The global pandemic is keeping oenophiles from gathering in bars or visiting vineyards. But vintners aren't letting the wine tasting experience fall by the wayside. Instead, many wineries are offering virtual tastings.
Some ship wine to your door, then schedule a video call to walk you through a tasting, much the same as you'd find at a vineyard. Others are creating video series that wine drinkers can watch on demand. All are trying to adapt to the challenges of living and doing business amid the coronavirus crisis.
So how does a virtual wine experience work? Here are three that give a taste:
Quintessa's 'Virtual Estate Experience'
Quintessa, a 280-acre estate in Napa Valley, offers a "Virtual Estate Experience" as a wine tasting package. The tour and half-bottles of Quintessa's 2013, 2016 and 2017 vintages (shipped to your home) retails for $300.
"We really wanted guests to feel immersed from the very beginning in the family history, our roots, our origin and the language of the land," says Megan Rogers, assistant manager of guest services.
The personalized presentation lasts about 30 minutes and includes a bespoke tour, winemaking philosophy and biodynamic farming practices.
Though Quintessa has reopened to visitors, Rogers doesn't see an end to the vineyard's virtual experiences. "There is still a need for (virtual tastings), especially for guests who can't travel," she says.
Ricasoli 1141's wine education videos
Other brands, such as Tuscany's Ricasoli 1141, have come up with their own unique ways to continue educating the public about their wine.
Francesco Ricasoli, 32nd Baron and the owner of Castello di Brolio, created a free YouTube video series called "#madeinBrolio" to share the winery and estate's history plus information on the winemaking process.
Ricasoli says the aim with the video series was to "open the doors" of Brolio castle to the world.
"Customers can understand Brolio more holistically than if we only focused only the technical aspects of the wine," he says.
Ricasoli's videos are digestible, mostly around one minute long though some, like the wine tasting video, are longer.
They've welcomed a few visitors to the estate, though they have a "long way to go" before things return to normal, Ricasoli says.
Winc's virtual 'community giveback' tastings
Wine club Winc has offered free virtual happy hours on Instagram Live and Zoom; participants are encouraged but not required to purchase bottles on the tasting schedule ahead of time.
Each has been led by Robert Daugherty, Winc's winemaker. For every person who joined in, Winc donated $5 to the Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation.
"We wanted to find a way to connect around wine in support of the industry we love," says Brian Smith, COO and co-founder.
Winc plans another tasting later this summer (date and pricing to be determined) to benefit Pencils of Promise. Each ticket includes three bottles from Wonderful Wine Co. and supports the education of a student for a year.
Like Rogers, Smith sees virtual engagement with the Winc community continuing.
"Streaming and social strategies that may not have yielded results in a pre-COVID world are now scalable, if entertaining and engaging," Smith says. "We’re looking forward to continuing to create unique digital experiences for our members."
What wine lovers think of the experience
Mary To of Boston organized and experienced two virtual wine tastings: one with her co-workers and their significant others, and one with her fiancé and his parents, whom they had not been able to visit because of the pandemic.
She chose Matthiasson and Bouchaine's virtual tastings, both Napa vineyards that offered private virtual tours and shipped tasting packs directly to the homes of participants.
"I really liked how we were able to ask questions openly, and since it was with a group of family/friends/co-workers, you had that intimate setting, which you may not get on a group virtual tasting in person," she says.
Rebecca Shoom, a lawyer based in Toronto, organized a virtual wine tasting for her law firm in place of its annual women's celebration event. The tasting was developed in collaboration with The Wine Sisters, a Toronto wine events agency, and focused on female-owned wineries in Ontario.
"The 10 attendees each received a delivery of two bottles of wine, plus local artisanal cheeses and crackers, and (The Wine Sisters) ran the tasting over Zoom. It was a fantastic experience," Shoom says.
How you can try a virtual wine tasting
Order directly from a winery- Plenty of vineyards are offering packages for their clientele to ship and enjoy as a tasting set.
Among the many other wineries that have offered online experiences during the pandemic are Clos du Val, Far Niente, Groth, St. Supery, Kendall-Jackson and Wente, which offers a virtual tasting over an Amazon Echo.
Let someone else organize it for you — There are a number of companies such as Bottles Nation that will help you organize a virtual wine tasting.
Another, Argaux, also offers a "blind tasting" that allows you to pick the number of bottles and the type of wine you'd like to taste (red, white or mixed), then sends them to your home. It also offers the opportunity to make it a group tasting by adding additional addresses for shipping.
Do it yourself — There's always the option to create your own wine tasting, too. Join a few friends on Zoom and pick a few different wines from the same brand or maybe have each member of your wine tasting choose a favorite bottle for everyone to pick up at the package store.
Contributing: The Associated Press