Typically, making a great bottle of wine is a complex process guided by the painstaking decisions of a skilled winemaker. But two years ago, Washington’s Columbia Crest winery decided to take another approach: Just have thousands of random people from the Internet vote on it.
The result, which will be released to the public on June 3, is the brand’s 2014 Crowdsourced Cabernet, billed as “the first ever crowdsourced wine from vine to bottle.” Originally announced in August of 2014, wine lovers (or haters – it was open to everyone) were allowed to go to CrowdsourcedCabernet.com to vote on every step of the winemaking process, including things like vineyard management, fermentation techniques, aging, the final blend and even the label. Along the way, voters were advised by Columbia Crest’s head winemaker Juan Munoz-Oca and his team, and actually, helping to educate consumers was part of the project’s goal. “The process will invite wine-lovers to gain a deeper understanding and connection to the craft and skill of winemaking,” Munoz-Oca said in a statement at the time.
About 8,000 people from around the country voted throughout the wine making process with over 10,000 votes tallied. Participants not only had their voices heard during 18 different steps along the way, but could also watch their wine as it developed: The website also contains things like a live feed of the vineyard, current weather conditions and other cams to let people keep an eye on their vino.
In the end, voters decided to create a highly complex wine with soft tannins, and then age it in 30 percent new oak barrels for 16 months. The result is an assertively fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon unhampered by tannins, very typical of many big Washington cabs. As expected from Columbia Crest, it’s extremely nice, though it has a bit more oak than I tend to gravitate towards. It left me wondering: Munoz-Oca is an acclaimed winemaker with decades of experience. Isn’t it tough to turn over his process to thousands of people who probably have no idea what they are doing?
“It was funny at the very beginning,” Munoz-Oca told me. “Like a funny feeling of not doing what your gut is telling you to do with the grape. Yet it’s so great to expose everybody to what we do. For us to be able to say, ‘Come with us.’ It’s great to be able to let people see what goes on behind the scenes. So that really overpowers the selfish feeling of ‘I want to do this.’”
If you want to try the world’s first crowdsourced wine, Columbia Crest is selling a limited quantity of 1,000 cases online and at their tasting room in Paterson, Washington. It’s also not too late to jump in on Crowdsourced Cabernet’s 2015 vintage, where votes are currently being taken on “how vivacious should the wine be?” If you participate, you get first dibs to purchase the new vintage when it comes out next year. That is, assuming it’s still something you want after all those thousands of other dumb anonymous internet voters get their grubby hands on it