Tech it to the next level

Technology is becoming an increasingly vital part of the wine business. A new price-comparison tool from Liv-ex hopes to make things smoother for merchants. Rupert Millar investigates.

Anyone who has ever watched television will be familiar with adverts for price-comparison websites. Looking for car or home insurance? Then visit any combination of Gocomparetheconfusedmeerkat.com. Perhaps there’s a need for a grape-comparison website as an online educational tool? It could be called comparethemuscat.com.

Whatever one’s personal view of them, or ‘personal user experience’, they’re part of an ever-broader effort to make what are otherwise mundane, boring and time-consuming tasks faster and more efficient, freeing up everyone to do more important and interesting things – like watching price-comparison adverts on television during the ad breaks in Love Island.

This time last year we covered the work being done by the London International Vintner Exchange (Liv-ex) to develop ever-more efficient means of trading wines remotely and moving them through the supply chain with fewer risks and greater accuracy. This was being achieved through its Instant Transfer initiative, Standard In Bond Passport, Liv-ex Wine Identification Number (LWIN) and Unique Case Identifier.

The idea was so striking and being implemented so successfully that Liv-ex was given the award for ‘Supply Chain Initiative of the Year’ by this magazine. In the year since then, Liv-ex has come back again with what might, in very crude terms, be equated with a price-comparison tool for fine-wine merchants called Wine Matcher. It too won the Supply Chain Initiative at our awards, so what is Wine Matcher? What is it for and what can it do?

What is Wine Matcher?

Although they cultivate an image of constant bacchanalia on their social media profiles, if confined for long enough in a non-Michelin starred restaurant, fine wine merchants will admit they spend most of their lives dealing with spreadsheets. A wine merchant’s life is increasingly one of graphs, spreadsheets and data points. As Liv-ex’s introductory video to Wine Matcher says: “The wine market, it all comes down to lists. Négociants’ lists, merchants’ list, brokers’ lists, private clients’ lists. Lists, lists, lists.”

James Miles, managing director of Liv-ex, describes Wine Matcher’s role: “Reading, preparing, pricing and deciphering long lists of wines is a fundamental part of a fine-wine merchant’s job. It is very time consuming and not always the most enjoyable part of the role.” As with Liv-ex’s other initiative to tackle the ponderous pace of fine-wine trading, Wine Matcher is designed to help merchants quickly and easily work through wine lists to determine prices, find trading opportunities and move stock through the supply chain.

It works by taking a list, and as explained by Wine Matcher’s developer, business analyst Nick Palmer, “takes a few words [from each name] and matches them against every instance of that word it has ever seen before”.

As Wine Matcher’s original ‘intelligence’ is derived from Liv-ex’s archive of more than 50 million records that have been collated over the past 15 years, this is quite some list. One can use Wine Matcher to find the appropriate LWIN code for a wine, or a vintage of a specific wine, or a particular bottle size of a particular vintage of a particular wine and all that again but with a specific case size. This is useful and necessary to get the most out of not only Wine Matcher but all the rest of Liv-ex’s various systems.

Then one can start adding prices into the equation, either historic prices over the past 15 years or the most up-to-date ones, using real-time trades on Liv-ex. Using Wine Matcher one could find the market price, best bids, best offers, last trades, average list prices and auction prices among others. One can also search in seven currencies: pound sterling, US dollars, Hong Kong dollars, euros, Japanese yen, Singapore dollars and Swiss francs. So, for example, a négociant sends through a list with its current stock inventory. You, the merchant, have to go through it and find the wines you want or need to buy.

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