The next time you’re looking for the right wine in a restaurant or at a store, the answer could be in the palm of your hand.
Brian Pierce, a sommelier-turned-food and beverage director for some of the Valley’s finest resorts, has created a red-hot iPhone application called Wine Ph.D.
The $4.99 download includes a searchable database with descriptions and ratings of more than 60,000 wines, feature stories about wine and winemakers, a glossary of wine terms and suggested wine pairings for different foods.
Released June 1 in the Apple smartphone’s App Store, Wine Ph.D. has become one of its best-selling lifestyle applications, climbing to No. 3 on this week’s sales chart.
It was selected by Apple staffers as one of the company’s 16 hottest summer releases — from among more than 65,000 applications — and featured in full-page ads in USA Today, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
“My goal was to achieve something the average person — if they go to Trader Joe’s or Costco or Safeway or their favorite restaurant and look up a wine, it’s in there and it helps them make their buying decision,” Pierce says. “I think we’ve achieved that.”
After graduating from Arizona State University in 1992, the Northern California native went to work at The Phoenician Resort, where he was one of three sommeliers at the prestigious Mary Elaine’s.
Pierce spent a couple of years as a manager at the Arizona Biltmore Resort before returning to The Phoenician to take a similar position at Windows on the Green. In 2000, he was named The Phoenician’s director of restaurants.
He currently serves as food and beverage director for another well-known Scottsdale resort — one that insists he not mention the resort during interviews about Wine Ph.D.
Not that he will be with that resort much longer. Pierce was looking for a way to get out of the daily grind of the corporate world and spend more time with his 7- and 9-year-old daughters when he came up with the idea for Wine Ph.D.
“My original idea was to come up with a (computer) notebook you could hand to guests when they came into a restaurant,” he says.
A little awkward perhaps. Fortunately, this was in September 2007 and …
“The iPhone had just come out,” Pierce says. “I’d heard about ‘applications,’ but I had no idea what they were. As soon as I saw one, I knew I could put my idea into that format.”
Pierce enlisted the help of his college roommate, Dave Lauinger, who runs a Web site called HotelWine
“There were only about 200 apps at that time, and nothing about wine,” Pierce says. “I thought we’d have a good chance. I was nervous but very optimistic.”
The pair hired Tempe’s Perk Development to write the software, including an algorithm that compiles a rating for each wine based on professional ratings, a wine’s pedigree and its region. Unlike other wine apps for the iPhone, Wine Ph.D. also factors in users’ ratings.
“It was expensive to develop this application,” Pierce says. “It cost significantly more than the $20,000 to $30,000 it typically costs for an app like this.”
It appears to be paying off: In eight weeks, more than 10,000 iPhone users in 15 countries have purchased Wine Ph.D., and Pierce forecasts 70,000 by the end of the year. He hopes to increase that to as many as 400,000 users next year.
Pierce and Lauinger have opened a small office behind See’s Candies in Old Town Scottsdale where they write Wine Ph.D.’s weekly feature articles and continue to add wines to the database.
They try to respond to all user requests within three days, and recently hired some part-time employees to handle the growing number.
Asked why he thinks Wine Ph.D. has risen to the top of a suddenly crowded field of wine-related iPhone apps, Pierce says, “The feedback we’re getting is simplicity of use. The No. 1 thing we hear is it’s fun.”