Australian winemakers are turning to virtual and augmented reality technology in a bid to tap into international markets.

The Federal Government recently coughed up $2.8 million for a handful of Australian winemaking associations or bodies to invest in tourism projects.

Three of the successful applicants plan to use their share of funding to create either a virtual or augmented reality experience.

Riverland Wine, based in South Australia’s largest wine grape producing region, is one recipient creating a virtual reality wine experience at a cost of over half a million dollars.

The body’s executive chair, Chris Byrne, said it was technology they hoped would sell the regional area to potential wine lovers.

“We are really confident that we can begin to attract a lot more attention to Riverland Wine, and what it has to offer the globe,” Mr Byrne said.

“The beauty of it is that it is entirely portable, so we will be able to experience it right here in the region, but we can also send it to international wine events.”

“It is consistent with our whole approach here in the Riverland, which is to look towards technology as being the way forward, whether it be in the farm or on the marketplace.”

Tapping into China

In the past two years, China has emerged as Australia’s boom market for wine.

Just last month, statistics from Wine Australia showed the value of Australian exports to China cracked over $1 billion between March 2017 and March 2018.

South Australia’s Seppeltsfield Winery was one of few investing in the technology back in 2016, in an effort to market their cellar door and vineyard to tourists.

Sales and marketing manager, Chad Elson, said the virtual reality experience has been well received in Asia.

“We found that particularly in China, it is a fantastic element of our marketing mix,” he said.

“I think it is a fairly logical step for businesses to take.”

“It is just another compliment in what people are doing to help sell their wine internationally and their businesses as destinations for tourism.”

Will virtual reality replace the real thing?

The growing investment in creating a virtual tourist experience begs the question — could the technology ever replace a real winery experience?

General Manager of Destination Riverland, Caroline Phillips, said despite the large investment in virtual reality technology, she anticipates tourists will still want to visit the area.

“Virtual reality and anything online is the way of the future,” she said.

“I do not see this as having an impact in terms of visitation. I see it as a great opportunity to give people a taste of what we have here in the region, and encourage them to come here and experience it for themselves.”

Seppeltsfield’s Chad Elson agrees, saying the technology was designed as a tool for events like wine trade fairs, but not to replace the real experience.

“Just being able to give them a small flavour of what they can expect increases their interest,” he said.

“We find it more as an interest prompter.”

Having no doubts about its future growth for Australian winemakers, the challenge, according to Mr Elson, is trying to keep pace with a revolving door of tech advancements.

“Back in 2016, virtual reality was really unknown in the wine industry,” Mr Elson said.

“When we launched our first tour, even getting a hold of the actual virtual reality headsets was really difficult.

“Even for us now, the technology we launched two years ago is dated.”

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