Time to belly up to the barcode? [scanners]

You just brought home a mixed case of wine from the store. Already, things are looking good. But what if you could scan each bottle as you unpack it and have the information appear in a database for managing your inventory? Or just for keeping all your tasting notes handy and organized?

To find out if it’s time for wine lovers to belly up to the barcode, I tested two newish products that claim to zap and upload: the IntelliScanner mini and the new version of Cor.kz, an iPhone app.

The verdict? Wine and this technology aren’t a perfect blend–yet. But these are, at the very least, a step in the right direction.

image001Checked Out
The IntelliScanner ($249, with software), which I received as a sample, comes in a wooden box big enough for a wine bottle yet is only the size of a matchbox. The wireless device reads bar codes easily and you’ll be scanning back labels of bottles like a checkout cashier before you know it. But the first problem I encountered is that not all wineries and/or importers place barcodes one the back label (adding barcodes to products can be an expensive process).

After scanning some bottles with barcodes, I synced the device with my computer to find that IntelliScanner collected data on most–but not all–of the wines. For the wines it did recognize, sometimes the data was woefully unhelpful: A Lapierre Morgon 2006 appeared only with a reference to its importer: “Unknown Kermit Lynch wine.” Not very helpful for deciding which bottle to uncork with dinner.

Sometimes the information was slightly wrong, such as including no vintage, the wrong vintage or not specifying a red or white even though the grape was listed on the label as syrah. Apparently, this inconsistency comes form vagueness in barcodes, also known as UPCs, which may work perfectly for DVDs but appear imperfectly suited to wine since there are so many variables.

Once I collected the data, I opened the workable but rudimentary IntelliScanner software. It doesn’t have connections to other sites, such as Wine Searcher, and there doesn’t appear to be a way to easily export the data–and there are no links to stores or auction houses for pricing information (although some prices were entered automatically).

There’s an app for that
Dialing up the Cor.kz app, I clicked on the barcode capture button and the camera automatically launched. (The Cor.kz app tied for first place when I reviewed of iPhone apps for the June issue of Wine & Spirits magazine.) I lined up the bar code (though it is sensitive to jiggling) and thanks to the autofocus on the 3GS, an image automatically is captured and sent to Cor.kz. When this works, it’s a dream: All the wine information enters thoroughly. Even better, if there’s a question about, say, vintages, the app suggests several likely options for easy clicking. Sadly, however, it was rare for it to actually deliver any results at all. I scanned an entire mixed case of bottles and got only two results–a 17% hit rate.

This frustration seems odd since Cor.kz connects to the CellarTracker database of over one million wine reviews. So I asked Eric LeVine, founder of CellarTracker.

“The way to input information right now is on CellarTracker.com,” he said. He may grant Cork.kz greater access to the database in the future but right now, because of the vagueness of barcodes, he seeks to have the database remain as free of duplicates as possible.

While neither of these technologies is a game changer for collectors or even casual wine drinkers, keep an eye on Google Goggles, introduced last week. Optical recognition just took a leap beyond barcodes with this technology. You just point your Android camera phone at an object, take a picture, and the program generates Web search results. The on-stage demonstration Google held at the launch even included a wine bottle that generated tasting notes.

With some further refinement, this offers the most promise for delivering price and tasting-note information to shoppers, as well as database-management tools for collectors.

Progress is coming in this area. But if you seek to escape the in-laws this holiday season by cataloging your wine cellar inventory, the best bet may just be to hunker down in the cellar, pop a bottle and fire up the laptop.

This article was republished at Forbes.com

UPDATE: Jim Goodman of Cor.kz added a comment below: “Corkz is working on this as we speak… Right now we are testing a way for users to associate a UPC code with a wine if no results are returned via the bar code scan. The feature should be out in a matter of days!”

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15 Responses to “Time to belly up to the barcode? [scanners]”

  1. It’s not surprising that the information recorded is incomplete; many wineries get a UPC for one product, and re-use it throughout various years. Since there’s no vintage specificity to the UPC, no vintage will come up, as the ’02 and ’05 have the same barcode.

  2. Corkz is working on this as we speak… Right now we are testing a way for users to associate a UPC code with a wine if no results are returned via the bar code scan.

    The feature should be out in a matter of days!

  3. Thanks for the comment, Jim. I added an update at the bottom of the posting.

  4. you can read about the new feature here…. http://cor.kz/bar-codes-upcs-and-wine-oh-my/

    and see a pic of how it works here…. http://twitpic.com/txsz1

    we are working on UI improvements, but we wanted to get this out there pronto and provide tools to help. I’ve got a trip to the store planned for this weekend, going to go bottle by bottle….

  5. If you really want to do this (I think it’s worth seriously considering if you have a large collection), I think you’re better off adding your own barcode labels anyway. Then you don’t have to worry about whether the bottle has a barcode or whether the UPC is correct and unique to that specific wine and vintage (none of which are givens, as you discovered).

    A bonus is that if you generate your own barcodes, you can track each bottle individually, which makes tracking things easier if you may have multiple bottles of the same wine in different places.

  6. Not to pile on, but hello from another Cor.kz guy. I wanted to note that the ability for users to add barcodes to the system is now live. Also, I’m afraid it’s our bad luck that your success rate at 17% came in at the far low end of normal. Overall, we’re averaging about 58% hits, though it’s interesting to look at on a per-user basis because some users average about 40%, and some average about 70%; the breakdown is based on typical price and vintage scanned.

    Thanks for trying Cor.kz, and I hope you’ll give it another shot (and that the statistical gods don’t play another trick on us)

  7. Accurate and timely article Tyler. Thank you. Everyone wants an improved and speedy interface for looking up wine information on their phone. Makes sense – you don’t have your PC with you while at a restaurant or wine store, where you need the info.

    We wrote an article on barcode scanning of wine labels, with detailed empirical results. See the article here – http://drync.com/blog/the-killer-wine-app-interface-typeahead-vs-barcodes/.

    Our general conclusions were the same as presented here – that barcode scanning of wine labels is not ready for primetime (although our results were slightly closer to Jim’s if you focus on US-made wines).

    We do believe there are alternatives. The most promising, as Tyler says, is image recognition. This will take a while to be universally useful, because no one has a comprehensive reference database of reference labels.

    And of course there’s old fashioned text entry, which can be improved greatly with some predictive typeahead/auto-fill magic. This is the path we’ve taken at Drync while we wait for other solutions to “get there”.

  8. Hi Tyler —

    A few comments and a number of inaccuracies in your article I wanted to point out.

    IntelliScanner is based on the premise of a stand-alone scanning device that makes it easy to scan bottles wherever they are. Rather than tapping into your phone, you connect the scanner to your computer, like a camera, and download/organize on your PC or Mac from there.

    You mentioned that IntelliScanner identified most your bottles — but didn’t give you vintages. This is intentional — wineries often reuse barcodes from year to year, so providing the vintage would not be consistently accurate. As we discuss on our web site, IntelliScanner automatically attempts the name, varietal, winery, country, type, color, and region:


    One of IntelliScanner’s advantages is our own database of wine, all with barcodes. This database is updated with our own contributions, and we also allow users to post back bottles that weren’t automatically identified for future updates. We principally rely on our own efforts to improve our wine database.

    I’d hardly call our software “rudimentary”! Our wine management software includes a wide array of features that’s unmatched in other wine management products: easy list creation, statistics, a visual cellar management tool, free iPhone and web sharing tools, an integrated wine reference, and extensive reporting tools.

    Your comment that our software doesn’t have links to other sites isn’t true — the Web menu brings you right to wine information on the selected bottle from a variety of sources. You also claimed that you can’t easily export the data: the Share menu includes options for exporting in tab-delimited, CSV, and XML formats, along with direct Send To Excel option, an HTML export for posting to your own site, and a direct publishing tool for our IntelliScanner.net service, which published a free, web and iPhone-friendly site that lets you access your wine anywhere:


    We believe that barcode technology is the fastest, easiest way to get your wine collection organized, and have, since 2004, designed and upgraded such a solution that we believe is the best available. Each method of organizing your wine has its own strengths and weaknesses. I’d encourage anyone interested in a wine organization system to take an honest look at what’s available and decide what’s best for them.

    Tyler, I hope you’ll give IntelliScanner another shot in the future. We truly believe in our product as it stands, today.

    Paul Scandariato
    IntelliScanner Corporation

  9. I learned the hard way that a winery with distribution into national chains can’t change the UPC barcode from one vintage to the next.

    Coming from an manufacturing background, I wanted to change the UPC for each product with each bottling, so I could have some lot control for quality assurance.

    Not long afterward I got a call from angry sales reps that said we were jeopardizing our coveted bottle positions on retailer shelves because the bottles no longer scanned and they go through a process to get the new UPC codes entered into the corporate servers.

    So I never changed a barcode with a new vintage again!

  10. No other tools to keep in the pocket once I already have a smartphone please. So go on with applications for smartphones.

    It can be a totally new way to buy wine, it will take some time but QR-code readers on smartphones (instead of standard bar code) is the future … if not RFID.

  11. While keeping an organized and accurate list of your cellar is key, keep in mind that many small production wines will not offer a bar code. Often artisan producers in Europe and even here in the U.S. are more concerned with producing the finest wines possible than they are with staying current with the latest trends in technology. It is a cirtual certainty that large scale industrial products will have a barcode, but we should not discount or even ignore wines that do not for sake of convenience. In our fast paced app-based world, sometimes taking a little extra time can pay off in a wonderful product

  12. […] Time to belly up to the barcode? [scanners] […]

  13. […] all on his labels and that the FDA may push all producers in that direction. And don’t forget barcodes! So here it is, an omnibus thread for all your back label venting/discussion […]

  14. a nice unique code like the AVIN http://avin.cc would really make all this much easier.

    Feel free to contact me if you want to learn how! 🙂

  15. Any new updates in the world of creating an inventory system for a large collection? Technology has changed so much in the past few years. Is there an app to read upcs or homemade barcodes for creting a personal inventory system?
    Please advise. Looking to invest in a method soon.


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