4 Best Virtual Wine Tastings in 2020 Reviewed

The Pandemic-Driven Events Spawn New Customer Channels

Virtual wine tasting events are surprisingly entertaining. They represent a rare, positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic this year--creating fun-at-home events for wine consumers and producing a financial surprise benefit for the hard-hit hospitality businesses that host the events. Recognizing these benefits, early in May 2020, co-owner Chris Brundrett, William Chris Winery, Hye, Texas, commented,

“We have had such terrific feedback from our club members, that I see doing these virtual tasting sessions much into the future.”

Wineries and wine retailers like Wine.com have voiced similar positive feedback from their attendee friends.

Virtual wine tastings range in sophistication from Academy Awards-quality productions, to private and corporate event tastings, to casual family birthday-theme events. Most wine companies offer a discounted “set” of 3-6 wines to order far in advance of the tasting. Celebrity winemakers, Trivia quizzes, and DJ’s spinning “Name That Tune” contests are seen at these events.

I have personally have conducted corporate virtual tastings for both the IT Firm: Do It Lean and for the non-profit, Dallas Arboretum groups. For DoITLean, I worked with their VP of Marketing, Mike Jones, and one of their customers, Chevron, to describe a Simple vs. Complex wine in contrast to a Simple vs. Complex IT application built with Outsystems software by Do IT Lean. The Women’s Council of the Dallas Arboretum wanted a Champagne 101 class that also focused on touring Champagne. See my Publication Calendar below for a similar topic.

“Tricia and I found that the intersection of Complex Systems and Complex Wines worked well for our audience of corporate Chief Information Officers. The feedback was positive and enthusiastic. Well done, Tricia” - Mike Jones, Vice President, Marketing, Do IT Lean

Let’s take a virtual trip to three U.S. States--California, Oregon, and Texas--to discover the joys of online wine tasting events at My Top 4 sites. Consult the Virtual Wine Tasting Tips below to create your perfect home or corporate setting.

Wine.com

With 40+ virtual public tastings completed since the COVID Pandemic started, Wine.com gets our “Best of Show” Oscar for production quality, celebrity winemakers, and Hollywood star guests like Cameron Diaz. The sheer number attendees they attract is impressive.

Says Kat Stark, Wine.com Director of Experiences, “When COVID -19 happened, we had to pivot conducting virtual experiences. We’ve had over 40,000 households attending since March 2020.”

The Wine.com selection of wines spans the world. Recently, they hosted the “Pioneers of California” event starring Wente Vineyards, Buena Vista Winery, and Gundlach Bundschu Winery, who all pioneered winemaking bringing Chardonnay, Merlot, and other international varietals to the New World. Wine.com themed virtual wine tastings have also included “Tour of Italy,” “Oregon’s Trailblazing Winemakers,” and “Icons of Australian Wine Tasting Trio.” The wine sets accompanying these events are varied and affordable.

Celebrity tastings have been promoted by Wine.com. Cameron Diaz recently launched her wine brand, Avaline Wines, with Wine.com offering a set of wines to sample. Other celebrity winemakers have included Sarah Jessica Parker (Invivo X SJP wines), and John Legend & Jean-Charles Boisset (LVE Legend Vineyard Exclusives). Customers can take advantage of all this programming that Wine.com offers via a $49 one-charge Stewardship Program, much like Amazon’s Prime program, for shipping throughout the year. There was a 92% uptick in the Stewardship program the first half of this year.

Both entertainment and education are the hallmark of Wine.com events.

“We call this ‘Edu-tainment.’’’  -----Mike Osborn, Founder, Wine.com

The Premier Sparkler of Napa Valley Goes Virtual

I award the Oscar for “Best Mix of Great Wine, Football, and Charity” to Schramsberg Vineyards, St. Helena, California. At a recent virtual tasting, San Francisco 49ers’ owner, John York, and famous consulting winemaker, Celia Welch of Scarecrow and Corra Wines fame, joined Schramsberg’s vintner, Hugh Davis, in showing off three of their high-end Cabernet Sauvignon wines. John York offered his prediction of the upcoming 49ers football season and discussed the 49ers Foundation. Hugh Davies and Celia Welch walked us through the wines including the estate-program premium: Jamie Cabernet. Known for its sparkling wine portfolio in addition to these still wines, Schramsberg has made the most of their virtual wine tastings by offering both group Facebook Live events as well as private Zoom tastings hosted by the wine educators.

“We try to make each of our events a little different. We are trying to bring a little bit of Napa Valley to our customers.”---Matthew Levy, Schramsberg Marketing and eCommerce Manager

Founded in 1862, Schramsberg Vineyards is a historic Napa Valley winery. Author Robert Lewis Stevenson visited Schramsberg on his honeymoon and stayed at a local abandoned mining shack. His book, Silverado Squatters, was written detailing his time in Napa. In 1972 in Beijing, China, a Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc was the sparkling wine served for a “Toast to Peace” celebrating the opening of U.S. and China relations hosted by President Richard Nixon for the Premier Zhou En-lai. We are grateful this historic winery was spared in the recent horrendous Glass Fire of 2020 which destroyed several wineries in Napa Valley.

Award-winning Oregon Winery Goes Virtual with Families and Corporate Customers

Stoller Family Estate, establish in 1995, was voted USA Today’s “#1 Tasting Room in America 2018.” (See PrimeWomen Magazine: Oregon’s Willamette Valley Wine Country.) The large, active wine club and frequent visitors attest to the tasting room’s attraction, which features family and dog-friendly surroundings and warm, welcoming hospitality. The winery features an Immersive Experience Center where virtual reality (VR) technology visually tells a story about its vines, wines, history, and its Stoller team.

At the beginning of the Pandemic, Stoller received requests from several corporations for ideas to entertain and educate their customers. Corporations in lockdown were not holding normal customer-user conferences nor were any industry conferences being held. Subsequently, the Stoller team, including 17-year winemaker, Melissa Burr, created a way to hold virtual wine tastings. Corporate partners like Google, Citrix, and the History Channel hired Stoller to engage their end-customers. The famous Stoller Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and their signature rosé wines were highlighted among others. Stoller additionally offers private wine tastings with individual consumers and club members.

“We enjoy bringing a little of Oregon’s Willamette Valley wines into their homes. Our audience feedback has been so positive. We’ve noticed that people are more engaged in the presentation from the comfort of their homes. The energy exchange is great.”---Melissa Burr, Director of Winemaking, Stoller Family Estate

Texas-Casual Virtual Wine Tastings Call for A Social-Bubble Party

Texas is known for its big hats, big cattle, and barbeque. But did you know that in the last 10 years Texas is one of the fastest growing winemaking states? At #5 in the USA, Texas boasts over 500 wineries. Three top Texas brands are well-known for their warm hospitality and it shows in their virtual wine tasting. Texans certainly know how to throw a virtual a small and safe Social Bubble party.

Bending Branch Winery has established a reputation of “firsts.” It was first to bring the French grapes Picpoul and Tannat to Texas, and first to embrace in Texas the scientific cryomaceration and flash détente technologies which enhance modern winemaking. Bending Branch Winery was awarded BEST OF HERD TEXAS WINERY at the 12th Annual San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo Wine Competition held on October 5-7, 2020.

Bending Branch may not have been able to throw its traditional Kentucky Derby party this year, but it has adapted to the “new normal” with virtual wine tasting events.

“We are proud to say we did not lay off any employees since the Pandemic. And, to our surprise, our virtual tastings have reached many far-flung customers.”---Dr. Bob Young, Co-Founder, Bending Branch Winery

Virtual Wine Tasting Tips

1.     Order your wine well in advance – if you see a virtual tasting you like, order the wines with adequate time for shipping.

2.     Gather family or friends from your pandemic social bubble to join you. (Local regulations and personal safety decisions apply.) Have each of your members bring a snack, cheese, or food pairing to complement the wines in the featured set. Many times, wineries will suggest the perfect pairing of food and wine.

3.     More than 3 bottles of wine in the tasting? Use a Coravin to open the bottles if there are too many to consume in a 3-day period, or if the wines are sufficiently expensive for you to want to drink them over a period of time. Clos du Val offers its wine sets with a Coravin, if desired.

4.     Take advantage of post-tasting offers. Most wine companies keep their sets “live” for purchase for weeks after the event. Some companies also offer a post-event discount code for purchases of other wines in their portfolio.

5.     Utilize projection technology. It’s much easier to watch your virtual tasting on your large screen TV vs. on a laptop. Apple AirPlay and Apple TV enable superior viewing.

6.     Create custom tasting mats Wine.com does a great job of sending out customer wine tasting mats in advance. You can make your own mats featuring a display of the labels of your wine set.

7.     Check your state for shipping. Ever since the Prohibition era, each U.S. state has its own alcohol shipping rules. Check with the wine companies for excluded states.

Wineries and Wine Companies

Wine.com – HQ: San Francisco, CA, 800-592-5870

Bending Branch Winery, Comfort, Texas, 830-995-2948

Schramsberg Vineyards, Calistoga, CA, 707-942-4558

Stoller Family Estate, Dayton, OR, 503-864-3404

Wine Wanderings offers both free and paid/premium newsletter articles and events.This week’s Premium/Paid Subscriber Post has a preview below.

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