Virtual happy hours, tastings & webinars: A new way to enjoy wine during COVID-19

June 16, 2020

Virtual happy hours, tastings & webinars: A new way to enjoy wine during COVID-19

By: Nan McCreary

On a typical summer evening in June, many of us would be sitting in or outside of our favorite restaurant or wine bar savoring a glass of vino. But with COVID-19, many of us are confined to our homes, and our lifestyle-of-choice is not an option. What’s an oenophile to do?  Well, it turns out that there are opportunities aplenty, as the wine industry has pivoted to accommodate this new normal. 

Virtual Happy Hours with Friends and Family

By now, most of you have discovered the joy of virtual happy hours with your friends and family members.  Whether you’re using Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet or any other of the live meeting apps for your gatherings, you will find that most are inexpensive (if not free) and easy to use.  Just sign up for a (free) account and schedule a meeting yourself or follow a link to one scheduled by someone else. You will have options to share a screen, or chat with another party during your meeting, with the added benefit of having your own glass of vino or cocktail right in front of you!

Virtual Wine Tastings

An internet search on “virtual wine tastings” generated nearly 30 million hits.  From Bordeaux to Burgundy, from South Africa to Australia, from Napa to Sonoma and here at home in Texas, wineries are bringing their products to you in the comfort of your homes.  Follow their links to the video conferencing platforms (Zoom, Instagram Live, Facebook Live) and simply reserve a spot.  Many offer options to purchase the wines beforehand so you can sip along with the pros.  In Texas, Messina Hof features a program called “Virtual Vino,” where customers can call any of the winery’s three locations (Grapevine, Bryan and Hill Country) and schedule a private sampling of three specifically-themed bottles, which are shipped, delivered to your home or picked up curbside before a video conference with a tasting room professional. 

Many Texas Hill Country wineries— Becker Vineyards, William Chris Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars, Bending Branch Winery and Kuhlman Cellars, to name a few —are offering virtual happy hours to keep the juices flowing during Covid-19. In Houston, French Country Wines (2433 Bartlett St.) has been hosting virtual tastings at 6 p.m. on Saturday nights. Customers can pick up one-ounce pours of each wine to be tasted, for the cost of any wine purchase, earlier in the day. During the tasting, owner Jean-Philippe Guy leads customers through the French Countryside as he describes the wines, the vineyards and the owners.

Virtual Wine Education

Wineries and sommeliers alike have pivoted to video conferencing classes to educate people about wine.

Wine.com, the San Francisco-based online wine retailer that offers the largest selection of wines in the world, has been live streaming free webinar/tastings that feature a star-studded cast of winemakers, wine critics and other industry professionals from all over the world.

Topics have included “Pinot Noir: the Franco-American Connection,” “Tour of Italy Wine Tasting,” “Santa Barbara Wines: The Next Wave,” and “LVE Wines: Featuring John Legend and Jean Charles Boisset.” If you miss a live event, you can watch the recording on the wine.com website. International Wine Guru Jancis Robinson is sharing a collection of free webinars, “Wine Online-Lockdown Learning,” for wine professionals who are studying for exams and serious wine consumers.  The webinars, led by wine experts through the world, are available on jancisrobinson.com. Closer to home, Rodeo Uncorked! has presented webinars that are still available on its Facebook group.  In one recent webinar, Carl Chargois, International Wine Competition Superintendent at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™,  talks about winning wines from the 2020 competition.  In another, wine educator and Wine Garden Committee member Jason Ruth leads a discussion on Pinot Noir.

Virtual happy hours, tasting and webinars are now part of the “new normal” for a lot of us.  As restaurants, bars and wineries gradually open up to the public, many in the industry expect virtual wine experiences to continue as a way for wineries to maintain interface with customers. 

Some are expanding their online presence with increasingly innovative opportunities:  The Texas Hill Country Wineries Facebook Page offers Hill Country Digital Dinner Party recipes with Texas wine pairings. Pellegrini Vineyards in Sonoma Country, recently hosted an online “garden party” with tastings and music for release of its summer club allocation. 

All of these options are a boon for self-isolating wine lovers, and those who simply want to enjoy tastings and education from the comforts of their homes. It’s simple to find an event that might interest you.  Just search the internet to find your favorite winery or wine region and see what they’re offering.  It may not be as great as sitting on a patio overlooking a vineyard, but it’s the next best thing. Happy pivoting!