Paul Mabray is one of the wine industry’s foremost thinkers in bringing wine into the digital space. He has worked in important developments at wine.com, and founded vintank.com and winedirect.com, and today is focused on the development of pix.wine — a new wine discovery platform. Amanda Barnes interviews him as a new Friend of the Circle to find out what makes him tick, and how he envisions the future of wine.
How did you first get into wine?
I was working in Napa at a restaurant as the manager and it was a late-night respite for servers across the valley. One of the best waiters in Napa, Manny, would bring in wines to share with the other waiters to introduce them to the best wines in the valley. He became my de facto teacher, along with the owner of the restaurant.
You’ve been at the forefront of bringing the wine industry into the tech space, especially through e-commerce, for over 20 years. How did your relationship with technology and wine develop, and do you think wine has been faster or slower than other food/beverage production industries to integrate technology?
My career has always had wine and tech intertwined — from my writing my own CRM program as a sales representative, helping design the first wineclub processing software for Niebaum Coppola, to WineShopper/Wine.com. It always helped me scale myself and the businesses I worked for.
But our industry is arguably the last to adopt technology for sales and marketing (we’re great at production-based tech). This is because of a perfect combination of factors: annual production, a production-focused approach, decades of successful growth (volume and premiumization), a hospitality/lifestyle-focused workforce, regulatory challenges, and a small addressable market for tech focus have truly limited our adoption. But I would say the greatest resistance to adopting tech is there has been nothing to catalyze our need to adopt technology . . . until COVID.
What do you envision are the biggest changes we will see in the digitalisation of the wine industry following the pandemic?
The combination between our technology and knowledge debt means that we have a lot of catching up to do. That requires extra investment and patience from the industry. It also means we need more talent and tech solutions for the industry.
Tell us about your latest venture, Pix, and what it does differently to other wine discovery platforms.
Thank you. I’d argue that we are the first discovery platform. That’s been our lens to the wine industry since day one — helping wine buyers discover the wine they are looking for, discover ways to buy that wine, and discover other wines to buy.
We do that through an innovative combination of human and AI. But we truly focus on the human element because AI can’t understand the way people experience wine. It can only help managing complex tasks (like matching wines or organizing wine based on metadata or behaviors). For Pix we do this with recommended wines, our editorially independent publication The Drop, meta-tags, and collections.
We also do it by helping other publications, critics, and writers. We believe that wine writers are the engine for wine discovery. With Pix as a free, neutral, disintermediated (we NEVER are involved in the transaction) discovery platform, we provide an ever-stocking shelf of wine, so writers can link to the wines to help consumers find the wines they write about. And by closing the loop, we help power the discovery of wines, wineries, regions and styles from the amazing words of wine writers.
Have you discovered any new wines yourself through Pix? If so, tell us about one!
Yes, I’ve found so many already. A few that stand out are Cantina Toblino Largiller, which is a beautiful Italian wine that I would never have found without a recommendation from Pix.
Also from the Drop I also had the opportunity to travel through a series of volcanic wines.
And because of our weekly roll-up of the best deals on the web I’m looking forward to trying a time capsule of 1975 Bodegas Corral Gran Reserva Rioja that arrives from WineAccess this Thursday!
When you aren’t working or drinking wine, what do you like to do to relax?
A had to giggle a bit because there’s not much free time when you are working at a startup like Pix (even now I’m typing emails on my daughter’s ninth birthday celebration). But when I can grab a moment I’m a voracious reader. I just finished an amazing business book, The Cold Start Problem and I am thoroughly enjoying My Struggle and Klara and the Sun.
Also my children and I are trying to build regular times where we game together (both board games and video games). Our current family favorite is Ravine and Hive. My son and I are trying That Time You Killed Me in the upcoming weeks
I’ve also found some solace in rowing for 20-30 min every morning. It helps me fight off my dad-bod and kicks the day with some good endorphins.