About two years ago, wine impresario Gary Vaynerchuk bought the wine-review site Corkd, but then he let it languish. He was busy with Wine Library TV, and branching out with speaking gigs, his own site, a book deal (Crush It!), another online TV show, and spending way too much time on Twitter. Corkd was pretty much ignored, and was even badly hacked last January. But Vaynerchuk promised that he would relaunch it better than ever.
And now he has. First, Vaynerchuk hired a CEO for Corkd, Lindsay Ronga. And on Tuesday night the site relaunched quietly with a much more social design. You can now sign in with your Facebook ID through Facebook Connect. And any review or rating can be sent out to your Facebook stream or to Twitter, with a link back to Corkd.
The home page itself is now an activity stream filled with reviews and comments of other Corkd members you follow. Just like before, you can rate and review wines, but now you can also become a fan of a wine, winery, or grape varietal. And those messages from wineries that you are a fan of also appear in your activity stream. “It becomes like a Facebook for wineries,” says Ronga.
In fact, that is Corkd’s new business model. It charges wineries $999 a year for verified accounts that let them link easily to all their wines and private message their fans on Corkd. Right now, if you go to a winery page that has not yet been verified, its wines are not linked to that page. Corkd is launching with 15 wineries, including Rutherford Hill Winery and Sojourn Cellars. Verified wineries also get featured on the home page.
There are about 350,000 wineries worldwide, so this could turn out to be a decent business if Corkd can convince even just a small fraction of them that it is worth signing up for a verified account. And that all depends on whether Corkd can recapture the attention of wine lovers online.
Trying to become the social site for wine lovers is a good strategy. The idea behind Corkd is that you get a Yelp-like consensus review score for any given wine. If you like someone’s reviews, you can follow them. And if you agree or disagree with a review, now you can comment on the reviews themselves as well.
Wine stores can take the ratings and reviews for any given wine and print them out in customizable “shelf-talkers.” Corkd is also working on an iPhone app that will let members research and rate wines while they are at a restaurant or a wine tasting.
To the degree that Corkd can become the place that people review, rate, and discuss wines, it could become a good marketing vehicle for wineries. But Corkd has a lot of catching up to do. Competitors like Snooth and CellarTracker are far ahead and already have loyal wine-rating followers. Snooth, in particular, is n a tear since raising money last January, right about the time Corkd was hitting bottom. Snooth also has integration with Facebook, user ratings, and other social elements such as the ability to become friends with other members. Which site would you give the higher rating?