How the Wine Industry is Swirling into New Times
Prior to Covid-19, Sonoma County was listed by Fodor’s as as the second best travel destination for wine lovers. With over 400 tasting rooms to explore, it was impossible to run out of places to go and wine to taste.
Today, all of the tasting rooms are mandatorily shut down due to Covid-19, forcing wineries to re-invent themselves. With wine still considered an “essential” product, production facilities and vineyards are operating in a business-as-usual manner, of course with the addition of masks, gloves and distancing protocols. For brands that have traditionally been in grocery stores and large retail outlets such as Costco, sales have very little disruption, but for brands that have been on-premise or focused in restaurants, such as Selby Winery in Healdsburg, it’s a completely different story as wineries are scrambling to compete for direct-to-consumer market share. How are they doing it? Introducing the Virtual Tasting. Virtual tastings are replacing tasting rooms in every wine region in the United States. There are many different ways to do it but typically the wine is shipped to a large group of people in time for a virtual tasting with the winemaker to take place at a specified time. The winemaker, owner or hospitality manager will sip and swirl while taking questions that are typed onto the monitor. In smaller settings, there can be a Zoom style conference so everyone has the opportunity to interact.
How is this going to impact the future of the wine industry? It is quite possible that as technology figures out more ways for people to interact remotely, the tasting rooms will be appointment-only even when travel starts to open up. And consumers will be in the habit of spending more time with winemakers and owners then they have in the past. Imagine the disappointment of only being with a hospitality associate after having tasted every bottle with an actual vintner. Fortunately the charm of being in vineyards and the prospects of fine dining will still have travelers venturing west, but wine tasting will never be the same. What will be the same? Winemaking itself. After 4,000 years of fermentation, the show must go on.