Category Archives: General

An Apology to the Pretty Influencer on Instagram

I’m sure you don’t know me and probably will never read this. I don’t follow you because I never bothered to learn your IG handle and I doubt we share the same social media circles. But we once shared space together attending the same Wine Spectator Grand Tour at the Mirage Hotel back in 2017.

Selfie image by https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49829170

Image by By Anders Lejczak – CC BY 2.0

You were gorgeous. Wavy brown hair falling below your shoulders and an emerald green top which matched your eyes. Slender tan legs peeking out from a modestly short dress skirt and heels. Dangly gold earrings that you would repeatedly hit as you brushed your hair back to bend down towards the spit bucket. I admit you were a sight to behold.

And I hated you for that.

I remember the first table that we “bumped” into each other. It was a Super Tuscan producer that I was eager to try and wanted to ask questions about the blend. But the charming Italian man at the table only wanted to speak to you, barely looking my way to give me a splash. It wasn’t long before I was butted out by other attendees–men, of course–who similarly wanted a taste and to ask the pretty lady next to them what she thought of the wine as well.

It was at a California Pinot producer’s table that I overheard you say that you were an influencer, prompting an eye roll behind your back.

Dear god, she’s actually using the term influencer!

The winery rep was eager to get your card and got out his phone to make sure that he followed you at that very moment. When I finally worked up the nerve to nudge my way towards the table for a pour, I didn’t bother staying to ask any questions. The rep wasn’t going to give me any time. After all, we were standing in the presence of an influencer!

Similar scenes would play out at other tables that we kept bumping into. There were over 200 exhibits but damn if it wasn’t my luck that we kept hitting the same ones. There were times that I would turn the corner towards a desired destination only to see green and then “noped” my way to another section of the floor. Trying to get away from the pretty Instagram influencer that was fouling my night.

I was sitting near the food table with my wife, when you paused to grab something yourself.

It didn’t take long for another man to approach you for a chat. Picking among the charcuterie and cheeses, I overheard you mention that you just started as a sommelier at one of the hotel restaurants in Vegas. I made a crack to my wife that we should mark that restaurant off our list of places to play the Somm Game at.

By that point, in my mind, you were a caricature of everything that was wrong in the wine industry. The influencer who takes more selfies than bottle shots. More tits than tasting notes. The ones who keep feeding into the mantras that “Sex Sells” and “Horses for Courses“–making it difficult for all the rest of us women in wine to be taken seriously.

Never mind that likely none of that was true. You were an easy target to funnel my internal anger and jealousy towards. Though I never approached you or spoke a word of snark your way, I still did you a grave injustice. And for that, I’m deeply sorry.

I thought about you when reading The New York Times yesterday.

Reading the words of the brave women featured in Julia Moskin’s piece, I couldn’t help but put you in there. As a young somm starting out in a place like Las Vegas, how much of their story is yours as well?

Thinking of that made me cry.

I cried because in the same breath that I ardently wish for things to be different and despair that they’re not, I know that in my own way I’m complicit. I may speak the right words and do the right things to build up other women, but I know in my heart that I’ve also torn them down.

While that makes me feel immense guilt, there’s also immense rage when I think of the perverse privilege at play. No, I’m not talking just about male privilege.

But rather my own as a “not pretty girl.”

Outside of one handsy customer during my retail days, I’ve been fortunate in my wine career to have not encountered anything close to the kind of harassment and compromising positions that other women have been put into.

The pain of being violated or having your entire career depend on whether or not you give in to a man’s advances is one that I’ve never had to deal with. While I’ve chafed and burned with jealousy at the access and attention that the “pretty girls” get, it was my own privilege of not having to deal with unwanted attention from men which kept it from dawning on me that there was a price to pay for that access. Sometimes a very terrible price.

And the mere fact that something like that is a privilege in this world is a whole other level of fucked up shit.

It’s fucked up that we live in a world that encourages this “Mean Girls” dynamic among women. Of the haves (Access & Harassment) and have nots.

It’s fucked up that we live in a world that still tries to tell us that sex sells. Or that we shouldn’t balk when our industry seeks to leverage that.

This should be the funnel for our anger. This fucked up dynamic that divides us and puts women of all shades in terrible positions. The pretty girl. The mean girl. The outgoing girl. The shy girl.

But really what we all are is just a tired of this fucking bullshit girl.

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Blog Hiatus till November

Hey guys,

By Mikescottwood11 - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11597030

Sorry that it has been a while since my last post. I’ve been busy learning first hand how difficult it is to move countries in the middle of a pandemic–and I’m far from done yet.

Earlier this summer, the wife accepted a new position in London. While I love being in Paris, I’m super excited about this move as London is the heart of the global wine trade. It’s also the base of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust which will make finishing my WSET Diploma easier, followed by (hopefully) applying for the MW program.

But even though the UK is just over the Channel from France, trying to coordinate a move and working through visa applications is a doozy. As an American, I can’t really blame Brexit but I’m sure the looming uncertainty there has not helped when it comes to finding French and British lawyers/banks/companies, etc that are willing to work together to help us get from point A to point B.

Then, of course, there’s the inevitable drag and delays driven by COVID. Even setting foot in the UK to look for a permanent place to move to is stipulated on first a 14-day quarantine period. So looks like it’s going to be a temporary Air B&B dwelling with our stuff in storage for god knows how long.

All of this is just a long way of saying that I’m putting the blog on hold till at least November. I’ll still be maintaining VirtualWineEvents.com and posting things on my social media channels of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook–albeit less frequently.

My goal is to hopefully get settled by the end of this year and be raring to go at the start of 2021. Thank you to all my subscribers and readers who have sent notes and messages. I really appreciate hearing from you. I’ll be back, I promise!

Take care and stay safe,

Amber

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Wine and Syrup Bottles – It’s time to do more

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the need for change and diversity in the wine industry.

Mantra Dist GoFundMe

From Mantra Wine Distributors’ GoFundMe page.

Many folks have stood up to put that change into action–most notably Julia Coney’s Black Wine Professionals resource page and DLynn Proctor, Martin R. Reyes MW & Mary Margaret McCamic MW’s Wine Unify mentorship platform. However, there’s so much more that still needs to be done. The obstacles in the wine industry that hinder the growth of BIPOC are omnipresent and systemic.

Tweets, likes, shares and changing profile pics are nice gestures. But unless there are deliberate actions behind them, they’re just another dressing of “thoughts and prayers.” The digital equivalent of changing the label of a syrup bottle while ignoring the sticky mess inside.

Supporting change means enacting change.

Now there are a lot of different ways to do this, the easiest of which is simply patronizing minority-owned businesses. But, especially in the US, there are barriers that make that difficult. The archaic laws that litter the American three-tier system often suffocate direct-to-consumer options. While, thankfully, those cobwebs are being swept away one by one, the main route to new markets for many wineries or distilleries is still through distributors and wholesalers. And for small wineries, that route is often strewn with roadblocks.

Decades of consolidation have dramatically shrunk the number of distributors that small wineries can turn to. While the US wine industry grew more than fivefold from 1,800 wineries in 1995 to over 11,000 wineries in 2020, the number of distributors available to represent these brands dropped from 3000 to just 1200. Plus, there are thousands of producers from more than 60 other wine-producing countries that are also vying for spots in these limited portfolios.

But as stark as these barriers are for the typical small winery, they’re only magnified for wine & spirit brands owned by minorities.

In the Washington Post, Chanel Turner of Fou-Dre Vodka in Washington, DC, recounted her challenges in finding distribution noting, “I would set up meetings with different distributors, and they weren’t expecting to see someone like myself.” Likewise, Robin McBride of McBride Sisters Wine points out in VinePair that the struggle begins with just getting access to the “gatekeepers” in the first place.

So what are we going to do about this?

How can we, from regular consumers to industry folk, enact meaningful change to help minority-owned brands gain access to consumer markets?

Well, for one, we can put pressure on the Top 10 distributors that dominate the American wine market–all but one of which seems to be led by white men. As gatekeepers, they wield enormous influence on what wines consumers see on the shelves and wine lists of their communities. Sure, several of them put out statements about Black Lives Matter. A few changed their social media profile pics. But we’re going to need more than just syrupy sycophancy.

What we also need to do is support folks like Jonella Orozco and Brooke Lago.

These two young somms are working to put change into action. After many years in the hospitality industry in Charleston, South Carolina, they’ve started Mantra Wine Distributors to answer the lack of minority-owned wine brands being represented in their community.

While the full impact of COVID has yet to play out, Charleston is a thriving and emerging food and wine destination. In the Deep South, the city’s demographics are younger and more affluent than the median in South Carolina. And with nearly 40% growth in population since 2000, the potential of this market continues to expand.

But it’s not going to be easy. Impactful change never is.

Jonella and Brooke of Mantra

Jonella Orozco and Brooke Lago of Mantra Wine Distributors

Orozco and Lago know they have their work cut out for them. It takes a lot of capital to start a wine distribution company.  And it takes a lot of heart to do it in the middle of a pandemic. But heart and hard work is something that both these women have in spades.

While other folks are changing syrup labels, they want to change their community. They want to bring to Charleston wines that the wine lovers and tourists there aren’t getting. They want to share the stories of the many Black, Latinx, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, Women and minority-owned brands that are waiting to be discovered. And they’re willing to put in the time, sweat and tears to make that happen.

The wine industry needs more folks like Jonella Orozco and Brooke Lago.  We need more people willing to chip away at the barriers which limit access, availability and opportunities for minority-owned wine and spirits brands. Projects like Coney’s BWP help increase visibility and amplifies the voices of Black wine professionals while Wine Unify broadens educational opportunities. But we also need to take this fight to the retail shelves and wine lists of our communities.

Check out Mantra Wine Distributors’ GoFundMe page. Contribute, share, help them make this change happen.

If you’re in the wine business and want to help with mentorship and support, contact them directly.

Follow them on Instagram and Twitter. Spread the word and help inspire other folks to launch similar initiatives in their communities.

We’re past the point of just talking about change. Now we have to enact it.

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Talking Virtual Wine Events Next Week at FOMENT 2020 and on IG Live with Tablas Creek Vineyards

It’s been a busy spring and early summer for me since the launch of VirtualWineEvents.com. I’ve been invited to several interviews and panels, mostly to talk about the industry’s adoption of these new digital tools. Two exciting ones coming up is the FOMENT Conference this Tuesday, June 30th, which I’ll follow the next day with by joining Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyards for a chat on his weekly Instagram live broadcast.

I’ve posted the details of these events below which I hope you’ll join us for.

At the end, I’ve also included the videos from some of the projects I mentioned above such as Destinate’s The Future of Wine Tourism Webinar, Pour Agency’s wine marketing series and a couple of The Real Business of Wine panels that I’ve been on.

FOMENT | Wine and Tourism Tech Variety Hour

Tuesday, June 30th – 16:00 ACST, 8:30 CEST, 2:30 EDT (23:30 PDT June 29th)

Broadcasting live from Yalumba’s Signature Cellar in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, FOMENT tackles the future of technology in the wine industry and tourism. While the timing isn’t ideal for Americans, registering for this free conference will get you access to the recording.

A few of the notable guests that I’m thrilled to be participating in this conference with include:

Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg in the McLaren Vale
Lisa Anderson and Max Waterson of Yalumba
Wine writer Max Allen of Australian Financial Review, JancisRobinson.com and many more
Polly Hammond of 5forests and The Real Business of Wine
Wine Business professor Damien Wilson of Sonoma State University

My lovely wife and the tech-brains behind VirtualWineEvents.com, Beth, joined me in our pre-recorded interview. We talked about the need we saw emerging during COVID. Our goal was to create a site where wineries, retailers and wine educators could post upcoming virtual tastings, webinars, Instagram Lives–completely free of charge–so they could be more easily discovered by wine lovers.

We’ve been exceedingly pleased with the response and traffic that we’re having to VirtualWineEvents.com. Even as tastings rooms start to open up, wine consumers are still looking for interesting and engaging online wine events that they can attend from the comfort of their homes. Likewise, savvy wine businesses realize the continued value of platforms that allow them to showcase their brands to consumers across the globe.

Tablas Creek Wednesday Conversations with Jason Haas on Instagram Live

Wednesday, July 1st – Noon PDT, 15:00 EDT, 21:00 CEST

A perfect case-in-point of a savvy wine business embracing digital tools is Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles. Every week they host a live stream on their Instagram page. While, for the sake of my sanity and phone notifications, I’m glad that the “witching hours” of endless IG Lives have quieted, these online events are still quite popular.

The laid-back, conversational nature of IG Lives is an easy format for consumers to pick up. All you do is follow the person hosting the event. Then when the notification comes that they’re going live, you click on it. You can watch, comment and even ask to participate if the host wants to bring other folks in to join them. It feels spontaneous and unscripted which, for many consumers, comes across as more authentic.

Numerous wineries like Tablas Creek have been hitting it out of the park with these events that they can later upload to their IGTV channel or YouTube. Check out some of the past Wednesday Conversations with Jason Haas featuring guests like Jeremy Benson of FreeTheGrapes.org, Regine Rousseau of Shall We Wine, Patrick Comiskey of Wine & Spirits Magazine, Cesar Perrin of Chateau de Beaucastel as well as several members of the Tablas team.

I particularly liked this one with Elizabeth Schneider from Wine for Normal People.

There’s often a lull at the beginning of most IG Lives while waiting for people to respond to the notification and join. I love that Haas utilizes this time by giving some behind-the-scenes updates about what’s going at the winery and vineyard. In this episode, he talks about some of the viticultural challenges of their Scruffy Hill Block.

So be sure to join us and bring your questions about virtual wine events!

In the meantime, check out the discussions below. I had a lot of fun working with Destinate Travel, the Real Business of Wine and Pour Agency with their panels and projects.

Future of Wine Tourism Session 4: Going virtual

The Future of Virtual Tastings

The Consumer, in Partnership with ARENI Global

How to Get More Customers to Join Your Winery’s Virtual Tasting Room Experience

What Content Increases Winery Followers and Likes on Social Media

What is The Best Selling Point About Your Winery? Hint: It’s Not Your Wine…

What Can Smarter Winery Marketing Do for Your Winery?

How to Increase Wine Sales with Personalized Winery Marketing

This is the full version that the snippets above were taken from. Brandon Lee of Pour Agency gives a breakdown of the key points on their blog.

01:45 – What is SpitBucket and who is Amber LeBeau?
03:45 – Why is it so important for wineries to invest in marketing and what works
04:33 – The power of YouTube and how your winery can take advantage
06:34 – How can wineries reduce the noise and provide more value?
06:44 – Making good wine alone is not good enough to get more sales
07:32 – Wineries are not only competing with their neighbor or other labels
08:38 – What can wineries be doing to capture more attention?
09:16 – Winery video creates connection and engagement in the midst of the shutdown
10:42 – What your winery might be doing wrong with social media and Instagram marketing
12:08 – Make your content meaningful and stop potential customers in their tracks
12:55 – How can wineries incentivize more people to engage with their virtual tasting room?
14:50 – Sell your brand, not just wine. Jackson Family Estates and The Wine Makers on Radio Misfits – The Wine Makers
17:58 – What video would you want to see created to make you take action and buy a winery’s wine?
20:50 – The easiest thing you can do to start winery marketing right
22:34 – Show people who you are, build meaningful connections with everyone within your winery
25:15 – Wineries should be asking their customers what they want
27:54 – Why it’s important to move forward and innovate with marketing even if you have a reputation
30:01 – What is branding and what does that mean for a winery?
32:00 – If you give people a reason to give a damn, they will give a damn.
32:14 – What’s Amber’s favorite wine?

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How NOT to Respond to a Guest’s Concerns About COVID

These are unprecedented times for the wine industry. Some bumps and missteps are to be expected as wineries reopen after long lockdowns. But stuff like what I’m sharing below needs to be called out and nipped in the bud.

Earlier today, I had this exchange with a friend in Washington State. She does not work in the wine industry but is an avid wine lover who belongs to several wine clubs. I asked her permission to post these screenshots of our conversation with both her info and the winery’s name redacted. The only thing I will say about this winery is that it is relatively well known in Washington. With multiple tasting rooms throughout the state, I’m sure they were quite eager to reopen and get back that traffic flow.

But this is not the way you should treat a consumer–or let them be treated. Especially not one who is responding to your Facebook ad asking for visitors to come back to your tasting rooms.

FB screenshot

Salty language left un-redacted because, well, that’s how life is.

I understand the frustration. 

This should not have played out this way. And what’s equally as frustrating is wondering where else this is happening. While I hope that this is a fluke event, how can we be sure that’s the case?

Even with all the headaches and hassles that COVID has tossed on our laps, the very last thing that any wine business should do is to lose sight of basic customer service. I know none of us asked to be put in this situation and there are a lot of things that are beyond our control. But what we absolutely can control is how we respond when consumers share their sincere concerns.

And there are several ways that this winery could have done better.
Photo by Seedeblay. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

I know that monitoring your social pages is a lot of work, but do you really think that having a page that feels too hostile to interact with helps your business at all?

I’m going to go on good faith that the winery rep didn’t participate in the snarky comments. That just boggles my mind that anybody in the hospitality industry would be so idiotic. The winery did do well in deleting those comments fairly quickly. They deserve props there.

But where they dropped the ball was in not calling out the snarky commentators, who were attacking their customer, and in also not apologizing to their customer for being on the receiving end of this abuse. Plus, it was also disappointing that if they were online to delete comments, they still waited several more hours to respond to her question.

I followed up by checking out the winery’s Facebook page and found the post my friend replied to. The ad has received over 400 likes and has been shared multiple times, so a good amount of people are seeing in it. I found the original question and the cursory reply, noting that they’re practicing social distancing, limiting guests, wearing masks, etc. But no apologies for the other comments nor any further comment or post encouraging folks to treat each other with respect.

And, no, my friend has not gotten a DM apology or follow-up either.

Put yourself in this guest’s shoes.

Photo by Laurel Lodged. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

If guests don’t feel comfortable visiting your tasting room, for whatever reason, they’re not going to come.

And in the shoes of similar guests who the industry desperately wants to return.

Here is someone who does want to return. She wants to get back to visiting winery tasting rooms. But she has concerns, like many, many other consumers. So when she sees the Facebook ad of a winery that she likes, telling her that they’re reopening, she reaches out to them.

There’s intent. There’s desire. All she needs is reassurance. All she needs is to be treated like a valid human being.

But instead, she was made to feel that her concerns were “political,” “overblown,” “invalid.” Even if the winery wasn’t aware that guests still get notifications and previews of deleted comments, this abusive behavior should have been called out.

Because what are the odds that this would be a one-time thing? That these Facebook commentators who were attacking this person weren’t going to attack another guest responding to the same Facebook ad and having similar concerns?

And what assurance does anyone have that they wouldn’t be likewise heckled in the tasting room or parking lot by these other “fans”?

If you want to welcome guests back to your tasting rooms, you need to make clear that it’s a welcoming place.

And that extends to how your guests are treated on your social media pages. If other commentators on your Facebook page are attacking your guests, you need to do more than just delete comments. You need to make clear that respect is a value that your winery holds dear.

This is not about being political. It’s crazy that things like personal concern and safety are being turned into political hot topics. But as an industry, we have to rise above this. We have to look out for our customers. We have to make them feel welcomed, valued and safe.

When one winery drops the ball, it hurts their neighbors and everyone else who is also counting on those visitors returning. That’s why we need to call this out and stop this from continuing.

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Why the Wine Industry Shouldn’t Be Color Blind

In the last few weeks, I’ve listened to a lot of very moving testimony from Black wine professionals about their experiences in the wine industry. One that hit me particularly hard was Tahiirah Habibi of the Hue Society recounting her story of taking the Introductory Level 1 course & examination with the Court of Master Sommeliers.

 

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If you are in positions of power, check yourself on how you use that power and who you hurt with it. • • It is time for the wine industry to STOP taking “safe” stances in order to keep your primarily white audience comfortable. Include Black and Brown people in the foundational decisions and planning, instead of using them retroactively as tokens. Enough. • • -If you are the president of a distributor, the CEO of a winery, if you own a wine shop, ask yourself— are you teaching or hiring black people? • • -Make sure you are using your positions in the industry to create front line marketing and placements of Black brands. • • -Make sure your mentees don’t all look like you. White people have the task to other white people to end racism. • • If Master sommeliers are the aspirational peak of our industry, then they will have to challenge each other to make this institution accessible for everyone to aspire to. • • Your intentions may be good but your actions are what you will be held accountable for. • • @richelieudennis @fiyawata #huesociety #assimilationnotrequired #wineandculture #blacklivesmatter

A post shared by Tahiirah Habibi (@sippingsocialite) on

Habibi later goes into more detail about her interactions (or rather lack of interaction) with the Court that is just as infuriating. But that story of taking the level 1 exam really resonated with me. It took me back 13 years ago to when I did my own level 1, spending a weekend at a Tucson hotel for two days of classes and the exam. I remember quirking an eyebrow at the instructors referring to each other as “Master Jones” or “Master Smith” and expecting the students to do the same.

But that’s all it was, an eyebrow quirk. A shoulder shrug.

I chalked it up to a vestige of the restaurant industry where everyone “Yes, Chef!” the master of the back of the house. It never once dawned on me, for over 13 years, how what I could so easily dismiss with a shrug and Whatever would so deeply sting someone else. While in hindsight, it’s so glaringly obvious and cringeworthy, it just blew right passed me.

What troubles me the most, though, is that after all these years, I can’t tell you if there were any people of color in that class. With over 50 people attending, it seems like there would have been. But I honestly don’t know. I didn’t notice.

It struck me how often that is the case–how often I don’t notice people of color at wine events. They just meld into the crowd of other wine folks. Now some might say that’s a good thing, that you’re “color blind” and everyone should meld together. It should all just be wine people doing wine things.

But I reject that. I reject the idea that being color blind is a good thing. Because if you’re not noticing the presence of people of color in the wine industry, then you’re certainly not going to notice their absence.

Being color blind robs us all.

Tapestry photo from Kalamazoo Public Library. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons with no known copyright descriptions.
I don’t know if the people who advocate “All Lives Matter,” saying that they don’t see color or want to see color, realize that what they’re advocating for is a disorder. Achromatopsia (i.e., color blindness) is an affliction, a limitation.

People that suffer from actual color blindness don’t get to see the world in all its vivid richness. They can adapt and make do, but there will always be things that they’ll never be able to experience fully–the colors and context that enliven life.

Why would we want to aspire to that?

Why would we want to strive for a world that will always be less than what it could be?

It doesn’t make sense–especially not in the wine industry where we are immersed in a product whose greatest strength is its diversity.

We revel in the joy of endless possibilities from the multitude of grapes and wine styles we have. We’re fascinated and enthralled by the unique imprint of different terroirs. Every vintage, new chapters are written by mother nature and the hands of thousands of winegrowers across the globe. The world of wine is a world wrapped up in a rich tapestry of diversity.

But this world doesn’t just begin and end in our glass.

Think about all that we’re missing when we don’t notice the people of color in the room.

And especially what we miss when we don’t notice their absence.

Think about the insights, perspectives and backgrounds that we don’t get to hear about. Wine is consumed by our senses–both physical and through the lens of our sense of self. We reflect all of that in our descriptions and interactions with wine.

If we’re not noticing, listening and talking to people of color, we lose opportunities to see wine through lenses that only they can share. We lose the words, sentiments and moments that broaden our understanding and make our tapestry more dynamic.

Just as the thought of limiting our vibrant world to a small handful of wines makes our heart sink, so too should the thought of limiting the voices that help bring this world to life.

So, no, I don’t want to be color blind. I want to see. I want to listen and learn.

I want to notice.

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A New Tool to Help Promote Online Wine Events

My post last month on How Can We Make Virtual Wine Tastings Less Sucky? generated quite a response. While most of it came from wineries seeking honest feedback on their VTs, I also received numerous inquiries from folks wondering how I was finding these events. For me, it was relatively simple because they’re popping up everywhere on social media. But when I went to Google “Virtual Wine Tasting,” I quickly realized what a chore it was for consumers to find interesting online wine events.

Mobile screenshot from https://virtualwineevents.com/

Unless someone is actively following lots of wineries, wine schools, bloggers, etc., most of these events float under the radar. Yet, there’s clearly a growing interest even in a post-Covid future.

One silver lining emerging from this pandemic is that it has encouraged us to embrace digital tools like never before. Zoom is not going away, neither are Facebook and IG Live events. Everyday consumers are getting comfortable connecting with people and brands from across the globe on these platforms. Even when things get back to semi-normal, there’s always going to be an audience for online wine events.

We just need an easier way to find them.

VirtualWineEvents.com

I have to give credit to my wife, Beth, a former Google site reliability manager, for developing this site. She not only noticed that the domain name was available (as well as onlinewineevents.com) but that Google Trends was showing people searching for these terms. She had been itching to play around with wine-related technology in her quarantine downtime so, after a couple of weeks of work, we launched the site this weekend–already populated with over 200 events.

US Search terms

Google Trends in the US for Virtual Wine Tasting and Online Wine Tasting

Global search terms

Global results

This is a free tool for wineries, educators and other small businesses to promote their wine events.

While I will be managing the site and uploading events as I find them, it’s designed to be easy for anyone to use. All you have to do to upload an event is to create a login via FaceBook or Google. We also have an email login option that we’ll keep as long as it’s not being abused. The aim is to maintain some accountability on who is submitting events.

Once you’ve created a login, you can input an event on any date by filling in the details below. The listing will then need to be approved by admins who will make sure it is a legitimate event before going live.

Input page on Virtual Wine events

The timezone is based on the login IP of the submitter (in my case, Central European Time). For global visitors to the site, the time will be adjusted to their own time zone.

Future Developments in the Works

We just launched the site this weekend with several more features slated to be added–including some front-end design work and the ability to upload photos. But three significant items coming soon:

1.) Social media share buttons on each event listing so that consumers can easily post to their SM accounts events that they are interested in.

2.) An “Interested” icon that consumers can select to highlight events that intrigue them. This will contribute to a Reddit-style “Trending Events” listing that will appear on the main page to highlight future events that are garnering the most interest. While the homepage for today’s events will always list things in order of what’s coming up next, future calendar dates will elevate to the top more popular events for higher visibility.

3.) A back-edit feature to upload links to recordings of events that have passed. As I noted in my previous article, the long term benefit of virtual wine tastings and other online wine events is that this is content that can keep working for you.

Search results on Virtual Wine Events include several of the most recent past events that are relevant to the query. Like this example of what someone would see searching for a wine event about New Zealand.

NZ Search

Items that have a post-event recording available will have a special tag noting this for users to check out.

Another feature that will come a little further down the road is the ability to subscribe to be notified of events based on keywords such as a favorite winery or wine region. This way, whenever an event that matches is submitted, the consumer will automatically get an email notification of it.

How can wineries use this tool effectively?

Mobile view VWE

Mobile view of events.

While I highly encourage wineries to start using VirtualWineEvents.com as another promotion tool, you’ll quickly notice poking around the site that there are A LOT of online wine events happening. And more are popping up every day. So to maximize your reach, keep a couple tips in mind.

1.) Have a Catchy Title. Something more than just “Virtual Tasting with the Winemaker”–stuff. On mobile, all people are going to see at first is this title, so make it count. Do you have a particular theme like “The Battle of the Zins” or “Wines to convert Chardonnay-skeptics,” etc.? Think of something that is going to make folks want to click on your event.

2.) Have a Good Landing Page. This is the link that your event title goes to. Ideally, if it is an event that requires registration, you want the landing page to be that registration page. Consumers will lose interest if you make them have to click through multiple links.

3.) Make the Description Worthwhile. The search function pulls from the event title and description box. You want to make sure that if someone is looking for an event on Pinot noir, yoga, natural wine, etc., that they’re going to find you.

Any feedback or suggestions would be much appreciated!

As you can tell, this is still a work in progress. You can email me at amber@spitbucket.net with comments as well as hit me up on the Virtual Wine Events Twitter handle, @VirtualWineEvts.

This will definitely be a valuable tool for connecting consumers with wineries and other small businesses. The potential of online events is limitless and go far beyond just virtual wine tasting and webinars. There are folks hosting murder mystery parties, cooking and painting classes, R&B social events, trivia quizzes, watch parties for movies & YouTube premieres, etc. Long after we’ve emerged from our Covid slumber, there will still be consumers interested in online wine events.

Hopefully now they will be easier to find.

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Talking about Millennial consumers today on The Real Business of Wine!

I’m very excited to have been asked by Robert Joseph, aka the Wine Thinker, and Polly Hammond of 5forests to join them on their April 20th Real Business of Wine panel talking about wine consumers. While I’ll be there to share some insights on Millennial buyers, the event is going to cover a lot of ground.

RBW logo

Join us for this very special session in collaboration with ARENI Global, as we explore the changing face of the modern wine consumer. Millennials, Boomers: does it matter? Technophobes, Social media natives: what does it mean for communications? Wine shops, DTC: what does the future look like?”

The panel will start on Zoom at 18:00 BST (1 pm EST, 10 am PST). You can get the link by registering on the RBW site.

About #RealBizWine

Joseph and Hammond launched RBW earlier this year to bring wine professionals from across the globe together to talk about today’s hot topics. In a little over a month, they’ve broadcasted over a dozen episodes covering issues as diverse as biodynamics and natural wines to excelling at eCommerce, wine writing and working remotely from home.

Along the way, they’ve featured a literal Who’s Who of authoritative voices in wine such as Jancis Robinson, Jane Anson, Isabelle Legeron, Felicity Carter, Laura Catena, Rebecca Hopkins, Ronan Rayburn, Joe Fattorini, Monty Waldin, Eric Asimov, Tim Atkin, Elaine Chukan Brown, Alice Feiring, Paul Mabray, Jasper Morris, Ray Isle, Erica Duecy and DLynn Proctor.

*Cue “One of These Things is Not Like the Others….“*

But, hey, I’m just going to do my best to hold my head above water while talking about a topic that I’m passionate about. Beyond being a Millennial myself, over my 15+ years of retail experience (most of it in the wine industry), I’ve seen how the old playbook doesn’t always work with my cohorts. However, we’re far from monolithic with the oldest of my generation starting to hit their 40s while the youngest is still in college.

On this blog, I’ve written about Millennials a lot. These articles have been some of the most searched for and shared pieces I’ve produced.

Is the Wine Industry boring Millennials to (its) death?
The Wine Industry’s Millennial Strawman
Millennial Math — Where’s the value in wine?
The Wine Industry’s Reckoning With Millennials
Napa Valley — Boomer or Bust?
Under the (Social Media) Influence
The Real Influencers of the Wine World
Adapt or Perish — The Wine Industry’s Reckoning With Technology
The Lost Storytelling of Wine
Wine Above Replacement (WAR) — Hard Seltzer
How Can Wineries Use Instagram Better?
Why Do Winery Instagram Feeds Suck So Much?
Fake Wine and Real Boobs

However, more than participating, what I’m most looking forward to are the new insights.

One of the great things about the Real Business of Wine format is that it’s interactive with the hosts, Joseph & Hammond, frequently bringing in folks from the audience to ask questions and share their experiences. (Check out of one my favorite episodes below on Wine Tourism as an example.) It truly does become a global conversation that I’m thrilled to be a part of.

However, because of its popularity and bandwidth issues, they have to limit the audience to around 100 people. This is why they encourage registration via email to secure your place. So if you want to take in the panel live, definitely sign up!

But don’t worry if you miss the 100 person cut-off, the episode will be on The Real Business of Wine YouTube channel with clips posted on the @realbizwine Twitter feed.

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The Coronavirus Email I’d Like to Get

Like many wine lovers, my inbox has been flooded this week with notes from wineries and wine shops detailing their response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Even places that I’ve not heard from in years, such as shops I patronized in the early 2000s when I lived in Missouri and Florida, have suddenly rediscovered my email address.

virus image photo by Harris A, et al. Released by the US gov under the public domain

It’s great that so many businesses are being proactive in closing to protect employees and guests. It’s also a smart move to offer free deliveries and curbside pick up.

But that’s not what I need right now.

As much as I love shopping for wine, a barrage of “BUY! BUY! BUY!” is going to get a quick ‘delete.’ At worst, it may even prompt me to unsubscribe. That’s because even though I do want to support small businesses, it’s just not where my head is at the moment.

Instead, my thoughts are taken up with concerns on how my high-risk dad is doing 5000 miles away. Or whether my sisters are going to be laid off and need help with bills as they juggle homeschooling their kids. Not to mention my own quarantine situation here in Paris.

So when I go to my inbox or social media feeds, I’m looking for something that I desperately need.

A distraction.

Something to do or look forward to that breaks me out of this rut of endless bad news and worry. I need something that feels somewhat normal even though every single thing around me feels alien and bizarre.

The emails and social media posts that resonate the most with me right now are ones that give me an outlet to not think about Coronavirus for a moment. Yet, I fret that in the desire to do something (and drum up sorely needed sales), many businesses are going overboard. It’s not a bad idea to want to communicate to customers. Nor is it misguided to let folks know that you’re still open for business even in a reduced capacity.

But it’s more about how you go about it.

1.) Drop the Form Letter Speak

I’m going to splice together text from several different emails I’ve received this week. Even though some are from wineries and others from wine shops, I doubt many will pick out the splicing because they all sound pretty much the same.

Dear Friends,

During these challenging times, we’re are so grateful for the overwhelming heartfelt support from you — our amazing customers. We would like to announce the following steps that we are taking in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the community. The well-being of our staff, customers, and the community remains our top priority, and we will continue to adapt and adjust these measures due to the evolving circumstances.

In compliance with the California public health mandate, our tasting rooms are temporarily closed. We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding during this unprecedented time.

The positive news is that the rest of the business is up and running. If you’d like to place an order, you can do so online, or by speaking to one of the team. Whether you are self-isolating, lying low or just love good wine, keep your spirits up and enjoy FREE delivery.

Please stay safe and healthy, follow CDC guidelines, and we’ll all make it through this together.

Sincere thanks for all of your support!

Your customers have likely already received at least a dozen of these emails with several more still to come.

If someone is going to know exactly what an email says before they open it, it’s not an effective email. Businesses must find ways to break out of the formula. One way is to turn it back to the customer with a personal touch. Such as:

Dear Amber,

How are you holding up? As you may have heard, our tasting room is temporarily closed. But our staff has been coming in each day to check in on our wine club members. Please feel free to call or email us if you just want to chat, have questions about what we’re doing at the winery, or even need some wine sent your way. We’ll figure something out…

Think of how different it feels to receive the second email as opposed to the first. They both basically convey the same thing. (Hey, our tasting room is closed, but we’re still here and can get you some wine!) But the first feels formulaic while the second feels sincere and empathetic.

2.) Offer more than just wine to buy and free delivery

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs image by 	FireflySixtySeven. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Yes, we all love wine. But right now, we need a little more than free shipping.


I wrote before about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in the context of wine education, but let’s go back to its traditional use. Because, truthfully, wine really doesn’t have a ready place in the pyramid.

You have to realize that most all your customers are going to be focusing a lot on those bottom tiers of physiological and safety needs. But as more communities get locked down in isolation, that middle tier of needing communication and connection (belonging) is going to be more prominent.

This is when wineries and wine shops need to offer more than just their products. They need to offer themselves. We always talk about how the wine industry is a people-oriented business. That’s never going to ring more true than it will over the next several months.

Now is the time to think outside the box about how to reach consumers–not just to sell, but to connect. Numerous creative ideas are emerging from forward-thinking wineries like Kendall-Jackson which is planning a series of virtual concerts, cooking classes & yoga.

Several wineries such as St. Supéry are launching virtual tastings. While this runs the risk of being overdone, it’s a starting point for other creative ways to utilize platforms such as Facebook Live, Discord or Zoom to interact with consumers.

But there are so many other ideas that can be explored.

Movie night with your own Mystery Science Theatre 3000-type Rifftrax.

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60496972

Wine + indulging your inner Tom Servo & Crow = a hella fun time.


I would love to be in a Zoom room listening to winemakers riffing films like Sideways, A Walk in the Clouds, Wine Country, Bottle Shock, A Good Year, etc. The awesomeness potential could be off the charts.

And it’s fairly simple to do, not requiring the purchasing of any movie rights. Select a movie that is currently available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu or even YouTube. Pick a date and time where folks can start watching at the same point. Encourage them to keep the movie on mute and then have fun drinking and riffing.

Virtual Book Clubs

Independent bookstores and libraries are taking the lead on this, but there is no reason why wineries and wine shops can’t follow suit. With many titles available on eReaders, lots of folks are going to be turning to books for a change of pace. You can discuss popular wine books or something completely different. This could be done on a Facebook and Instagram thread or, better still, setting up an interactive Zoom room that folks can participate in face-to-face (virtually).

Wine Games

On Instagram, I do a Mystery Grape game utilizing the IG Story feature. Other bloggers such as Outwines, The Grape Grind and Bin 412 do similar games as well. It’s an easy platform that many wineries and wine shops can pick up.

Whether it be wine education games or silly scavenger hunts around the house, it’s all good fun for a few moments of distraction. And, honestly, it’s probably a better use right now of your Instagram than glamour shots of the vineyard and bottle porn.

While folks want diversions, you have to toe the line to avoid sounding tone deaf. Things aren’t very glamorous these days and likely won’t be for a while. It’s important to acknowledge the hardship and uncertainty even when you’re trying to provide other outlets.

Move wine classes online

Zoom screenshot

Robert Joseph, The Wine Thinker, and Polly Hammond of 5Forests are using Zoom to conduct their Real Business of Wine live streams. It’s a great medium for many virtual events.


This is especially important for wine shops to stay connected with the community. Many shops use their wine classes to help differentiate themselves from their competitors and build relationships with regular attendees. You can still have face to face interactions with your customers–just in a different format.

These classes should be free since you’re not providing wine and food. Though you could take a page out of the wineries’ virtual tasting book by offering a discounted package for delivery beforehand. But most people aren’t going to want to open up 6 to 8 wines at home. And you can’t bank on them having a Coravin.

So I would encourage you to build your classes around one bottle of wine to taste while listening and interacting with the instructor. The other bottles in a delivery pack could be “homework” for later to try at their leisure.

The important thing is to keep offering these classes–to keep offering that connection.

While it’s easy to get overwhelmed now, we’re all in this for the long haul.

It’s likely going to be several weeks, maybe even months, before things start feeling normal. Every wine business need to take that distant vision in their planning.

The craving for a distraction and normalcy is only going to grow. Wine can be both a blessing and balm during these troubling times. But wineries and wine shops need to do more than just ask for a sale.

They have to acknowledge the other needs that consumers have and find ways to deliver more than just a great bottle of wine.

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Education is Not Going to Save the Wine Industry

There’s a public Facebook group that I belong to called Friends Who Like Wine In The Glass. Ran by Steve and Vashti Roebuck of Wine In The Glass, it has nearly 10,000 members who span everything from regular wine lovers to industry folks and even Masters of Wine.

It’s always a good place to pop in for interesting wine conversations such as this recent thread by Larry Baker, aka Larry the Wine Guy. The thread started with Baker posting his latest video about the confusing 75% loophole for labeling American wines by grape varieties and the challenges of trying to educate consumers that their favorite Cab, Merlot or Pinot noir might actually be a red blend.

I know where Larry and other wine stewards/somms are coming from.

As someone who spent many years in the retail trenches, I can sympathize with Larry’s frustrations. The loophole is confusing. It’s also really tough dealing with people so hung up on a grape variety that they’re closed off to trying any other wine which doesn’t have that magical name on the label.

Yet, many American varietal wines in the sub $20 category can be very “red blend-y”–either because of style or a winemaker using the full stretch of that 75% loophole. I understand the desire to want to educate consumers on this loophole and use that enlightenment as a segue to get them to break out of their mono-varietal rut. However, watching Larry’s video and picturing these types of conversations happening on the sales floor made me cringe.

I know Baker is a good guy and has the best of intentions. I’m sure he’s had many great customer interactions and successes. But I’m also absolutely certain that his sincere, but exacting approach to educating consumers has turned off more than a handful as well.

(Update: Since this blog has been published, Baker has shared some more of his thoughts on sales in the comments of his original post that are worth reading for his perspective.)

I’m not writing this to pick on Larry.

He’s definitely not an isolated case.

Every single person reading this blog can think of sommeliers, wine stewards or tasting rooms associates that they’ve encountered who’ve leaned a bit too hard on the wine education front. While some of it can be driven by arrogance and snobbery, for most folks (like Larry), it’s more of an over-extension of passion. When you love wine and what you do, it’s hard not to want to share that and use your knowledge to encourage folks to try new things.

Aviation mechanic using a greasing gun image by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Kyle Steckler. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under PD US Navy

You only need to apply a little grease to ease the friction.


That passion isn’t bad. Wine education isn’t bad. But it’s imperative for anyone dealing with consumers to understand that education is not the engine that drives sales. It’s service, of which education is merely the grease that helps smooth things along.

But you know what happens when you over-grease the gears? Things run hot and break down. Customer service breaks down and the whole engine that we need to sustain the wine industry starts grinding to a halt.

Slathering on even more grease is not going to fix that.

As the US deals with declining wine sales, getting that engine back up and running is at the top of many concerns. However, anytime the industry deals with disappointing sales, there’s always a knee-jerk reaction that more education must be the answer.

Why is no one buying Sherry? It’s too confusing!

Why are Rieslings such a tough sell? People don’t understand them!

You could play this script out for most any wine topic.  It’s like there is a paradox that the answer is to both dumb things down while using education as a hammer to break through consumer ignorance. But what we should be doing is putting away both the crayons and hammers. We don’t have an education problem in the industry.

We have an empathy problem.

Frequent readers of the blog know that this is a tune that I’ve sung many times before. From my posts One Night Stands and Surprises about wineries, Wine Shops’ Biggest Mistake to my recent ponderings of When Did We Stop Treating People Like People?, I’m going to keep banging this drum.

In my career, there’s been no lesson more valuable to learn than that consumers want more listening and less lecturing. They want to be heard, seen and served–not sold to. Any winery, restaurant or wine shop that teaches “selling skills” should throw out those training manuals and start over. It won’t be selling skills that get you sales; it will be your service skills.

campfire photo by Dirk Beyer. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons GFDL and cc-by-sa-2.5

While the logs are undoubtedly vital, no air=no fire.

Those are the skills that will teach you to meet the customer where they are–at their level of knowledge and comfort. While service skills value the use of education to help smooth things along, they know that its use must be measured and not overdone.

Holding a consumer’s interest in wine is like maintaining a fire. It starts with a spark and some kindling. As it grows, you throw on logs (new wines, new knowledge) as fuel to keep it going. But you can’t toss too many on without smothering out the whole thing. The fire needs ventilation and air to sustain itself.

Too many wine professionals smother consumers with education and expertise.

I’m not saying that the industry should turn “anti-expert.” I don’t think anyone can read this blog and come away with the idea that I’m against wine education and expanding folks’ knowledge.

Education is important. Greasing the gears and throwing logs on the fire is essential.

But it’s not the engine or air which our industry needs to survive. Service is.

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