Due to the Covid-19 scare closing winery tasting rooms, wineries are rapidly using technology platforms such as Zoom, Facetime and Skype to encourage their customers (especially wine club members) to tune in for “virtual” tastings and discussion on their wines.

Some wine writers and bloggers like Frank Morgan of drinkwhatYOUlike.com (#VAWineChat), Snooth and #winestudio have been hosting virtual tastings for some years already, mostly using Twitter, but now the idea has become imperative for wineries to connect with customers and the wine media in the time of the coronavirus.

Wine Business Monthly, the major print and online publication for the North American wine industry, noted in their daily news post of March 25th that “As the wine industry becomes more digitally dependent, so too should its resources.” They have expanded their coverage to include webinars, with the latest being one on best practices and technology options for conducting virtual tastings; https://youtu.be/y41nSNDL9Ko. Future installments focused on winemaking, grapegrowing, sales and marketing, and business and technology topics will be announced shortly. 

On March 19th, Jill Barth wrote an article on Forbes’ online magazine on how wineries, writers and consumers were connecting through virtual wine tastings, which have been taking place for awhile but are now becoming a lifeline for wineries to keep connected with media and consumers as tasting rooms and even borders close.

“In my opinion, extended, remote outreach is a good idea anyway, not just in the current times of coronavirus. The world is a big place, and virtual tastings allow wineries another layer—an incomprehensibly vast one—to reach customers.”

Barth uses Inman Vineyards of Sonoma as an example. Winemaker Kathy Inman arranged Meet the Maker Happy Hour: Donations to Meals on Wheels. “Anyone can go online and choose from specially planned three-packs of wine. Included with the purchase is an invitation to join Inman on any of the free happy hours, which will be conducted on Facebook Video Chat to discuss the wines and ask questions. 5% of all purchases go to Meals on Wheels and shipping is included.

Renowned viticulturist (and speaker at the Eastern Winery Exposition) Lucie Morton was featured as a speaker on the first of Napa-based St. Supery Vineyards’ six-week series of virtual tastings on Thursday March 28th, using the Zoom platform. Those on the winery’s email list were encouraged to “join Emma Swain, CEO and Michael Scholz, VP of Winemaking and Vineyards as they lead the discussion and virtual tasting of 2018 Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.” It was recommended that they purchase a bottle of the wine, and both tasting notes and the wine aroma wheel were available for download prior to the event.

Morton’s status as an ampelographer (identifying winegrape varieties by the shape of their leaves, and other physical traits) meant she would talk about her specialty on the virtual tasting.

Also based in Virginia is King Family Vineyards, best known for top-quality Meritage blends. On Friday April 3 at 3:00 p.m., they will feature a “Virtual Wine Tasting & Tour of Mendoza, Argentina”, conducted jointly with the Capital Wine School of Washington, D.C. and King Family’s Wine Director Matthew Brown. Having spent two separate vintages in Mendoza, Brown will discuss contrasts between the wines of the Monticello AVA and Mendoza, with particular emphasis on terroir, winemaking, and vineyard management techniques. Those interested can use a discount code from the Capital Wine School to purchase the featured wines on the King Family Vineyards website. Those interested should contact the winery at info@kingfamilyvineyards.com.

The virtual tasting technology is a great way to level the field for non-traditional wine regions, smaller wineries, and those making unusual products, to inspire interest and wine comraderie when we can’t just drive to any winery’s tasting room these days.