This week on #TheWineHacker we are going to explore optimising and engaging customers through virtual tastings. During the COVID-19 Pandemic virtual tastings have become an increasingly popular strategy for wineries to be able to directly connect with their consumers. We sent through some questions to our Wine Hacker Sara, aka The Wine Informer, to see what her thoughts were on the matter.
How are virtual tastings often presented, and what style do you think is the most engaging?
With COVID-19 still present, many people are still not feeling comfortable, or simply cannot go to their favourite vineyards or sit in the tasting rooms. So, like everything else, we, too, wine lovers, have had to adapt.
Of course, nothing can ever replace the experience of sipping a good bottle of Barolo in the Langhe, or tasting a refreshing glass of Chardonnay in Burgundy. A huge part of the wine experience for me will always remain to breathe the air among the vineyards, discovering new places, chatting with the people at the cellar door, sometimes, even having the opportunity to visit the cellars and learn about the winemaking process.
At first, I was kind of sad and hesitant (and maybe I still am), but now it seems to have become normal for us to move everything online. For example, look at the increase of “live” streams on Instagram from the pandemic’s proclamation, or the amount of private tasting online events on Zoom or other platforms such as Facebook Live or House Party.
All of these avenues have given rise to interesting and interactive online events and creativity in the world of wine… especially among millennials. Have you heard of “Skypéro”? merging the word apéro – an early evening moment in French and Italian culture reserved for sharing a drink with friends and family – with the Skype technology connector.
Wine tasting at home gives participants a new experience and a new way to get to know and interact with new people and discover new wines.
For example, since March of last year, as I am part of an international community of women in wine called “Girls Wine Club”, we have created a weekly appointment on Instagram called “Girls Wine Chat”. In these chats female wine lovers around the world discuss different topics, with different hosts and guests every week.
A way to connect and feel close! Somehow!
In short, there is a format for all needs and for any budgets- with hope in our hearts of returning to travel to our favourite wineries soon!
What platforms are available to use for virtual tastings, and which of these do you think are the most effective?
There is something to fit all needs: as a wine business, as a winery, as a wine importer, or simply for a group of wine lovers who want to be together.
If you prefer something simple and unconstrained, organize a live tasting on Instagram and invite people to join you on your “live” stream to discuss your wine or a particular topic. You don’t need links, or to pay subscription fees.. click the “live” button and you’re on! (and a bonus is that this way you can easily reach an international audience)
Others may prefer to use Zoom and Facebook Live for more serious and niche tastings – and often these are paid events, accessible only with a unique private link or code. For these guests are normally offered a kit that will be tasted during the virtual event. Some kits contain small amounts of wine similar to an actual tasting, which can make the experience quite affordable. That being said, the average virtual tasting usually sells at the wine cost if using full bottles, so wine lovers can find a fit for all budgets.
Prices can average between $30 and $150 for private tastings, while other companies host free live streaming events. There are also more expensive options for larger quantities, or higher qualities of wine with more highbrow virtual tastings.
How well do you feel virtual tastings are able to digitally replicate the cellar door experience?
Answering you honestly, it is not easy to replicate the winery experience with digital events, but you have to adapt to new social and market needs and trends. And if you are a business in the world of wine and decide not to adapt to these new trends, frankly, you will easily lose the pace to your competitors and consequently your market and customer share.
For example, we had a great experience with Henschke on a recent “cellar session” at one of my favourite local bottle shops in Fremantle (Freo Dr). It was a fantastic, unique and extraordinary experience: Stephen and Justin Henschke took us on a beautiful journey tasting their wines. We faced today’s challenges and how their history has evolved through the generations (as it is a 152-year-old Australian wine). We were able to ask Justin and Stephen questions directly (which you probably wouldn’t be able to, if you decide to just visit their cellar). Two hours full of information and delicious wines, which increased the love and trust for their wines and their philosophy.
When you have participated in virtual tastings, what have you noticed wineries doing well?
They leave time for the guests to feel at ease. Most of the virtual tastings I attended, the winery or the event management have done very well to create a familiar and welcoming environment. They listen and take the time to answer all questions without looking at the clock too much.
What would you like to see wineries doing during their virtual tastings to improve the audiences experience?
Good question: they should probably better explore the platforms they use, before the “live” streaming. It is not known why, but there are always problems during the virtual tasting between connection, audio, video .. etc.
- have a good background and lights
- check the connection
- dress well
- avoid noisy environment
- Prepare your live and have supporting documents for your guests
What sort of stories and information should be included in a virtual tasting?
The virtual tasting, as in a normal tasting in the cellar, must transport you through the history of the wines you taste.
It is important to prepare the “live” stream with content that attracts your customers/guests’ attention—notions of history, relationship with the territory and surroundings… and always leave room for questions. Prepare tasting notes and winemaking notes, don’t use “big words”.
Be simple and humble in communication.
How can a winery make their virtual tasting a unique experience?
Wine is about bringing people together and enjoying the company. Wineries that offer video tasting sessions must keep the same convivial spirit: schedule a 90-120 minute live on FaceTime, Skype or Zoom and create authentic, connected experiences that stay true to the winery, the wine and your followers.
When it comes to filming the tasting, what should wineries leverage when it comes to characters in the business, props and background settings?
Virtual events are amazing tools for creating connections with your existing and potential customers.
However, the difficult thing is to organize events that make you stand out from the crowd.
Work on your branding and be consistent in the presentation and material to support you in your “live” streams. Display your wine professionally and accurately .. and make sure your background is always inviting and clean. Choose the right glasses and don’t leave too many empty spaces between one wine and another.
Entertain customers, ask questions, engage your guests and listen to their feedback. And why not go the extra mile and prepare a branded pen and paper for your guests to take notes during the session?
What impact do you think virtual tastings have had on the wine industry?
The blockade caused by the pandemic meant we had to find an innovative way for our producers and wineries to continue working and spreading awareness about their wines and their brand.
The virtual tasting and the virtual events were the real lifeboats for the world of wine. It is also a great opportunity to open up new methods of communication and look to new horizons. There are no longer limits of distance and time .. and this has contributed for many to dock in previously unknown, and never considered, territories.
Virtual tastings have taught us to be dynamic and flexible at a time when business felt fragile.
How do you think virtual tastings will evolve or be presented in the future?
Predictions? The virtual tastings will remain even after the pandemic. This is a fact. For those who have not yet done or experienced this field, relax, it is not too late! Jump online and adapt the communication of your wines to new trends. The digital world will remain an integral and preponderant part of our future: experiment, be curious about new communication approaches. Don’t get carried away by the digital wave… but surf it in style.
You can find more from Sara through her website, The Wine Informer, and her Instagram, @thewineinformer.