Meet pioneer of all things wine online, Paul Mabray (USA). With the digital disruption knocking at the wine industry’s front door, we figured the direct-to-consumer mastermind was someone that we needed to be talking to.
The former Emetry CEO has been working tirelessly with his team of experts to launch Pix, a comprehensive and highly anticipated wine discovery platform, later this year. Through Pix Paul can also boast (though we doubt he does) The Drop, an online wine discovery magazine curating stories from a range of diverse and unique perspectives.
So pop on your reading glasses, pour a glass (but don’t feel obliged) and let’s dive into our chat with Paul Mabray.
The Tasting Room
What does the perfect drop of wine look like to you?
A glass with the people I love that leads to conversation and laughter.
How do you relax after a hard day’s work at Pix?
Four things – I am a voracious reader, my children’s laughter, a good movie or video game. Often the latter for extreme stress relief.
What is it that you want people to remember most about what you do for the industry?
That I helped usher it into the new digital era.
What is one thing you hope never changes when it comes to the wine industry?
The magic that wine is, transporting us across time and space to savor a moment far away, in the past while simultaneously appreciating the now it creates.
Where is the most interesting place your career in wine has taken you?
I’ve been fortunate to follow wine almost everywhere it’s made. While all wine country is beautiful, breathtaking scenery like the Andes, the Okanagan, and South Africa remind you that wine comes from all types of terroir and climates.
The Full Case
Where did your journey into the wine industry begin, and what led you to starting Pix?
I had humble beginnings, starting as a sales representative. I am a terrible salesperson but I wrote my own PIM (personal information manager)/ CRM (customer relationship management) in Access. It was rudimentary but it helped me scale and taught me a lesson; being engaged and customer-centric always wins. At some point in my career, I had the hubris to think I could use digital to change the industry, the way Robert Mondavi and the other legends from the early days of American wine had done. Trying to make that a reality via WineDirect and VinTank humbled me but also transformed my mission, which changed to ensuring our industry, filled with my colleagues, friends, and family, used digital to avoid the Darwinism occurring in other industries. It was a mission and purpose more noble and has become essential to me. Pix is built to make it easier for wine buyers and sellers to connect.
What role will Pix play in influencing the way we approach wine consumption, and in turn how the industry engages with wine consumers?
Our industry is powered by one of the most complex, diverse, and crowded categories of any consumable goods (from commodity to luxury). With two feet in tradition, we’ve been the last industry to adopt digital, and use modern tools to connect with tools used by modern consumers. Pix will be the first platform that allows wine sellers to leverage an objective, neutral platform to connect with consumers at the most important moment, at the point of purchase. For the first time ever, both wineries and retailers will be able to reach customers through an effective platform, to catalyze engagement and sales.
How do you feel is the best way to approach educating wine consumers, and what impact does an informed market have on the wine industry as a whole?
The wine industry represents the ultimate paradigm of choice. Education is not the solution, as only a small percentage of the population has that level of passion. But translation to help a consumer understand why to convert from a shopper to a buyer is the magic formula. By translating and creating magical taste moments, we hope to inspire more consumers to go on a quest to learn more.
Why do you feel it can be challenging for producers to tell their story in a way that resonates with consumers, and which brands are getting it right?
This is one of the hardest challenges in our industry. How do we differentiate in an industry where we are all saying the same thing: family-owned, high quality, boutique, luxury, sustainable, organic, etc, etc, etc. There is no single formula. That’s the magic and the opportunity. Everyone can find their own Blue Ocean strategy to tell their story and reach buyers. The new truth is that the internet has made the world flat; the most important and scalable channel to reach consumers is via digital tools. But stories and value exchanges between brands are about using these tools, and I emphasize tools, to create human-to-human connections at scale. But who does it well?
- Dirty and Rowdy is the epitome of a human brand, connecting the buyers to the owner’s passion and personality.
- Massican is a brand where the winemaker speaks through a particular style of wine and the intersection of culture.
- Donum (disclosure, my wife is CEO) is about the amazing art, the land, and the quality when you combine the two.
- 19 Crimes is a series of stories, told anywhere the bottle is scanned, via augmented reality.
- And GameBox wines tell a story on the box.
All of these are different, magical, and valid ways to share a story and speak to the unlimited opportunities.
Tell us a bit about the philosophy behind Pix’s accompanying wine mag, “The Drop,” and what you personally look for in wine writing.
The Drop is an editorial gem in the wine industry. It is completely independent of the business despite being integrated into our discovery platform. That journalistic integrity allows us to create true trust with consumers in a time of media confusion.
The editorial team at The Drop led by Erica Duecy and Felicity Carter is about bringing a fresh perspective to wine, but most importantly making wine a big tent where we welcome wine lovers, regardless of whether they drink Bota Box or Petrus, and also about making wine a relevant part of people’s everyday life.
If you were to describe your goals and desires for the wine industry as a mission, what would it be?
As a technology leader, my job is not about technology but about helping the industry with a more important transformation, a cultural revolution which is being adaptable to change. This will allow our category to remain rooted in tradition and simultaneously agile and reactive to a changing world. That means transformation across any category including and especially digital. As an industry the only constant we can rely on is change. We need to build the ability to adapt to that change into our DNA, while retaining the magic of our ancient industry, rooted in the earth and seasons. It’s a tightrope, but we need to follow the path to sustainability, to ensure that wine retains its relevance for the generations to follow.