The User Experience of Wine
By Nick Finck
Those who know me will tell you I am a wine connoisseur, though I would never describe myself that way.
Those who really know me will tell you I am a Dundee Pinot snob. It’s true, my favorite wine is Pinot Noir and I believe the best of it comes from the Dundee Hills of Oregon (sorry French lovers). Luckily for me, I grew up in Oregon not more than a few towns away from Dundee. However, the notion of wine as a preferred drink was lost on me until much later in life. It is, as they say, an acquired taste.
As a professional in the user experience field I am always interested in all kinds of experiences I encounter—on the screen and off. I find wine to be one of the most fascinating things in life. It dates back to as early as 8000 B.C. The process for winemaking today is very similar to the the process used back then—it’s a process handed down through generations of winemakers who follow in their ancestor’s footsteps. The vines themselves also carry a legacy going back generations; some vines are 100, 125, even 400 years old.
The vines, the winery, the winemaker—all of these factors make up just a fraction of the overall experience of wine. When you ask a viticulturalist what makes a good wine, they may tell you about tannin, acidity, alcohol, sugar, oak, botrytis, yeast, and of course, flavor. When you ask a wine fanatic, you will hear about types of soil, climate, grapes, and flavors that have yourself wondering how they got things like licorice or pepper out of that! And if you ask a sommelier, they’ll base their response on the information you provide about what you’re looking for, how much into wines you seem, and of course, what you are having for dinner or desert.
Here is where it gets interesting.
When you ask me what makes a good wine, I will tell you that the wine itself makes up only a small part of it. You see, everyone is a critic and what may be a good wine for one person is not for another. Even more so, there are the wines we drink once and forget, and then there are the wines we remember for a lifetime—not because the wine was truly amazing, but because of the experience you had while drinking the wine.
For example, I have had wines that cost in excess of $200 a bottle, but I would have to look up the name in my tasting notes. I do, however, remember the $3 chuck that no one would even drink, and the $2 special from Trader Joe’s that everyone loved more than the $150 bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir reserve. Cost does not define the wine, the story does. It is the story that is most important.
I remember an experience I had while visiting some wineries and walking the vineyards. I remember how humble and friendly Jason Lett (son of David Lett, the godfather of Oregon Pinot) was when I met him. And I remember when his mom met my mom on her first ever wine tasting trip—much conversation was had. I remember the La Luz wines, the sale from which Eyrie donated all proceeds to help pay Guadalupe’s medical bills (the wife of one of their cellar master who was suffering from renal failure and badly needed a kidney transplant). You just can’t forget that story. I remember the oldest bottle of Oregon Pinot I purchased from Eyrie and cherished. I handed it to my good friend and told her not to open it until she had fully recovered from cancer, as a sign of my hope for her. I will always remember that.
It is these stories we always remember. That is what I feel makes a good wine—a good wine has a story. A good wine has a history that must not be forgotten. A good wine brings people together and changes lives.
To bring this full circle, the following is my advice to you as a user experience professional:
- Not everyone will trust you at first. Earn trust through your own experience.
- The experience is subjective. See things from the perspective of others.
- The cost of an experience isn’t everything. Experience the richness of what life brings you.
- Rarely do you know all there is to know about an experience. Always be learning.
- Every day you will experience something new. Experiences should be observed and embraced.
- Not all experiences will be remembered. Good experiences will never be forgotten.
- Experiences were meant to be shared. All good experiences make for great stories.
So these holidays, as you pick up a bottle of wine, pause for a moment. Look around you, see your family and friends, see those who experience your life with you, and remember the moment.
This is your story, your journey. You define it.
All photos credit: Nick Finck