(Communitech photo: Trish Crompton)
Natalie MacLean may have uncorked the secret to helping even the most amateur of wine drinkers to become their own sommelier.
As an award-winning wine writer, MacLean is constantly asked for recommendations on the perfect wine.
“I would get lots and lots of emails all the time,” MacLean says, and they were filled with questions like, “I want to buy an anniversary wine for my parents, I have 50 bucks to spend and they like Californian [wines], what do you recommend?”
MacLean is also a self-confessed tech geek who understands the importance of instant access to information, and that people aren’t buying wine “behind some big desktop,” but on their phones.
“Mobile isn’t superfluous,” she says, adding that there’s more to it than “reprinting a website on an app.”
It’s this kind of thinking that really sets her app apart from the clutter in app stores. The app, Wine Reviews & Ratings, is also causing quite a stir in the media, with CTV’s The Social being the latest to feature it last week. It was also named top wine app by the Globe and Mail, National Post and iPhone Today Magazine.
“What this app does is it tries to be your pocket sommelier, where you can choose all of your criteria, plus [it has] the added benefit of knowing the stock in the closest store via GPS,” MacLean says.
The app has a built-in barcode scanner that pulls up ratings, reviews, recipes and food pairings. Its integration with the LCBO and SAQ (Quebec’s liquor retailer) gives users accurate inventory on specific wines, and lets them save wines they have liked in their own in-app “cellar”.
Initially, MacLean was looking for a refresh of her previous outdated app. It wasn’t until she started collaborating with Paul Cebo from Norbsoft that Wine Reviews & Ratings turned into something more than what you usually see from these types of apps.
“He really delivered,” she says. “He was reasonably priced, and he took it to a level that I hadn’t even envisioned.”
MacLean, who is thrilled with the finished product, met Cebo through one of his former teammates at BlackBerry.
“Initially, there were just going to be some small things we were going to do for her app, but as we started talking it began to snowball into the large project,” Cebo says.
He joined BlackBerry in 2004 after a year-long stint at a Polish mobile company, and worked in developer relations before he was laid off in early 2013. His ability to develop for BlackBerry, Android and iOS platforms appealed to MacLean.
“Basically, anywhere you are – at the store, your friend’s house – you can scan a barcode from a bottle of wine and you will have instant information: her reviews, her score, pairings for that wine,” Cebo says.
Although it was last year that he started focusing on Norbsoft, Cebo registered the company in 2008 when he partnered with one of his former colleagues from the company in Poland.
“It wasn’t easy at the beginning,” he says, adding, “I had a little help in that my business partner had a number of projects in Europe, so at least we had something in the portfolio.”
He spent those first few months after being laid off it “knocking on as many doors as possible to find some projects,” Cebo recalls.
Fast-forward to now and Cebo has completed some consumer apps for large brands, including Samsung.
“It’s the ecosystem here,” says Cebo, on why he chose to stay in the region. “I worked from the Communitech Hub for quite a bit, and there were a lot of potential clients and a lot of people that I sought advice from in the beginning.”