Friday, September 21, 2012

INTRODUCING: Wine Xplorer!

Last night I launched one of my big summer projects!!

The front door of Wine Xplorer's venue
in  Dunwoody Plaza
WineXplorer is a cozy wine tasting club in the Dunwoody Plaza shopping center on Dunwoody Village Drive.  (The same center that houses the 1420 Room, Dunwoody Pediatrics, etc.)  This location serves as the new physical headquarters of the Atlanta Wine Meetup.  The club has over 3,000 members and now has a venue for comfortable, casual, neighborhood-scale wine tastings and related special events.

I met the owner/coordinator Katt Martin through the Chamber of Commerce.  She had commissioned a combination online community/e-commerce website based on Drupal, the same CMS that the Dunwoody Chamber website is built in.  However, she was becoming unhappy with the results and wanted a new developer to take over the project.  That's where I came in.

First step was to go through the database and additional functions that were built already, find the bugs, then find what had not been included or done incorrectly.  There were a couple of standard Drupal "modules" (plug-in additional functions) that had been customized by the previous company - but there was no documentation included.  Oh joy.  The project started by reading lots of code line by line.

Next issue on the table was the appearance.  The version I received was not even close to what Katt wanted to represent her club.  Katt wanted a unique combination:  the sleek, glossy, uncluttered structure of now-standard "Web 2.0" technology, but instead of the cool greys and blues that are typical of that design, she wanted a color palette of earth tones to exude a sense of warmth and comfort and closeness.  That's not a combo you see very often.  The result is what you see in the image above.  In honor of the Wine Xplorer club, I call this theme "Cabernet & Chocolates."

There are numerous features in this site, some included with the initial launch, others planned to debut in a scheduled sequence.  First and foremost is membership.  Members can join the club free of charge and engage in the online community as well as participate in events.  Next - the calendar of events.  The site owner and her staff schedule club events for the venue and display them in a calendar form.  From there, a visitor can browse the upcoming events, and purchase tickets securely right where they're sitting.  Tickets for multiple events can be purchased in one secure transaction.

Bring your camera when you attend an event.   Registered members are welcome to upload their photos to the gallery and share their experience and POV.

Finally, membership has its benefits.  The first benefit that rolled out with the site launch are Xplorer Points.  Members earn "points" by participating in events and interacting with the online extension of the Wine Xplorer community.  The points can be used to get discounts on future purchases.  Katt has more surprises in store.  I'll let her brag on them when she wants me to pull the trigger.

Looking for more than just membership?  The Wine Xplorer community welcomes wine bloggers, wine experts, and other who would like to add their expertise to the website, to organizing events, and growing the club.  Opportunities are on the site as well.

Your Host, Katt Martin!
Best of all, Wine Xplorer is a community in real life as well as online.  When I first visited to go over programming mid way through the project.  I was determined to keep my mouth shut so I wouldn't embarrass myself with my lack of knowledge about wine, even though I have a firm grasp on what I like.  I need not have been concerned.  Wine Xplorer is not only not expensive or difficult, it is also not overbearing, or intimidating, or pretentious.  Anyone who enjoys wine and is interested in learning or experimenting is welcome, from any walk of life.  The venue at Dunwoody Plaza has a comfortable homey atmosphere.  It's impossible NOT to make yourself at home.  There's even an adjoining "wine cave"-type room if you'd like a more formal tasting experience.

We've met the goal of a completely seamless online community that includes calendars, online ticketing, e-commerce and various forms of member interaction including photo sharing and blogging - with more to come.  In addition, this online community blends seamlessly with real life interactions and an easy-to-use administration interface where various members have different abilities to manage different elements of the site.  This is the ideal spectrum that an interactive website is supposed to accomplish.

Next event is a Wine Social tonight at 7:30 which I'm going to try to attend if I can get the kiddos squared away early enough.  Tickets are still available at the site.  Keep your eyes peeled for more local wine events from Wine Xplorer.

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