Wine fans know the drill – you stroll up to the counter at a beverage shop or winery and ask to be walked through the tasting menu. Your host pours a finger or two of something golden or rosy or plumy into your glass, and you swish, slosh, and swirl your way through the pallet of flavors before either kicking it back or discreetly taking advantage of the spittoon.
But when even the most ardent oenophiles are social distancing, too, wine tastings have left the cellar and (like so much else of modern life) have gone online, instead. In addition to wine fans popping bottles with friends at ad-hoc virtual wine tastings, now you'll also catch winemakers, somms, and beverage store owners leading tastings, pairing classes, and digital happy hours on platforms like Facebook Live, Zoom, YouTube and Instagram.
"Before the pandemic began, our team was talking a lot about how wineries could be utilizing technology to really amplify their stories and connect even further with their customer and fan base," explained Michelle Kaufmann of Stoller Winery in Oregon.
"As life would have it, the launch of the Stoller Wine Group Channel has coincided with the pandemic," added Kauffman. "These videos and the virtual tastings have been really well received, and I think this is because it humanizes our brand and demystifies our winemakers by allowing people to interact with them."
When I logged onto a Tuesday night tasting event hosted by Tennessee portfolio Wine.Theory featuring Stirm Wine Company of Aromas, California, it was indeed a welcoming and humanizing experience. Winemaker Ryan Stirm was trying to pry open a bottle of Riesling with, of all things, a pair of pliers – his corkscrew has gone missing. But once the bottle was open, he seamlessly dived into both a glass and a discussion of the techniques that go into producing their lightly sparkling whites.
With online tastings, viewers like myself can sip along with the hosts if they procured the bottles ahead of time, or make due with what they have on hand while learning everything from what makes the Los Chuchaquis Albariño Pet Nat fizz to the name of the comic book artist who illustrated the label. Just like an in-person tasting, there's a chance to ask questions and observe how the experts aerate, swirl, and savor each wine to get the most out of the experience.
These virtual wine tastings are a unique opportunity for wine fans who aren't near serious regions like Napa, Sonoma, the Willamette Valley, or the Finger Lakes to chat with winemakers in their natural habitats while trying new vintages. They're also a welcome point of connection for many who miss their social rituals while sheltering in place, and who want to keep supporting small businesses from home.
US wineries offering virtual tastings
If you're curious about trying an online tasting yourself, whether to revisit a beloved winery you miss or explore a new region from the comfort of your kitchen, here are some of the wineries around the country taking a futuristic approach to one of the world's oldest sensory delights:
Buena Vista – Sonoma, California
Buena Vista is the oldest commercial winery in California, and is celebrating that history with virtual wine tastings on Facebook Live hosted by winery founder Count Agoston Haraszthy. Of course, Haraszthy is played by actor George Webber in full mid-19th century dress, but it's a fun trip back to 1857 – especially if you have a bottle ready thanks to Buena Vista's two wine clubs that will ship to your door.
Awen Winecraft – Rogue River, Oregon
Wine up, pinkies down! That's the motto that reigns at Awen Winecraft's unpretentious Wine's World virtual tastings that take place every Wednesday at 6:30-7:30 Pacific on Zoom. Each "episode" of the Wayne's World–referential tastings is centered around a particular Awen varietal, a food pairing, and a movie for maximum fun.
Lamoreaux Landing – Finger Lakes, New York
Lamoreaux Landing usually hosts tastings in view of Seneca Lake, by which visitors can picnic afterwards on the winery grounds. Now, Lamoreaux is offering personal virtual tastings with the purchase of 6, 12, or 15 bottles as well as Social Media Happy Hours on Facebook Live and Instagram Live every Thursday at 5pm Eastern.
RGNY – Long Island, New York
RGNY is offering not only virtual tastings on Instagram every Friday night, as well as other packages like Quarantine Kits that lead you through fun activities like At Home Blending, At Home Wine Tasting, and Keep Calm & Color On – a soothing coloring book for wine enthusiasts illustrated by artist Merjin Hos.
Kuhlman Cellars – Stonewall, Texas
A small estate winery in Texas hill country, Kuhlman is selling special wine bundles built around a theme like French Perspectives or Peace, Love, Happiness, and Joy that come with a private link to an included webinar.
Stoller Vineyards – Dayton, Oregon
A beloved fixture of the Willamette Valley wine region, Stoller's famous tasting room (and its iconic tire swing) are empty right now. But they have been keeping the wine flowing with drive-thru pickup service, as well as the Stoller Wine Group Channel on YouTube. The offerings include tasting experience with wine makers, wine paired cooking classes with Chef Becca Richards and VP of Winemaking Melissa Burr, a curated selection of home cooking videos, and even video meet-and-greets with each of the winery's dogs.
Frog's Leap – Napa, California
While Frog's Leap is still offering daily delivery service within Napa Valley, those further afield can take advantage of their Interactive Tasting Series on Saturdays at 3PM Pacific. You can order the wines ahead of time with special flat rate shipping, and can even peep past sessions on Instagram Stories and YouTube after the fact.
Big Cork Vineyards – Rohrersville, Maryland
Big Cork Vineyards has won awards for their petit verdots, cabernet francs, and other full flavored wines like nebbiolos, barberas, and muscat canellis – and you don't have to miss out even if you're social distancing far from the Mid-Atlantic. Every Wednesday at 7:30pm Eastern, Big Cork is hosting informal virtual tastings on Zoom. You're more than welcome to order the varieties ahead of time, or join in with what you have on hand in a spirit of camaraderie and learning.
Matthiasson – Napa, California
Matthiasson has a simple, elegant solution to taking their popular Napa Valley tastings online – just order a sample pack that takes you from white to rose to red. That will put you on the list for one-on-one and group Zoom tastings, in which you can participate once your wines arrive.
St Supéry – Rutherford, California
Every Thursday at 3:00pm and 5:30pm Pacific, fans of St. Supéry's sauvignon blancs, cabernet sauvignons, and Bordeaux varietals can "Injoy" their virtual wine tasting series with CEO Emma Swain, winemaker Michael Scholz, estate chef Tod Kawachi, and a variety of guests. You can order a tasting kit that also includes access to an exclusive forum, or pick up from a retailer that stocks St. Supéry.
Ken Wright Cellars – Carolton, Oregon
Flexibility is the name of the game at Ken Wright Cellars, which has opted to schedule Zoom calls with customers at a variety of bookable times when you order one (or more!) of their three different tasting collections. You can also schedule a virtual tasting with a member of their team to discuss another bottle from your collection.
Far Niente – Oakville, California
There are a few ways to stay connected to this 135 year old wine estate during the COVID-19 pandemic. You may book a custom online tasting built around a personally curated selection of wines or join in a convivial group happy hour if you and a few friends, family members, or coworkers order a matching selection together – perfect if you miss your usual wine tasting crew. Last but not least, Far Niente also has several winemaker Instagram takeovers scheduled throughout April, which launch on Instagram TV at 2:00pm Pacific and are saved to highlights for later viewing.
Terra Valentine – St. Helena, California
Receiving a care package in the mail feels extra special right now – especially one full of wine. Terra Valentine is happy to send out Care Package bundles with six bottles that you can enjoy during free virtual tastings Wednesdays at 4:00pm Pacific.
Pairings Wine Shop – Portland, Oregon
Not a vineyard or winery, but a Portland, Oregon, wine shop, Pairings is already pretty innovative when it comes to connecting customers with their new favorite vintages. They've long offered pairing recommendations not just for food, but also for TV & film characters, dog breeds, songs, astrology, and even host in-house tarot card readings to help you find the perfect bottle. They're taking that approach online during the pandemic a Emergency Wine Delivery Service that includes 3 educational tasting videos and a bonus bottle, as well as virtual tastings on Tuesdays at 4:00pm Pacific that are as big on humor and dancing as on the wine itself.
Silver Thread – Lodi, New York
This Finger Lakes winery has put together fun tastings online that are open to all – even if you haven't gotten your Silver Thread wines in the mail yet and have to bide your time with a glug from the boxed wine in your fridge. You can learn more about the unique viticulture in this glacier-scoured region and Silver Lake's rieslings, pinot noir roses, gewurztraminers, and more.
Close du Val – Napa, California
With a variety of tasting packs to choose from, from reds to single vineyards to a three bottle intro to Close du Val's varieties, it's easy to find the right assortment for your private one-on-one online tastings with a member of the winery team.