Daniel Daou of Daou Vineyard & Winery in Paso Robles hosted his first virtual wine dinner from home recently, reaching 140 people in Arizona.
They spent an hour and a half with him in their own homes as they enjoyed a meal packaged by a local restaurant and three Daou wines.
“I have to tell you, more people get to actually have their questions answered when we’re doing it this way than actually doing it in a real wine dinner,” Daou said. “It’s very interactive, I have to say.”
Daou is one of a growing number of tri-county wineries that have quickly pivoted to virtual wine tastings on Zoom, Instagram Live and other platforms while their tasting rooms have been shuttered to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Consumers can have wines shipped to them in advance and then join in live tastings online with a winemaker, owner or sommelier.
Vintners are adopting a tool that some say will be around long after tasting rooms reopen. They can reach people in large numbers, not just in local wine country but around the nation and abroad. Consumers can get personal contact with an owner or winemaker who will answer their questions. The virtual events give people who have been sheltering in their homes some much-appreciated human connection.
Peter and Rebecca Work, owners of Ampelos Cellars, hosted their first virtual wine tasting outdoors in their organic, biodynamically farmed vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation near Lompoc. They opened a 2018 pinot noir and at one point sat down with their wine glasses in the vineyard cover crop that nourishes the soil each season. They talked about farming in harmony with nature, answered questions and shared some interesting facts, telling those who logged in on Zoom that it takes 300 grape vines to make one barrel of wine. Around 80 households joined online for the inaugural session April 3.
Peter said it’s important to them to get their message out about organic, biodynamic, sustainable green farming. They plan to do a virtual tasting every Friday in April, and he said they’ll continue the online sessions after sequestering is lifted, maybe not every week.
Jim Gerakaris, a certified sommelier at Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles, started offering virtual private wine tastings soon after the closure of tasting rooms was ordered.
He has a green screen set up in his office at the winery so he can make it appear that he is conducting the tasting in Justin’s wine caves. “It’s not as polished as the evening news,” he said, “but at least we’re trying to bring the winery to people.”
Gerakaris said he’s finding that people want to do virtual parties. He’ll send wines to three or four locations, some of them out of state, and people will get together with him on Zoom or another online platform.
Justin Baldwin, founder of the namesake winery that he ultimately sold to Fiji Water, hosted a casual hour-long tasting on Instagram Live on April 4, where he told his story, answered questions and gave some wine tasting tips while he took participants through a tasting of three Justin wines. An online participant typed a comment that it was “one of the best experiences we’ve had during shelter in place.”
Multiple vintners told the Business Times that people appreciate the human connections that virtual tastings afford during sequestering.
Megghen Driscol, communications director for Sanford Winery in Santa Barbara County, said they scheduled weekly virtual tastings through the end of May after hearing from consumers who suddenly had a lot of extra time on their hands. “A lot of club members were calling saying we can’t make it out there, what can we do?”
The online tastings will continue as long as there’s a need, she said.
With a virtual tasting room, a winery can reach people far beyond wine country. Hope Family Wines in Paso Robles offers private virtual tastings with a wine adviser on the Zoom platform. Director of Marketing Communications Whitney Hrdlicka said in an email that the majority of meetings so far have been with out-of-state customers.
At Melville Winery in Santa Barbara County, head winegrower Chad Melville started doing what he calls Happy Half Hour on Instagram Live every Friday.
“It’s really meant to be more of an end of the week fun, drinking, telling stories” kind of an event, he said.
Each week, he’s inviting a guest winemaker to come on, exchange bottles and chat as they sip the wines.
“But it’s not a serious, in-depth, wine geeky, pick apart flavors, aromas” thing, he said. The wine to be showcased on Happy Half Hour is announced on Mondays so people can buy a bottle and join in online.
Melville also hosts Instagram Live sessions on Wednesdays that vary each week. One week he’ll be out in the vineyard talking about farming. Other weeks, he’ll open an older bottle of chardonnay or a newly released pinot noir.
“The thing about this whole craziness is it’s forced everybody to rethink how we do things, specifically my business,” Melville said.
Tolosa Winery in the Edna Valley announced that it has teamed up with The Yoga Standard studio to offer weekly virtual yoga classes from the serenity of the vineyard, to be concluded with a toast of a Tolosa wine. And winemaker Frederic Delivert has been offering Tasting Tuesdays and Technical Thursdays on Zoom.
At least 35 tri-county wineries are doing virtual events already, according to listings on vintner association websites.
Daou, co-owner and winemaker at Daou Vineyards, said 120 to 180 people have been joining the winery’s multiple Instagram Live events that were launched after the shelter in place orders.
On Wednesdays, Daou tastes through a wine along with their global brand ambassador, master sommelier Fred Dame, the first American to head the exclusive International Court of Master Sommeliers. On Fridays, Daniel’s daughter Katherine, who handles social media and public relations for the winery, hosts a guest to talk about wine.
All the vintners contacted have an open mind about continuing virtual tastings to some degree after tasting rooms reopen. Daniel Daou said they absolutely will remain a part of the winery’s marketing.
“I don’t think the world will ever come back to the way it was,” he said. “I think there will be different trends that people get used to, not because of a pandemic but maybe they thought it was fun and entertaining. These trends are going to continue.”
• Contact Tom Bronzini at [email protected]