With online wine sales spiking during the pandemic, many wineries have turned to virtual wine tastings to connect with guests in lieu of tasting room experiences.
Jackson Family Wine’s Spire Collection, comprising 19 wineries from around the world, has an especially unique new virtual program where a personal wine consultant will craft a bespoke case of Spire Collection wine for you based upon your tastes. Spire Collection wineries are mostly concentrated in California but also including estates in South Africa, Italy, France and Australia, offering guests a chance to experience small production wines from around the world. With Spire Collection, Jackson Family is known to purchase and invest in excellent vineyard sites and small wineries, while taking a hands-off approach to the winemaking, allowing winemakers to continue doing what they do best. Over the years, they’ve accumulated an unrivaled depth and breadth of distinctive wines.
Under normal circumstances, Spire Collection maintains a Calistoga tasting room where members can taste through a range of wines in the portfolio on an appointment-only basis. Spire estate managers were inspired to create this virtual program as an alternative for members who are unable to visit the tasting room now due to COVID-19. Since launching in early April, they’ve hosted more than 40 one-on-one virtual tastings, originally as a way to connect with existing collectors and members during this time and maintain personal relationships, tasting through Spire wine guests already had in their cellars as well as discussing current offerings. Now, they’ve opened these personalized tastings to the general public.
“We understand and empathize with the uncertainty many people are feeling during this time,” says estate manager Ryan Hughes. “We felt it was important to extend ourselves without asking for a long-term commitment. We also have something unique by offering a global, curated experience and wanted to give people that option – to explore new wines and regions.”
Guests can contact the estate team directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 707-948-1920. An ongoing membership is not required and the cost is simply purchase of the wines.
These efforts to normalize virtual contact have paid off with increased online sales, particularly in the mid-tier range for wines in their portfolio priced between $30 and $50. This has allowed Spire to maintain around 75% of their original sales volume. Before COVID-19, the tasting room, along with member allocation and email offerings were the primary driver of sales.
“In this new virtual world, we have the opportunity to engage with an exponentially larger audience that doesn’t limit us to who comes through the door,” Hughes says. “It’s a new tool for prioritizing relationships and presents a whole new range of possibilities for how to shape our programs going forward.”
MORE VIRTUAL TASTING EXPERIENCES
Wine.com has put together an impressive lineup of free 30-minute virtual wine tastings themed around holidays or wine regions and featuring rockstar winemakers like Gérard Bertrand alongside rockstars like Jon Bon Jovi serenading guests as they sip Hampton Water Rosé. Other recent tastings include John Legend and Jean-Charles Boisset tasting rosé wines from France and Saskia Rothschild guiding guests through Domaines Barons de Rothschild’s global portfolio. It’s easy to sign-up and purchase the wines through Wine.com and so far, the tastings have been a hit. In just a few days, the first five tastings received more than 5,000 sign-ups and thanks to live-streaming technology, there’s no maximum limit on the number of guests.
“Prior to the pandemic we were already working on creating a suite of Wine.com experiences for our customers,” says Addie Wallace, Wine.com’s director of new business strategy and insights. “We have reprioritized some of that work to focus on digital experiences first, but are still thinking about a combination of digital and physical experiences for the longer-term.”
Independent brands are hosting free Instagram live tastings as well with their CEOs and winemakers. For example, Billecart-Salmon hosts tastings each Friday with CEO Mathieu Roland-Billecart, representing the seventh generation of the family-owned champagne house. Napa Valley winemaker Josh Phelps and charismatic wine educator Anthony Gigliohave teamed up to create #SundaySauce, a free-flowing casual, bi-coastal conversation on Instagram Live about wine at 2 pm PST/5 pm EST @anthonygiglio.
Zoom has been another popular platform for virtual tastings. Ehlers Estate hosts virtual tastings each Thursday with winemaker Laura Díaz Muñoz while Inglenook and Donum host private virtual tastings via Zoom as well. By providing this value add at no extra cost to guests, these wineries are investing in building relationships virtually that will last long after this crisis ends.