Virtual wine tastings 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.
Let’s take a virtual trip to three U.S. States–California, Oregon, and Texas–to discover the joys of online wine tasting events. Consult the Virtual Wine Tasting Tips below to create your perfect home or corporate setting.
With almost 36 virtual public tastings completed since the COVID Pandemic started, Wine.com gets our “Best of Show” Oscar for production quality, celebrity winemakers, Hollywood star guests, and the sheer number of attendees. 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 in 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 Oscar for “Best Mix of Great Wine, Football, and Charity” Oscar goes to Schramsberg Vineyards, St. Helena, California. At a recent virtual tasting, San Francisco 49’ers owner, John York, and famous consulting winemaker, Celia Welch of Scarecrow and Corra Wines fame, joined Schramsberg’s vintner, Hugh Davies, 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 single-barrel, premium: Jamie Cabernet. Known for its sparkling wine portfolio in addition to these still wines, Schramsberg has made the most of its 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 spent his honeymoon at Schramsberg. In 1969 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 which destroyed several wineries in Napa Valley.
The “Best Fine Wine Party” Oscar must be presented to Alpha Omega Winery for their Fall Virtual Luau event. Stage, sets, design, chefs, and entertainers were first-class and performed outdoors on the scenic winery property. Master Sommelier, Bob Bath, and Virtual Ambassador, Barrett Speigel, kept the party moving while tasting the wines and giving food pairing suggestions. Hawaiian Chef Tom Wong offered grilling tips on traditional dishes, like the wine and food pairing recommendations for each wine in the expansive virtual tasting set. A 2016 Chardonnay, 2019 Rosé Reserve, 2017 Petit Verdot & Cabernet Franc blend, and the 2017 Sunshine Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon rounded out the set. Founded in 2006, Alpha Omega Winery has become one of the most celebrated and award-winning wineries in Napa Valley.
“It is essential for Alpha Omega to show our East Coast and central US loyal customers different views of the property since they have not been able to visit the winery this year. It’s been quite fun to develop a whole new department to create virtual tastings. For each tasting, we honor one of our philanthropic and charity partners and tell stories about why they are important to our Alpha Omega Foundation.” – Alpha Omega Winery Co-owner, Michelle Baggett
Clos du Val, was founded in 1972 by the French Goelet family. This historic Napa Valley winery has perfected the art of private wine tastings. After almost 220 private virtual tastings, Guest Experience Manager, Scott Johnson, said: “It’s exciting for us to realize this new way to reach out to far-flung customers and their friends. And we have added many more to our wine club group via these private tastings or family birthday parties.”
Clos du Val’s 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon wine was one of the Napa Valley entrants in the famous 1976 Judgement of Paris wine tasting which pitted American wines against top French Burgundy and Bordeaux wines. Americans surprisingly took top honors with the win recorded by Time Magazine and immortalized in the movie, Bottle Shock. Since that time, Clos du Val attained the #1 spot in the 1986 Judgement rematch with the Americans still besting the French.
Several Fortune 50 firms, including a giant chip maker, asked Clos du Val to create a corporate virtual wine tasting series. This six-part series both educated and entertained C-level executives in this firm’s customer base.
“If end customers cannot go to the huge computer conferences during the pandemic, this virtual approach seems to fit the bill for our corporate customers. They can engage their customer executives with industry education while entertaining them with wine and a tour of our beautiful property.” – Scott Johnson, Guest Experience Manager
Stoller Family Estate, established 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 a 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 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 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 that 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 our far-flung customers.” – Dr. Bob Young, Co-Founder, Bending Branch Winery
William Chris Vineyards, Hye, Texas is a well-known winery in Texas. It is the largest “100% Texas-grown grapes” wine producer. Making over 35,000 cases of wine annually, William Chris Vineyards also ranks as one of the largest wineries in Texas. William Chris makes wines from Mediterranean-area varietals like Sangiovese, Roussanne, Tannat, as well as international varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, all grown in Texas. William Chris Vineyards dubs its virtual wine tastings, “An Adventure for the Palate.” Their Saturday afternoon tastings have become a family pandemic tradition.
“When the pandemic set in we prioritized our most loyal customers and wine club members. Retaining them was our #1 priority. We had just invested in a new tasting room, so we’re bringing that space to our customers via virtual tastings. It surprised us to acquire 20% new customers (people in our customers’ social bubble) as a result.” – Leah Derton, Sr. Director, Marketing and Kelsey Kolb, Marketing Coordinator
Patrick Whitehead, Founder of Blue Ostrich Winery and Vineyard, is also this year’s President of Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association (TWGGA). He had a significant influence with the Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, regarding reopening the state’s wineries after the 2020 spring shutdown. Patrick and Managing Partner Julie Whitehead initiated some of the first Texas virtual wine tasting events. Blue Ostrich customers who previously flocked to the live music weekends were not surprised to see a DJ spinning tunes in the background during the virtual tasting. The Facebook Live event featured a “Name That Tune” competition. The new-release SNEAK PEEK party incorporated a mini-bottle wine set that included matching snacks. It easily sold out at 250 sets. Known for its Tempranillo, Viognier, and Cabernet grapevines, this Blue Ostrich wine release featured the dry Orange Muscat, Tannat, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo “Bruder” wines. In a Spring 4-week, Friday series called the “Friday 5 O’clock Whistle,” Blue Ostrich highlighted a different wine with a new theme each week.
“We wanted to keep our fan-base interested. During the Five O’clock Whistle” series we covered topics like the proper use of glasses and corkscrews. Our growers discussed Spring fruit-set, and we recommended food and wine pairing.” – Managing Partner, Julie Whitehead
Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles, CA, founded in 1987 by the Haas family and Perrin family proprietors of the French winery, Chateau de Beaucastel, is a pioneer in growing grapes in the U.S. They make wines similar to those in France’s Rhone Valley. Thus, they gained the moniker, “the Rhone Rangers.” Tablas Creek wines are similar to wines like Chateauneuf du Pape, incorporating Rhone-area grapes like Syrah, Viognier, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Roussanne. Tablas Creek embraced virtual tastings and have often invited like-minded winemakers to be their guests on-screen. For International Grenache Day, Tablas Creek invited fellow winemakers Angela Osborne, Grace Wine Company; Bob Lindquist, former Qupé and current Lindquist Family Wines; and Jessica Gasca, Story of Soil Wines; to join Tablas Creek winemaker Neil Collins to discuss its various wine expressions of the grape, Grenache.
“We try to give our customers a virtual historic perspective of the winemaking decisions we made thirty years ago vs. now. We are seeing new people at each tasting who do not get to Paso Robles often. We tell them the Rhone Ranger story and give them organic tidbits about our winery.” – Ian Consoli, Media and Marketing, Tablas Creek Vineyard
If a Texas wine tasting is only a car-trip away, consider staying at Camp Comfort, Comfort, Texas.
Camp Comfort is located between Austin and Fredericksburg, in the middle of Texas wine country. This historic German camp’s cabins are perfect for pandemic times. They enable social distancing with no in-person official check-in required. Each cabin features luxury linen and bathrooms and a kitchenette. Located on Cypress Creek, the cabins circle a nightly campfire, perfect for those who want to avoid restaurants, or simply want to prepare their own meals and make S’mores.
Camp Comfort, Comfort, Texas, 877-836-1748
Wine.com – HQ: San Francisco, CA, 800-592-5870
Alpha Omega Winery – St. Helena, CA, 707-963-9999
Bending Branch Winery, Comfort, Texas, 830-995-2948
Blue Ostrich Winery and Vineyard, St. Jo, Texas, 940-995-3100
Clos du Val Winery, Napa, CA, 707-261-5251
Schramsberg Vineyards, Calistoga, CA, 707-942-4558
Stoller Family Estate, Dayton, OR, 503-864-3404
Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles, CA, 805-237-1231
William Chris Winery, Hye, Texas, 830-998-7654
COVID-19 has affected so many businesses, including wineries. Let’s help these vineyards by stocking our favorites from California, Texas, and New York.
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