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Wineries’ Tasting Rooms Go Virtual To Connect With Consumers

March 30, 2020

As social distancing measures remain in place across the U.S. as a means of combating COVID-19, domestic wineries forced to shutter their tasting rooms have pivoted to virtual tastings in a concerted effort to connect with consumers.

One Napa Valley winery set to debut virtual tastings is Rutherford Hill. The estate, part of the Terlato Wines portfolio, will begin its series of virtual tastings on April 1. The inaugural event includes three wine club-exclusive selections—2016 Atlas Peak Merlot, 2016 Cabernet Franc, and 2016 Proprietor’s Blend—that are being made available to all consumers for a limited time. Rutherford Hill winemaker Marisa Taylor will lead the tasting, and answer questions along the way. “This is a key consumer engagement program,” said Terlato Wine Group COO Sandra LeDrew. “Consumers simply sign up, with no charge for the webinar, though they need to purchase or already have the wines being tasted.” The total cost of the three bottles included in the first tasting is $151.30, including shipping.

Also in Napa Valley, Rombauer Vineyards held its first virtual tasting on March 26, with president Bob Knebel noting that more will likely follow in the weeks to come. “Our customers are eager to know how we’re doing and stay in contact throughout this period, and these tastings are a lighthearted, fun, and educational way to keep us all social,” he said. The tasting lasted around 30 minutes, and was hosted by three of Rombauer’s winemakers. Knebel noted that the winery’s latest campaign—Farther Apart, Closer Together—in which the tastings play a key part, pivoted from a long-planned campaign that centered around Rombauer’s 40th anniversary. With its physical tasting room shuttered, the Rombauer tasting room teams are being redeployed to support customer communication activities and outreach, as well as order fulfillment.

Kendall-Jackson is among the larger winemakers exploring online initiatives, launching a new virtual tasting series—“At Home with Kendall-Jackson”—on March 20. The tastings, which are taking place live on Kendall-Jackson’s Facebook and Instagram pages, are being helmed by winemaster Randy Ullom, with members of his team also participating. The first of the At Home with Kendall-Jackson tastings featured the winemaker’s Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel offerings. While the tastings themselves are free to watch, consumers are encouraged to purchase the wines directly from Kendall-Jackson, or from online retailers, local grocery stores, and delivery services like Drizly.

OneHope Wine, a charitable winery that’s based in Napa Valley, has been engaging in near-daily weekday virtual tastings via Facebook Live since March 19, each tallying up thousands of viewers once they’re later posted online, according to co-founder Jake Kloberdanz. “Facebook Live is a platform we’ve used in the past, but only 20% of our events were virtual tastings before this time,” he says. “Now, they’re 100% of our customer outreach. The more we can get people together, the more we’re practicing prevention and motivating people to stay inside, too.” OneHope’s tastings have thus far been led by six of its eight founders and a winemaker, and consisted of wines offered within its various 12-pack variety boxes. Also key to OneHope’s online consumer outreach are its Cause Entrepreneurs, who act as paid brand ambassadors for the winery and are free to host virtual tastings of their own, albeit for smaller groups of customers. Both the winery and its cause entrepreneurs are raising money for various food banks, women in hospitality, and more.

Taking a slightly different approach to virtual tastings, Parallel Napa Valley has introduced private online tasting events, aimed at reaching quarantined groups of eight or less people. The tastings will be hosted by Parallel general manager Adrienne Capps, and spotlight three wines: Russian River Chardonnay, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Black Diamond Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Alongside purchase of the wines will be food pairing suggestions and background materials for each wine; the 90-minute tastings are by appointment at a charge of $95 a person.

Elsewhere in Napa, Long Meadow Ranch hosted its first virtual tasting and conversation on March 23 via Instagram Live. The tasting lasted around 30 minutes, and was hosted by vice president of brand development Jeff Meisel and sales representative Jennifer DiDomizio. Moving forward, Long Meadow Ranch will aim to host one to two tastings a week for consumers, as well as a series tailored exclusively to the trade.

In the Russian River Valley, Inman Family Wines has introduced a slew of virtual tasting packages, all hosted by winemaker Kathleen Inman. There are four programs in total, each with three bottles included: The Fan Favorites Trio ($154); The Endless Crush Rosé Trio ($84); The Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Trio ($216); and The Sparkling Wine Trio ($214). Consumers who buy three tastings will be invited to join a series of online happy hours, available via Facebook Video Chat. A portion of the happy hour proceeds will go toward Meals on Wheels, in an effort to support those impacted by COVID-19.—Julia Higgins

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