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07.09.2008

Introducing the World's Best (FREE!) Wine Cellar Management Software


This constitutes the first and possibly the only time you will ever find me endorsing, recommending, and generally plugging a commercial product (that isn't a bottle of wine or sake) here on Vinography.

There are two clear reasons for this.

The first is that the product I am endorsing is free. The second is because I designed it.

Those of you who know a little bit about me may be aware that by day I run an interactive design and strategy consulting firm called HYDRANT, which, among other things designs some of the best e-commerce and web applications in the world. Apart from employing my company's expertise a little in the design of this blog, I generally tend to keep these two careers of mine entirely separate. Or at least I did until about 18 months ago when we agreed to help a company called Vinfolio build the best wine cellar management software on the planet.

And today I am extremely proud to announce the launch of a public beta of that software, under the name VinCellar. This is a beta version of a web-based software product, which means that it still has some rough edges, only includes about 80% of the functionality that we have designed, and is subject to somewhat radical modification at any moment as we see fit, but in spite of that, it totally kicks ass.

VinCellar is designed to help a specific type of wine lover: anyone who has a wine collection that numbers at least one more bottle than they are capable of remembering off the top of their head. The more wine you own, the more useful you will likely find this software application, but even those with a very modest number of bottles may discover that this software will help them manage, maintain, and enjoy the wine they own.

Until today, there has really only been one truly sophisticated wine cellar management solution out there. While there are a host of desktop and web based software systems on the market, ranging in price from free to several thousands of dollars, I've seen almost all of them, and the only one that actually has most of the functionality needed to help wine lovers manage their cellars is a free web-based application called CellarTracker.

The only problem is that in addition to sophisticated functionality, CellarTracker offers its users an incredibly horrible, teeth-grindingly painful, ugly, and all around completely unusable user interface. Of course, that doesn't mean that thousands of people haven't gritted their teeth and learned to use it despite these massive usability flaws.

But the best tools should not only NOT be painful to use, they should be pleasurable. Just ask an iPhone owner if you need a further explanation of this principle.

And just as Apple's graphical user interface showed the world that there was an alternative to DOS based computing in 1984, it is my hope that many wine lovers will recognize the degree to which VinCellar represents a new paradigm in interacting with your wine collection. In short, wine cellar management just got a hell of a lot more fun.

The main purpose of this application is, of course, helping you do stuff with (or to) your wine collection -- from figuring out what you've got, where it is, how much it's worth, what you've bought, and what you want to drink, to what you probably should drink, what you should sell, and what you might not know about your wine consuming habits because you've never looked at the trends before.

In addition to tools to easily add, remove, reposition, edit, sell, analyze, and generally keep track of individual bottles or whole collections, the application also allows you to rate wines, add your own tasting notes, and see the scores and notes that others (including major wine critics) have made on any wine. These notes are pretty much the most useful part of CellarTracker, and they will likely become a very important source of value in VinCellar over time as well.

Finally, while it might be just enough to change the game by offering 98% of the same functionality as your major competitor with a much more usable interface, VinCellar today has dozens of useful (and entertaining) features that don't exist in any cellar management application, such as the ability to visually browse your wine cellar by label image, the ability to perform actions on multiple wines at once, and the tools to do sophisticated graphical analysis on all or a portion of your collection. And that's just for starters. Some of the features we've designed are so cool that we're not finished implementing them yet, so you'll just have to hang in there.

If you've read this far, thanks for indulging my excitement, and I hope you'll take the time to go check out VinCellar. Set up an account and add or import some wines to check out how the thing works.

It's not perfect, but it's pretty damn good. A few more features, a few bug fixes, and a bunch more tasting notes will take it from pretty good to awesome.

Let me know what you think: www.vincellar.com

Comments (45)

Fatemeh wrote:
07.09.08 at 10:51 PM

Congrats -- I know you guys have been working quite a while, and am glad to see it live.

Have to ask, of course ('cos it's what I do), is there a utility for importing a CellarTracker export easily?

Monty wrote:
07.09.08 at 11:14 PM

Congrats! I have already signed up. Well designed. I had a similar idea utilizing the iPhone to assist in building the library or for "ad-hoc" purchases.

Alder wrote:
07.09.08 at 11:30 PM

Thanks Fatemeh!

Yes you can import wines and tasting notes from cellartracker by exporting your cellar from cellartracker into excel, rearranging a couple of columns, and then importing into VinCellar.

Arnaud H wrote:
07.09.08 at 11:55 PM

Can't wait to test this. I have to say I love CellarTracker, even though its UI is, indeed, pretty tough to learn. But its capabilities are incredible. Oddly enough, I was working for my blog on a comparison between the various free cellar management solutions there are out there, so this is very timely.

ryan wrote:
07.10.08 at 4:39 AM

The import from cellartracker is painful! I tried to do this for a half hour, and gave up!Please let me know if this process improves. It had me manually editing each and every wine, and with a large cellar this is a large task.

mike wrote:
07.10.08 at 5:57 AM

I imported well over 2000 different wines into Vincellar from Cellartracker and while not a simple one click, it was reasonably easy. The process of confirming wines takes a bit of time, but this is the identical process involved when importing INTO Cellartracker as well. I can't say enough about how great the new tool is. I've been using it for well over a month and have already phased out Cellartracker completely.

Matt wrote:
07.10.08 at 6:37 AM

The new Vincellar looks amazing! Will it be compatible with the iPhone?

07.10.08 at 7:44 AM

Hurray!! This is exactly what I have been asking for and blogging about for the past few months. Cellartracker capability with a actually enjoyable to use UI. My husband won't even touch CellarTracker. But at least Eric LeVine is pretty receptive to harsh feedback... he makes no claim to be a graphic designer.

Can't wait to try out VinCellar!!

Alder wrote:
07.10.08 at 7:56 AM

Matt, while I haven't tested it completely I believe you can use nearly every feature of VinCellar on an iPhone, except for the flash based "Label View" of your cellar. I hope Apple gets Flash support on the phone soon, so that feature will be accessible, too.

Alder wrote:
07.10.08 at 8:06 AM

Ryan,

Thanks for the note. Importing certainly can be tedious at times, especially if you have some obscure wines that aren't in the DB already. It will get better over time as the DB grows and as they tweak the matching algorithm. Incidentally, did you know that you can ask Vinfolio to do the import for you? Especially if you wanted to import a bunch of notes into the system I believe they'd just do it for you.

Bill in Chicago wrote:
07.10.08 at 9:51 AM

First – thank you and all of your colleagues who worked on this. Keeping it free and giving the wine community a new tool is a very generous act and I hope you are blessed by Dionysus himself!

And please forgive me for the following criticisms; they are meant to be constructive. But like the fine wines you review, sometimes even a Rothschild can be corked.

While VinCellar’s interface is slick – there seems to be something missing (and maybe it will come). To me it looks like a Ferrari but drives like a Chevy. The database possibilities that Cellartraker offers aren’t there in the VinCellar product. Sure the Cellartraker product is ugly, but the functions are tremendous. The fact that I can up load to VinCellar is because I have a very flexible Excel export from Cellartracker. I was able to import my cellar from Cellartraker, which is small, about 135 bottles. The upload worked ok, not everything came over as I thought but that was probably more my fault than VinCellar. But the VinCeller analysis and reporting (even common tasks) were lacking in usability and flexibility.

My guess is that your site will gain new functions over time. And I look forward to those developments.

Meanwhile I can’t help but feel that you could have done a greater service for the wine community by helping Eric over a Cellartracker instead of creating a site that will fracture the self-reviewing wine community. And for now I will continue with Cellartracker but I hope someday, somehow, just maybe, VinCellar and Cellartracker could come together.
Holding my breath in Chicago!

Alder wrote:
07.10.08 at 10:28 AM

Bill,

Thanks so much for the comments, and criticism is certainly welcome. Though I'm not sure I understand what you mean by the "database possibilities that cellartracker offers aren't there"

Do you simply mean that the VinCellar DB is not as extensive as CT? That is certainly true. And the DB of tasting notes is still in its infancy for sure.

As far as analysis and reporting goes, I'm very interested in finding out what you feel was hard or impossible for you to do in VinCellar that you can easily do in CellarTracker. There are many, many reporting and analysis features in VinCellar that Cellartracker doesn't have.

As for why design this new tool instead of upgrading CellarTracker? Well, Vinfolio is a well capitalized company on a mission, whereas CT is a one man tinkering operation. Eric is a good programmer and a passionate wine lover but there's no way he could have afforded to pay my firm to redesign his application, and judging from the fact that his interface hasn't changed in 4 years I can only speculate that improving the user experience is not something he's interested in investing in.

I too hope that one day Vinfolio and CellarTracker will do a deal together, but my sense is that Eric has no interest in selling.

1WineDude wrote:
07.10.08 at 11:19 AM

Sell out.

Just kidding - I'll check this out!

norm wrote:
07.10.08 at 12:03 PM

its a cool app and has a lot of capabilities. still not sold on the vinfolio bar codes. seems odd that self assignment of barcodes/ids is not there as it should be pretty easy.

A user identified number per bottle and the ability to access via that number is all that's needed to make the volume issue a non-issue.

Eric LeVine wrote:
07.10.08 at 12:57 PM

Alder,

Congratulations on the new software! You and Steve have a lot to be proud of.

Some of your commentary is more than a bit uncalled for and displays a lack of knowledge about many aspects of my business, my website functionality and my motivations. I will leave it at that.

Anyway, I am happy to see Vinfolio embracing the world of community wine tasting notes that I pioneered 4 years ago. It is worth looking back in time and noting that Vinfolio and CellarTracker launched at the same time in 2004. At the time Vinfolio was a $120/year service with no community functionality. I am glad to see the adoption of a free model ala CellarTracker along with more emphasis on the value of the community and connecting wine lovers. In fact there is a lot else about the new VinCellar that is quite familiar. Copying functionality is the sincerest form of flattery in the world of software...

Anyway, the competition is a great thing for everyone, and I am eager to keep the horserace going.

Thanks,
Eric LeVine
-CellarTracker.com

Alder wrote:
07.10.08 at 1:14 PM

Eric,

Thanks for the comments. My comments about your motivations were speculation, and as for them being uncalled for, I'm sorry if they offended. I was trying to honestly answer Bill's question as to why my firm designed VinCellar instead of, say, approaching you and offering to redesign Cellartracker.

Alder wrote:
07.10.08 at 1:17 PM

Norm, I agree that there's some work to be done to make the barcode system work really well. I think allowing users to print their own barcodes on demand would go a long way to doing that.

07.10.08 at 2:27 PM

"The only problem is that in addition to sophisticated functionality, CellarTracker offers its users an incredibly horrible, teeth-grindingly painful, ugly, and all around completely unusable user interface. Of course, that doesn't mean that thousands of people haven't gritted their teeth and learned to use it despite these massive usability flaws."

Wow, attacking a FREE cellar management tool? That's not only lame, it's pathetic. I'm sure VinCellar is going to be a great utility for many people and just looking into it, there appears to be a more user-friendly control area as well as many cool buttons and features. But there was no need to put down a competitor that offers a very useful, well organized alternative at NO COST!!! I may have considered switching over, but for now I'll put up with the horrible interface at CT and just continue grinding my teeth.

Kori wrote:
07.10.08 at 2:59 PM

Alder, congrats on the new VinCellar. I’ve been a VinCellar user for about a year and the new version is a huge improvement. With that said, I believe there is still one big gap that no cellar management software that I've tried has addressed--what I’d call a Bottle Consumption Schedule.

For me, a Drink By Date is not good enough, because I don’t want to come up to the end of 2008 and find that I need to drink 46 bottles in December.

As an example, with a Bottle Consumption Schedule, when I buy a case of 2005 XYZ Syrah today and it has a Drink By Date of 2012, the tool I'm envisioning would automatically space out the case over the next 54 months, reminding me to drink a bottle every 4 1/2 months, beginning with Nov 2008 and so on. It would also be helpful to have a monthly maximum default, so that it won’t let you schedule more than "x" bottles in a month. Any excess goes first to the closest earlier month that has an opening. If there are none, it goes to the closest following month with an opening with the caveat that you never schedule a bottle after the Drink By Date.

On the first of each month, the Bottle Consumption Schedule would give you a list of what you need to drink this month to stay "on schedule."

Then, when you drink a bottle and take it out of inventory, the Bottle Consumption Schedule tool removes the first bottle in the Schedule that is an exact match from the Bottle Consumption Schedule and so on.

Again, great job with the new version. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the functionality as it is rolled out.

norm wrote:
07.10.08 at 3:22 PM

I can understand I guess the sensitivity but the UI issue in CellarTracker is a well known and acknowledged issue. While the functionality and depth of content is impressive its hard to find people who don't agree that its challenging to use.

Given the user base and additional staff that's been added over the years though, I don't think CellarTracker is just a hobby anymore. No idea how much revenue the site pulls in but suspect Eric took more offense to the offhand remark that he could not afford the services. I suspect that comment was just a slip and not meant to be a rip.

CellarTracker is impressive - the repository of information and taxonomy for every aspect of wine is incredible. There is a mountain of content there and the knowledge surrounding that data set is almost mind-boggling.

That said, I think the new Vinfolio functionality and UI offers significant benefits and its well worth people trying out both. Compared to some of the others that have tried along these lines - BottleNotes, Snooth, ManageMyWines, etc. its probably the best implementation. Time will tell if it can continue to develop and grow. The user community which serves CellarTracker so well, will be a key part of it's success and the overlap of user base might be minimal. Believe it or not, I think they appeal to different types.

Alder wrote:
07.10.08 at 3:33 PM

Thanks Kori. Great idea!

07.11.08 at 2:06 PM

Well, there goes my plan to implement the best wine cellar tracker around. You did all the work for me.

Congratulations, Alder and the Vinfolio team.

—Theory

Mike wrote:
07.12.08 at 9:15 AM

I thought I would try this out if it was very simple to import from CT. So far no luck. I exported to exel using CT website. I saved that file. I tried to transfer using browse feature on Vino and inserted saved file. I tried update but only got some wines which I think were from the exel download from Vino. Maybe I'll try again when I see a better step by step.

Alder wrote:
07.12.08 at 9:27 AM

Mike,

I'm not sure if I totally understand what you tried to do, but if you're trying to simply just upload the cellartracker spreadsheet as is, then that definitely won't work. You'll need to reformat that spreadsheet and then copy and paste the data into the excel template that Vinfolo provides for this purpose. The columns of the imported spreadsheet, their order, and their header rows are important.

If you're having difficulty Vinfolio would be happy to help, I'm sure.

Gus Siokis wrote:
07.13.08 at 1:15 AM

Alder,

Thanks...I had checked out the new site about a week ago. Great stuff! I have been a Vinfolio customer for over a year now and love the UI.

By the way, I see you were at Sapient before....I spent a few years at iXL/Scient....

Thanks and keep the great work at Vinfolio....

Gus

Jason Haas wrote:
07.13.08 at 11:14 PM

Hey Alder,

Cool user interface, and cool functionality. One question... something that I love about CellarTracker is the ability, as a producer (though I'm sure it's just as useful for a journalist or even an interested consumer) to get a sense at a glance of what comments and scores members of the online community are giving to a winery. The search http://www.cellartracker.com/list.asp?Table=Notes&szSearch=tablas gives me, at a glance, if any new comments have been entered for a Tablas Creek wine. Clicking on any wine gives me a list of all the comments and scores that have been assigned to this wine, the most recent at the top. I can't figure out how to do this same thing in VinCellar. That there are multiple listings for the same wine (assigned to different bottle sizes, including "none" also makes it harder to browse through the different wines in a given query.

Am I overlooking a link that will give me what I'm looking for, or is this something that is (can be) in the works?

Thanks!
-Jason

Alder wrote:
07.13.08 at 11:25 PM

Jason,

I'm pretty sure doing a search on "tablas" in the "Tasting Notes" tab of VinCellar should show you all the notes that have been made on Tablas Creek wines. In that view you can sort by any number of parameters, and the default sort is most recent first. Clicking on any individual wine will get you to a page which shows all the tasting notes for that particular wine.

Tere Lyndon wrote:
07.14.08 at 10:11 AM

Oh - hey! I saw the opening line and thought well, no way am I going to pull everything out AGAIN and set up *another* new inventory this year, after Vinfolio just got their program to my liking. LOL

Nice to see it's you doing this - the first version was pretty frustrating and laborious, but the upgrade last month was tons better. I especially appreciated that, when I pointed out to the contact email person that the search function wasn't doing what *I* wanted it to, someone - I presume you? - fixed it almost immediately. Now I can sort by *end* drink date - what should I drink *this year* before it goes past its supposed prime drinking date - which makes me very happy. Before this latest update, it always seemed to me to be geared a little more toward the folks who collect wine as investments, whereas I just drink the stuff. :-)

Of course, my very, VERY humble wine collection isn't really worth all of the professional fuss, but still it's mine and I enjoy having the tools to maximize its potential. Thanks for creating the program!

Alder wrote:
07.14.08 at 11:09 AM

Tere,

Thanks for the note. For what it's worth, my firm wasn't involved in the first version, so we just get to take credit for all the improvements. :-)

Everyone's wine collection is worth the fuss -- each man's treasure is his own, and no less valuable than another's.

mrzitro wrote:
07.15.08 at 8:14 AM

I second Kori's request for a Bottle Consumption Schedule. What a great idea.

rajiv wrote:
08.17.08 at 4:37 PM

Is there map functionality? Can I see a map of the world with all the wines I've written notes on displayed like in google analytics?

Alder wrote:
08.18.08 at 6:39 PM

Rajiv,

Not yet ! Best place to suggest functionality like that is the user support forums.

Ivan Petrovitch wrote:
09.14.08 at 12:38 PM

Will there be an iPhone app that will tie into the VinCeller web app?

Alder wrote:
09.14.08 at 10:40 PM

Ivan, that's a question best asked to my client, Vinfolio. If that's something you'd like to see, I suggest you post a comment in their user forums.

Elliot wrote:
01.18.09 at 11:06 AM

Wow...this is great! The best iPhone wine app I have used is Velvet Vine. It would be great if the two of you could collaborate on something. Thanks again for all your hard work!

Alfonso Mares wrote:
12.19.09 at 6:06 AM

Congratulations for your hard work in software development.If practice fills 50% of theory I've read will be very usefull. Anxious to use it.

Darwin H. Thurston wrote:
08.08.10 at 10:38 PM

sounds like something that as a new wine collector I can learn about the wines i have purchased

Darwin H. Thurston wrote:
08.08.10 at 10:43 PM

anxious to review

Phil wrote:
12.04.10 at 7:25 AM

Can this inventory management tool, VinCellar, interface with Iphone via an app off some sort. I like the layout better than what I observed with Cellar Tracker, and frankly the app Cor.k.z is a waste of time (I scanned several high profile, widely available bottles, with bar codes and the bottles that correlated were not at all accurate), not to mention I have MANY wines that are older and italian, etc that DO NOT HAVE BARCODES! Thanks for the heads up here.

phil

Phil wrote:
12.04.10 at 7:26 AM

Can this inventory management tool, VinCellar, interface with Iphone via an app off some sort. I like the layout better than what I observed with Cellar Tracker, and frankly the app Cor.k.z is a waste of time (I scanned several high profile, widely available bottles, with bar codes and the bottles that correlated were not at all accurate), not to mention I have MANY wines that are older and italian, etc that DO NOT HAVE BARCODES! Thanks for the heads up here.

phil

Barry Schwartz wrote:
12.22.10 at 2:17 PM

Congratulations. It sounds great. Can't wait to see it.

John Menkhaus wrote:
05.22.11 at 6:33 AM

Great stuff - or so it appears. Thanks from J&S

Sim wrote:
06.29.11 at 1:20 AM

gotta say, after scouring the web, i'm glad i found your site. great job. the only thing i wish was that it was downloadable onto the computer with the database and not web-based. how am i going to catalog efficiently in a celler w/ no internet?

Jean Filion wrote:
12.14.11 at 1:10 PM

Do I need to do anything else to get Vincellar?

Matthias wrote:
09.12.12 at 11:28 PM

Excellent way of describing, and fastidious post to get information about my presentation
topic, which i am going to present in university.

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