Phone apps designed with wine country in mind

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WALLA WALLA -- A couple of new smartphone applications released recently were designed with Walla Walla wine country visitors in mind.

Apps created and released over the last two months are serving as guides for tourists and locals alike. With the touch of a few buttons on their phones, consumers can wend their way through wineries, eateries and destination attractions.

The apps are the introduction to Walla Walla through handheld devices, but they're not expected to be the last of their kind as more people turn to their smartphones, tablets and other devices for information.

Local photographer and businessman Brian Gaines released the first local app dedicated exclusively to the region's wineries. Gaines tapped a Washington State University student to help develop the programming for his "Walla Walla Valley Wine Guide" app. The free program is currently only available for Android smartphone users. Gaines said he plans to release an iPhone version of the same app within about six months.

The app allows consumers to look up individual wineries through an alphabetical list, or find a list of operating wineries based on the day they plan to taste. Information provided includes the name of the winery, address, hours and contact information. Gaines said he plans to add features that also break down the wineries by varietals.

A similar app -- "WineTrails of Walla Walla" -- has been released for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad on the iTunes App Store. The app was developed by author Steve Roberts, who wrote "WineTrails Northwest." In addition to tasting rooms, Roberts' app also features other area attractions.

Tourism Walla Walla Chief Executive Officer Michael Davidson said mobile apps are part of the wayfinding initiative his agency is undertaking. The tourism agency is also working on a request for proposals to develop a comprehensive app that will include information on wineries, historical sites, restaurants and attractions. "Within the tourism industry everybody recognizes that will be the future," he said.

Tourism Walla Walla's challenge will be creating something that covers all platforms and remains free to the consumer, he said.

The "free" component was also important to Gaines. Instead of charging consumers for the app, he expects to collect a fee from wineries that want to be included, just as they paid to be included in his print guide. He said 83 of the more than 100 area wineries participated in that product. Those have also been included in the mobile app.

Along with a website dedicated to participating wineries and the print booklet available at hotels and tasting rooms, the app is another component to assist visitors traveling to and spending their money in the community, he said.

"It gives the full circle of media ability," Gaines said.

"The biggest thing -- just like what we found with the wine guide -- people are coming to Walla Walla, but once they get here they don't know where they want to go."

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