Virtual Wine Tastings
News & Views

Virtual wine tastings: Welcome to the new normal!

April 27, 2020

“Online wine buying has made its way to countless new households and virtual, live access through social media has connected the winery teams even more personally to the consumer.” – Suzanne Janke, Estate Director at Stratus Vineyards

If the people can’t come to you, you go to the people. For the wine industry, this has become the new normal.

It’s a stark contrast to the usual hustle of tourists walking into a winery and making conversation with hospitality staffers, or even perhaps members of the winemaking team, getting to sip and ponder over a variety of samples and then walk away with a handful of purchases. As wine country adjusts to social distancing, they’ve had to re-invent the wheel, and they’ve had to do it quickly.

Thanks to good ol’ technology (care of Instagram and Facebook Live, Zoom and FaceTime), producers have found a new way to reach out to wine lovers who aren’t able to make it to tasting rooms. Virtual tastings and live information sessions have become the fastest and best way to communicate during this lockdown period.

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The fact that the industry has responded to the situation we are in and adapted so quickly with such enthusiasm is truly inspiring. Instead of dwelling in self-pity and focusing on the losses, they’ve instead focused on adapting, moving forward and treating this like any other bump in the road. After all, winemaking does come with many bumps, question marks and challenges, year after year.

In Ontario, wine producers have been all over social media with everything from self-filmed tasting notes videos to accepting invitations to join various bloggers and media personalities for a dual-screen Instagram Live chat that usually runs about 30 minutes. It’s all about creating authentic, connected experiences that stay true to the winery and their customers.

“We’re really excited to have been ‘forced’ into this space,” says Suzanne Janke, Estate Director at Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake. “I think it has great value – the fact that it’s available on demand; replays are available when viewers are not able to join ‘live’ and it brings a sense of place and time from the farm and winery right into the home.”

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Stratus has been running a weekly feature on Instagram Live titled #StratusStories which allows viewers to tune in and go behind-the-scenes of everyday life at the winery. It’s a fully interactive session as viewers can ask questions that get answered live by the winemaking team.

“We are practicing the craft; exploring new ways to make it more interactive, interesting and valuable,” says Janke of Stratus’ social media efforts. “All that said, these will never feel as natural or rewarding as being together in the same room or at the winery with friends and fans – but until that can happen again, we’re very grateful this medium keeps us connected.”

Virtual Wine Tastings

From left to right: Stratus Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka and Head Winemaker J-L Groux have both been featured on recent Instagram Live information sessions that allow viewers to ask questions about the winemaking process at Stratus.

In California, Kendall-Jackson and La Crema – both of Jackson Family Wines – have gone virtual by offering educational and entertaining content via their social media platforms. Each winery has launched a video series where wine lovers can engage with their favourite wines and winemakers:

At Home with Kendall-Jackson (Sundays at 7 pm) is a series that guides viewers through virtual wine tastings, with plans to expand the offerings in the future to include concepts such as virtual cooking classes with Kendall-Jackson’s culinary team, re-stocking your cellar after depletion, virtual yoga, virtual concerts, virtual wine and painting and more. Winemaster Randy Ullom and his team guide viewers through a fun, interactive and engaging virtual wine tasting.

virtual wine tastings

Image from The San Francisco Chronicle: What a wine tasting looks like these days. Get ready for a lot more ‘virtual’ tastings in the future.

Maggie Curry, Kendall-Jackson’s director of marketing, says the winery has adopted a “glass-half-full mentality.” It’s attempting to turn a time of isolation and social distancing into a positive for wine lovers and the brand.

Sips and Tips with La Crema (Fridays at 7 pm) features videos of La Crema Chef Tracey Shepos Cenami and Head Winemaker Craig McAllister. Tracey showcases creative food and wine pairings, while Craig will guide viewers through virtual tastings of select wines from La Crema.

“Wine is always a connector and has a value of tradition which feels even more special during these unprecedented times.” – Suzanne Janke  

The goal is to inspire connection, promote peer wine education and provide hope to the wine community near and far. If this is to be our new normal, those wineries that have chosen to jump right in and get virtual stand a greater chance at making more of an impact in the online sales market – which is now more important than ever before.

“Our wine world will evolve as a result of this in many, many ways,” continues Janke. “Everything from the way we manage our tasting rooms, event programs, through to the more ‘open market’ of purchasing wine from restaurants.”

Right now, just trying to reach out personally and often seems to be the top priority for wineries, and one can’t fault them for taking advantage of the opportunities that currently exist.

After all, as Janke puts it: “Quality service is as important to us as quality wine – never more so than at a time when there is so much stress, uncertainty and disruption.”

Our favourite wineries will return. Until then, they’ll see you on Instagram.

Top picks from Stratus, Kendall-Jackson and La Crema:

Stratus Red 2016

 

Stratus 2016 Red

Over the years, the Stratus Red has been that constant reminder that Ontario can and does compete in the ultra-premium varietal blend space. It’s a wine that has more than done its part in solidifying this winery’s reputation as a gold standard for quality. And so, from the superb 2016 vintage comes their flagship blend of seven estate-grown varietals into one heck of a wine. Spice, leather, earth and plum are just the opening act. There’s plush fruit, cedar box, some cigar smoke and tar that carry through the finish. And this wine is still a baby! Perhaps it’s a bit too soon to know for certain, but I’d wager that in about six years, this will be fondly immortalized as one of the very best wines Stratus has ever produced. ($49)

 

 

Kendall-Jackson 2017 Vintners Reserve Chardonnay

Sourced from four distinct cooler climate coastal vineyard sites, including Monterey County (50%), Santa Barbara County (33%), Mendocino County (16%) and Sonoma County (1%), Kendall-Jackson’s signature chardonnay boasts tropical flavours of pineapple, mango and cantaloupe that mix with citrus notes that burst on the palate. There’s some toasty oak and slick butter rounding out the finish – which will be widely appealing, no doubt. Fits right into a price-point that’s hard to ignore. ($21.95)

 

 

 

La Crema 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

La Crema is an artisanal winery that focuses exclusively on cool-climate appellations. That means grapes spend more time on the vine allowing for a deeper, more dramatic spectrum of flavours and aromas to develop. And that creates decidedly rich and layered wines like this one. Presenting multi-layered flavours of red, blue and black berry fruit, the finish is smooth, warm and accented with exotic spice. Will appeal to most pinot lovers but is generally seen as a good starting point for many. ($34.95)

 

 

 

 

 

[Slider image on home page courtesy of Jordan Estate Winery in Sonoma County, California]