How can you tell a 1973 Batard Montrachet from a bottle of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill? Or a '45 Mouton-Rothschild from a box of Franzia? Well, you could taste the difference, presumably. But what if you had to discern between the '45 and one of the top years of the Eighties? Few could. And while the difference might be taste, it certainly is money.
People collect wines for a number of reasons, but one of the top ones is the fact that a good wine appreciates. If a counterfeiter is good at selling one similar wine as another it can make the difference between $2000 and $200,000. Now some wineries are using RFID to hold the counterfeiters at bay.
In the wake of junk bonds, the "irrational exuberance" of the Internet and the housing boom, all now nothing more than echoes of collapse, the wine bubble is appealing to the skeezy, of which the wine world has no paucity.
So some wineries, like Vinyard 29 in Napa, California, are using small RFID tags, distinct radio frequency signatures buried in the labels. With smart phones gaining more muscle, users can often select one with an RFID reader built in. With such a phone, a consumer can just "phone up" a bottle prior to buying to make sure it's legitimate.
Security is not the only use for RFID in the wine business.
eProvenance uses RFID to keep a coherent track of wines as they travel, often globally, from vintner to buyer, ensuring the wine's safety, but also ensuring it has been kept at ideal temperatures during its voyage.
Bàcaro, a high-end retailer, has installed an RFID reader in a table at their Zurich airport kiosk. The customer places a bottle on a table. Its RFID tag is scanned and the scanner instructs an adjacent screen to show information on the wine's region, vinyard and taste.
Things that go for a dime a dozen rarely serve as the proving ground for experiments with technology. But anything as valuable, easily counterfeited and constantly mobile as wine is going to attract many such experiments. RFID seems one that has gained significant purchase in that community.
If robots ever do take over the world, you can look forward to an illustrated tour through the wine-making regions of the Mosel valley. Then, of course, well, it's kill, crush, destroy time, isn't it?