Virtual Wine Tastings Are Good for Everyone

Remember when we thought things would be back to normal by the fall? ~LOL~ Since "normal" is still an interminable period away, many industries have innovated on their models and pivoted to new ways to connect with consumers. Even as things somewhat "re-open," the fact remains: not as many people are traveling or going out. Adapting to virtual platforms hasn't been easy for anyone, including the wine industry, which historically relied on people at wineries, shops, classes, and tastings.

But the wine industry is resilient. Although some have been more successful than others, for the most part the industry has quickly and creatively transitioned to virtual. And along the way, it's been building better connections with an important swath of wine consumers: those who never had the time or resources to access in-person wine experiences. Yes, they've certainly consumed wine marketing previous to now, but personal connections with wine professionals primarily happened in a physical spaces like tasting rooms, wine bars, and classrooms. Now, the (virtual) cellar door is open to more people and there are more ways to interact with wine.

A virtual world will never replace a vineyard experience—nor should it! But online interactions offer substantial benefits for consumers and wineries alike. Here's why I think virtual wine events have perpetual value, even after we've all been vaccinated. (Which I really hope is soon...)

Some might argue that nothing is more personal than in-person, but I disagree. From a door bell ringing to tech issues, everyone is a little more human when they're tuning in from their kitchen. After a recent virtual tasting with Halleck Vineyard, I felt like I genuinely got to know the hosts and wine professionals on the call.

Located in Sonoma County, Halleck Vineyard has implemented best practices from the health and fitness world to create a warm at-home experience for their customers. As the pandemic hit, fitness enthusiast and winery educator Stephanie Culen approached owner and vintner Ross Halleck with an idea inspired by her favorite workout classes: a virtual tasting salon. It was a natural fit for the winery and for Ross who has always welcomed customers into his life; in fact, the winery's tasting room is in his own home! 

As we enjoyed a selection of wines, we dipped pieces of bread into the included olive oil and chatted about their history, vineyard, and winemaking style. Even if you can't travel to California during normal times, it's a wonderful way to spend an afternoon with family and friends. The ripe, creamy 2019 Sauvignon Blanc paired with lemon olive oil is a delight whether you're on the West Coast or in the Midwest. Now, when I use that same olive oil I think of Ross and Stephanie.

virtual wine tasting
Halleck Vineyard virtual tasting salon

As someone whose city is better known for beer than wine, I selfishly enjoy the increased access to winemakers and experts. There are many wine lovers like me who live a considerable distance from vineyards. For us, virtual platforms remove borders and limits, enabling us to weave wine into our lives at home.

Instagram Live's informality embodies the no-boundaries spirit. At almost every hour, there are Lives for wine lovers to join, no planning required. These short, relaxed conversations sprinkle bits of wine knowledge into an otherwise normal day. Wine has always been a trip in a glass, but now you can mentally transport to a wine region via sip or scroll.

I had a chance to revisit one of my favorite Italian wineries, Querceto di Castellina, through Instagram Live this spring. Although far away, it was heartwarming to see the vines behind the winery's marketing director, Mary Shea, as we chatted about Chianti Classico. 

Vineyard views at Querceto di Castellina

For wineries, virtual events offer quality and quantity at a different scale. Given the higher volume and range of touchpoints online, wineries may enjoy an overall lower cost per interaction with their brand. And for consumers, a tasting kit from a top winery is much more approachable and affordable than a vacation to a far-away wine region. 

There's also a variety of options for every budget. For example, Fossenvue Winery curates wine packs for $35-60 to enjoy during Facebook Live events. Winemaker Phil Plummer selects each set to match with a theme, from Chardonnay to mead. My favorite session was a comparison of their Queen’s Castle red blend and Revisionist rosé. The wines are part of the “Seven of Us” series in homage to seven women’s rights advocates who named their gathering place Camp Fossenvue, an anagram for “Seven of Us.” Both are blends of Saperavi, Cabernet Franc, and Lemberger. The set was $45, and of course the Facebook Live was free to anyone who wanted to learn.

Virtual red and rosé comparison with Fossenvue Winery

I joke that I spend more time learning about wine than I do drinking it, but really if you add up the hours, it's true! I believe that wine knowledge amplifies the enjoyment of wine. Consider that terroir is an integral part of wine. Without knowing where a wine came from and who made it, the appreciation of terroir is lost!

Luckily, one of my great friends Adam Knoerzer is a professional wine educator right here in Pittsburgh! (And before you assume I'm biased, note that I took many of Adam's in-person classes before we became friends.) At the beginning of the pandemic, Adam transitioned his business, 'Burghundy, to an online venue and started reaching more students than ever before. Great for Adam's business, and even better for wine students who now have a world of education open to them through 'Burghundy's highly affordable classes. Among the wide range of topics, you can't miss the classes on South Africa, Adam's expertise.

My wine selection for Burghundy's Southern Rhône class

Whether you're a casual consumer, an experienced winemaker, or someone in between, how are you taking advantage of virtual wine events? I'd love to hear about your experience!

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Thank you to Halleck Vineyard and Fossenvue Winery for providing samples.