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Looking for cellar management and wine information software?

Written by Mike Hicks at www.homebrewexchange.com

The Uncorked Cellar is a software package that claims to "easily capture, maintain and display your wine inventory complete with all wine-related information. At a glance, you can see which wines require additional aging or are ready to drink now." As we'll see, I think the software lives up to these claims, and more...

Installation

Installing the software was a snap. The only quibble I had was that the default installation directory would have put the program folder right under my C: drive, rather than in the C:\Program Files directory where I normally prefer things.

The program then pops up a quick dialog to select the country you want your cellar to focus on, although you can also change the selected country later from inside the program using the "Add Wine" page. The next step in the installation process has the program generating a sample cellar, which on my machine took just a few seconds, and that is intended to help you evaluate the program.

At this point something interesting happened that one doesn't normally see with software: the help file opens automatically this first time that you start the program, presenting you with the "Getting Started" section. This is admittedly a minor feature in the great scheme of things, but when you think about it, a very useful one for first-time users.

Once the software is ready and the sample cellar installed, you are presented with a detailed yet clean interface that is driven primarily by four tabs: the Sample Cellar; Add Wine to Cellar; Maps & Vintage Ratings; and Preferences.

Sample Cellar

This tab basically shows your cellar inventory, with a plethora of detailed information that you can enter for each wine. Most of this information is to be expected, ranging from the winery from where the stock originated to value and quantity. Interestingly, the information on this page also shows a log for each wine indicating how many have been added or uncorked, when, and the current stock value.

One item I thought was interesting was that it not only provides an entry for the vintage, but also for the peak year for the wine, plus a graphic color indicator of the wine's drinkability. This ranged from "Now" to Young, Improving, Drink Now, Mature, and Aged. So it's very easy to see when the best dates are for consuming your wine.

For the more technically savvy, the program even caters for barcode labels that you can use to help keep track of which wines are added to the cellar, and which are uncorked. This is not necessarily a feature that most home brewers or small-scale wine lovers will use, but gives an indication that this program isn't just for small-time operations.

Add Wine to Cellar

Under this tab, the user is presented with most of the same fields as under the Sample Cellar tab, but of course this page is for entering information for new stock.

Even the demo comes with a fairly lengthy list of wineries, labels, varieties, and regions to choose from, and of course you can add your own, as well. There are also sections to add in any notes and contact information.

Once all your information is entered, you simply click on a button in the toolbar to enter the wine. However, I was surprised to find another popup dialog: the Tag and Rack Wizard. It took me a little while to get the hang of it, but this graphical dialog box gives you options of where to put your inventory to make the most efficient use of your rack space. This feature can be a bit frustrating in the demo simply because the "Sample Rack" is already populated with a variety of wines in the sample cellar, and the rack itself is already configured (so many rows and so many columns). However, if you just stick to the default settings and let the wizard do the work, it's a snap. Or, if you were really thinking ahead, you would have read the instructions in the Help menu that pops up when the program first starts!

But I think it should be a breeze to start an actual cellar from scratch, and reconfiguring the rack in the interface is as easy as clicking on some arrow buttons on the interface to set the number of columns and rows. And to tell which wines are where in the real (versus virtual) racks, the wizard generates tag numbers and has an easy function to print out tags that take out the guesswork.

A nifty thing is that if you later (in the Sample Cellar tab) change the quantity of wine, the wizard works in the background to update the placements for bottles in the racks, so you simply have to print out the appropriate tags and put the bottles to bed.

One caution with this tool, however, would be to make very sure that when you uncork any bottles that you record them before you make any other changes to your inventory, or things could get confused. This isn't a fault of the program, simply your responsibility as the user to make sure it has the right information. It would also behoove you to play around with this feature before you start entering your actual data.

Maps & Vintage Ratings

The next tab, Maps & Vintage Ratings, is rather interesting in that - as the name implies - it shows a map of the country(s) your wine is from. And at least for the demo, the vintage years go back to 1985, with rating columns for Red, White, and Sparkling wines. For the demo, samples of wines from Washington, California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are included. Clicking on a given state shows the year/vintage rating information.

While the map representation strictly speaking isn't all that useful, it's certainly a more pleasant way of showing regional locations than on a simple drop down list.

Preferences

Finally, the fourth tab, Preferences, lets you specify wine value ratings and some other information relative to the age and color-coded drinkability chart for the wine, currency exchange rates, and some other basic preference items.

The Wine Guide

The Uncorked Cellar actually has dual personalities. Most of the features pertain to the cellar management side, but it also has the capability to present the user with a very extensive wine guide. The wine guide presents information on the winery, label, vintage, and region for a great many wines. The software boasts information on more than 84,000 individual vintages, which are - believe it or not - included in the demo version.

The program makes sorting and sifting through all this information painless, and of course you can add your own entries to the existing tons of data.

Other Features

For those of you who are addicted to seeing what's happening over time with your cellar, or you're a serious collector or business with a more than an intellectual interest in the ebb and flow of your stock, this program provides an easy and fairly comprehensive set of graphing and reporting tools. These tools show you information on inventory, new stock, uncorked bottles, value, and more.

One chart that I thought was particularly interesting was the Cellar Timeline, which gives a quick look at where each stock stands in terms of aging and drinkability.

Another feature that could be very powerful for larger cellars is "Rules". This is essentially a filter that allows you to specify certain criteria to be applied to new entries to the cellar. For example, you can automatically add wines that you specify to a particular cellar (you can have more than one cellar file, obviously). Again, this is one of the features that probably won't appeal to most hobbyists, but would certainly be useful for large-scale collectors or businesses.

Price

The Uncorked Cellar comes in two flavors:

  • Full Mode, which inludes the full-featured cellar management features plus a built-in wine guide , as well as a version that includes all updates until December 2006, and is reported by the publisher to be the most popular version;
  • Cellar Mode, which has all the cellar management features plus winery details ;

Conclusions

This software covers a lot of ground between its cellar management and wine guide components. It can store and report tons of information about your wine, is generally very easy to use, and has a nice set of cool and useful features.

I think the real value at this level is in keeping track of your wine through time, monitoring when its optimal drinkability will come, and tracking the value of your collection more than knowing where the bottles are in your racks (assuming you have more than one!). But with the demise of this version, my personal first option would be to go for the Cellar Mode, or the Full Mode if I really wanted the wine guide feature.

I have mixed feelings about the Guide Mode, which has oodles of information on wines, but doesn't include the cellar management software. For the serious aficionado $39 might be a reasonable price for that information, but I personally have a hard time imagining getting this package without the cellar management component.

While I think that $59 for the Cellar Mode version may be a bit much for a hobbyist or home winemaker (who might get more value with the Free Mode With Tags version), it would be the obvious choice for serious collectors or businesses that hold large stocks of wines. And if you're this serious about your wines, it's not that big a step to the Full Mode for $85 to $106: if you've got enough wine that you really need a program this powerful to monitor your cellar, then it wouldn't be a bad idea to have the Wine Guide information to help research your next acquisitions!

The bottom line: whether you're a home winemaker with a few dozen bottles or a business with thousands, this software is a definite winner that merits serious consideration for your cellar management needs.

If you'd like to give it a spin, download the Uncorked Cellar free demo!

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