i've seen.

I downloaded it as soon as it hit the Apple App Store on Monday. There's a lot of cool stuff in there that could well be of use to you regardless of whether or not you go to the event. There's winery and varietal information, Rhone wine quizzes and more. And the price is right. Free!

Sonoma William posted an in-depth HdR 2010 iPhone app review at Simple Hedonisms if you want to learn more.

Updates Regarding Benziger and V. Sattui Apps for iPhone

I've got a couple bits of good news regarding the apps from Benziger and V. Sattui that I recently reviewed.

First, the structure of these apps, designed by Mobile Roadie, allows almost all of the information to be updated easily and without any new downloads or effort on your part. V. Sattui has already taken advantage of this by adding notes for many more of their wines.

Second, much of the information is cached when you open the app and are connected to the internet. This means that you'll be able to view info on the wines and wineries in future sessions when you don't have any internet connection at all.

 

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.