App guides way to Walla Walla Valley wines

A local businessman has developed a program for smartphones that can help guide visitors to Walla Walla-area tasting rooms.

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The opening page for the new Walla Walla Valley Wine Guide application as it appears on a cell phone. (May 3, 2011)

WALLA WALLA -- A new smartphone application is designed to help visitors wend their way through Walla Walla wine country.

An app released late last week is intended to guide consumers through Walla Walla Valley tasting rooms with the touch of a few buttons on their phones. The program is the first of its kind to focus exclusively on the region's wineries, but is not expected to be the last as more consumers turn to their handheld devices for information.

Local photographer and businessman Brian Gaines tapped a Washington State University student to help develop the programming for the "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. Roberts, the author of "WineTrails Northwest," also features other area attractions in his application.

Tourism Walla Walla Chief Executive Officer 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."

Released last Thursday, the app was downloaded 150 times in the first 48 hours, he said. His goal is to reach 5,000 downloads in the first year. Android users can find the app at the Android Market when they search for Walla Walla wine.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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