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Wireless Message in a Bottle

Riders of public transport in Chicago or Oslo know RFID technology. Just bump your wallet at the turnstile and off you go with no fumbling to swipe cards. Skiers at some ski resorts know it too. And many drivers know the technology as well through E-ZPass/FasTrak/I-Pass toll collection.

Riders of public transport in Chicago or Oslo know RFID technology. Just bump your wallet at the turnstile and off you go with no fumbling to swipe cards. Skiers at some ski resorts know it too. And many drivers know the technology as well through E-ZPass/FasTrak/I-Pass toll collection.

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The same technology is coming to wine. Through an RFID sensor placed in the (synthetic) cork, importers, stores and consumers can now give each bottle a unique ID. While barcodes SKUs work for all the bottles of a certain wine as a group, this technology gives each individual bottle a unique–and unchangeable–ID. And unlike bar codes, boxes don’t have to be opened nor bottles taken off shelves to see more info about the wine. You just need to wave an RFID reader, which even comes in some Nokia phones, about 2 inches from the bottle and voila, all the info gets displayed.

The implications for consumers could be big. At the cost of $0.50 each though to the winery, it’s most likely impact will be on higher-end wines. Given the problem of fraud at auction, this would put an end to wondering if you bought the real deal or not. Optional fields could trace the bottle’s previous owners and even track the hammer prices. Sadly though the technology is difficult to put into real corks and the uptake of synthetic corks in cult wines remains almost nonexistent. It is currently available only in one wine, the dense, rich Contemporare, a sangiovese from Arnaldo-Caprai in Italy’s Montefalco wine region (find this wine, about $50). This makes sense since an Italian firm developed the technology.

But the technology could have an important impact on everyday drinking wines too, providing the price per unit comes down. An optional setting could add a temperature sensor that tracks max and min temperatures during shipping. If consumers could buy a bottle with the knowledge that it hadn’t been cooked in transit, that’s something to which we could all raise a glass–and our RFID readers!

Dr. Vino