Category Archives: Wine marketing

One-Click Drinking

I’ll be honest. The ongoing pandemic and isolation have really done a number on me. It’s incredible how the world feels so jumbled and out of place while also static and frozen at the same time. It’s been tough working up the urge to write, so I’ve spent my time more as a consumer rather than commentator.

Mac Forbes Pinot noir

But that tour of just making due, day by day, has ushered in an appreciation for how screwcaps so brilliantly encapsulate the mood and needs of wine consumers right now. Now this isn’t going to be a post extolling the virtues of screwcap versus corks. But rather I want to give you a little microcosm on motivation and how that impacts the consumer buying journey.

Plus, as the wine industry continues to dig itself out of the rubble of the pre-digital Stone Age, it’s worth wondering how often we “taint” the process in various ways.

Because, frankly, we’re all tired right now.

Mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Even physically. Sure, some folks are handling things better than others but it may be that they’re just better at hiding it. And this sense of tiredness impacts everything.

Even when we initially have the impetus to do something, it’s easy to get derailed. Anything that gives a modicum of stress can be enough to sap the desire to continue whatever journey you started, whether that be the buying journey to discover a new bottle or even the start of the re-buying journey that begins at the consumer’s home staring at their wine rack.

So many times this past year, I’ve gone to that rack, searching for something to drink only to feel the pangs and hesitations of “Ugh, do I really want to deal with this?”

Do I really want to muck around digging out the corkscrew? Do I want to fuss with the foil or fight with some blasted wax capsule that only makes me angry that I bought this wine in the first place? Is it worth the time or effort to enjoy this bottle of wine?

Often, the answer is yes because I’m an “engaged enthusiast.” But sometimes the answer is, indeed, No.

No, it’s not worth it.  And if that is the case with someone who is in the minority of consumers that are engaged enthusiasts, how often do you think “Nah, it’s not worth it.” comes up for the majority who are just looking for something to drink?

How often do they look at their wine rack and think it’s not worth the time and effort to enjoy a bottle of wine?

Of course, this goes far beyond packaging.

wax capsule

Seriously though, fuck wax capsules.
Even with the “good” wax that you can drill through with a corkscrew with little mess, they’re still a colossal pain if you want to use a Coravin for just a single glass.

We do so many things as an industry to keep piling on the effort we expect consumers to endure to enjoy our products. How much thinking do you want to do at that wine rack while picking out a bottle? Which pairing will work? Do I need to decant this? Is this wine ready to drink? Will this be sweet? Tart? Tannic? Earthy? What grape is even in this bottle?

Sometimes you don’t want to do any of that. You don’t want to think. You don’t want to work.

All you want in this godforsaken crazy world is to simply enjoy a glass of wine.

That is the intent. That is the desire. Now, how many obstacles are you willing to deal with to get to that goal? In this day and age, not many.

Sometimes, all you want is just One-Click Drinking.

Copper Crew Rose

Perhaps this is another reason why canned wine is taking off? Less fuss and thinking, more fun and drinking.


Last night, the perfect antidote to that “Do I really want to deal with this?” mood was a bottle of 2019 Mac Forbes Yarra Valley Pinot noir sealed under a screw cap. I was alright with the thinking part of the equation, but I really didn’t want to mess around with finding a corkscrew. Pure, simple laziness but damn if that wasn’t the exact place I was in.

I didn’t care about the romance or traditional “pop” of a cork. I wanted the romance of less fuss and nonsense in my life. Give me the swift motion of a simple click–a smooth consumer journey from bottle to glass. No interruptions. No gadgets. Just me, my intent, my desire, and the easy achievement of that goal.

Why can’t everything in wine be as easy as screwcaps?

At every step of the consumer journey, there will be multiple opportunities for that “Ugh, is this worth it?” to pop up. It’s the “cork taint” of sales–able to spoil an entire basket with a single drop. And it’s both systemic and endemic. While you can’t always account for everything going on in a consumer’s head, there are still many things under a winery’s control–especially at the beginning of the buying process with DtC sales. From poorly designed and hard to navigate websites, impersonal and joyless shopping experiences, to even unexpectedly high shipping costs–you want to limit as many of those hiccups as you can.

You want the buying experience to be as smooth and simple as opening a screwcap wine. No need to jump through hoops. No hesitation arising while digging around to find things–whether that be a particular wine on your site, shipping details, or a corkscrew. Don’t make consumers have to cut through the foil of multiple clicks and pages to get to their end goal–that glass of wine. That only increases the chance of bugs & site errors nicking their fingertips like a bad foil cut.

The one thought I want you to leave with is to remember this time that we’re living in now. Be mindful of the scars and habits that are being engrained. People may still want your product. They may still desire it and initially seek it out.

But there’s always going to be opportunities for that “Ugh, is this worth it?” cork taint to seep in. Identify those trouble spots and put a screw cap on them.

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Three Lessons Learned After 7 Months of Virtual Wine Events

Today marks the 7 month anniversary since the launch of VirtualWineEvents.com. Despite still being a very young site, I’ve been thrilled with its growth. We’ve had more than 7400 events featured with over 5700 unique site visitors. Additionally, more than 400 folks have created accounts to submit events.

Image by Pixabay

But the most exciting part is seeing the data from the site about what kind of virtual events consumers are seeking. It’s one thing to have anecdotes, but the hard numbers about what people are actually clicking on are deeply fascinating.

So today I’m going to share some of these insights gleaned from seven months of data from VirtualWineEvents.com. As I said when I first launched VWE, my goal has always been for this site to be a tool for the wine industry to help reach consumers. It’s why I have no interest in monetizing the site with things like sponsored listings or ads. I want to keep the richness of organic feedback–something that anyone can see, anytime, in things like the Trending Events and Trending Video Replays sections.

Though first, some caveats.

One, the data is deliberately very limited to protect the privacy of users. Not only do we respect GDPR on the site, but I have no interest in demographic details of users or what they do elsewhere. It’s only what they do on the site–which listings they interact with–that I care about. So if you want details about age, gender, income brackets or other interests, then you’re not going to find it here. The only data is from people who intentionally allow cookies and even that is limited to just very general details like location. Thus, the data below reflects the actions of only about half the nearly 6000 users of VWE.

Finally, the current audience for VirtualWineEvents.com is significantly biased towards the US.

After that, a good segment of our audience comes from the UK and South Africa and then Australia, Canada and India. While we’ve had visitors from over 70 countries (including growing traffic from New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, France, Netherlands, Brazil and Sweden), the US’s influence will still be highly reflected in these numbers.

In future posts, I’ll dive deeper into buzz ratings–highlighting events that have seen the most interaction on the site. In October, I did a lengthy Twitter thread about the Top 10 most popular listings ever featured on VWE. Since then, that Top 10 has shaken up a bit as video replays become an even more significant buzz generator.

But now, let’s get to the three biggest insights that have emerged about virtual wine events.

Lesson 1 – When is the best time to host virtual events?

Answer – It depends.

Overall, the time slot that has seen the highest number of pure interactions is 19:00 GMT (2 pm EST, 11 am PST). This is prime time for the UK, Central Europe (8 pm) and South Africa (9 pm). It also overlaps with viable US times (especially on the weekends). But I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is the most popular time slot. While that time has had the greatest cumulative number of interactions (clicks, bookmarking, calendar adds, etc.), users only interact with an average of 2.4 events that are scheduled to start in that time slot.

Instead, the overwhelming leader in terms of average event interactions is 0:00 GMT–midnight in London but entering prime time for the US from 7 pm East Coast to 4 pm Pacific. Users interact with an average of 6.1 events during this time slot, followed by 23:00 GMT (average 4.5 interactions) and 22:00 GMT. Again, significant US-bias at play here. Below I have a chart of each time slot ranked by the average interactions they see from users. In blue, I’ve highlighted the “prime time” hours of 5 pm to 9 pm (4:30 to 9:30 pm in ACST and India) when most events are held.

Engagement times on VWE by interaction

AUS Central is ACST, which includes South Australia (Adelaide, Barossa Valley, etc.)

Another time slot that jumped out to me was 17:00 GMT (Noon EST, 9 am PST) when many trade webinars are held. Many individual events in this time slot have generated a fair amount of buzz ratings (often through video replays), though overall it’s not a big hour. But the near-even distribution between US and UK users does seem to bear out the value of these times for industry events.

17:00 GMT interaction

Takeaways:

Be mindful of your audience and err towards the prime time hours when you can. (Though I’m curious about that 8 pm drop in the West Coast US. Dinner time conflicts?) This is particularly true if you’re doing an event that involves tasting. Because let’s face it, not many folks want to drink wine at 9 am. But for more educational and informative events, the 17:00 to 19:00 GMT slots make a lot of sense to maximize overlap with engage audiences in Europe, South Africa & the US.

Lesson 2 – Virtual Tastings or Webinars? What is more popular?

To some degree, this is a question of who the audience for virtual wine events really is. Is it “regular” consumers who tend to gravitate towards tastings? Or is it more industry folks and highly engaged “winos” who tend to look for more educational events?

On VWE, I allow submitters to self-categorize their events as Virtual Tastings, Webinars, Social Events, IG Lives and Other. I leave the definition of the event up to them, but in the FAQ section, I offer this guidance:

Virtual Tastings– Events focused on specific wines to be tasted, usually with an expectation that participants have pre-purchased the wines ahead of the event.

Webinars– Events focused on a particular topic (such as Old Vine Zinfandel or the Wines of Rioja) that may include tasting specific wines but are structured to where participants don’t necessarily need to have those exact wines in order to enjoy the event. This would also include master classes and other educational events.

Social Events– This is a broad category that includes trivia, quizzes and other wine games, virtual happy hours, yoga, painting and cooking classes, book clubs, Twitter chats, movie viewing parties, etc.

Instagram Live– Due to the growing popularity of these events, we’ve created a separate category to highlight them. IG Lives often incorporate elements of Virtual Tastings, Webinars and Social Events with the common link being the convenience of being able to easily drop in on them while they’re happening.

While the popularity of Social Events & IG Lives ebb and flow (both were way more popular during lockdowns but still have some legs in the US), virtual tastings and webinars have shown remarkable staying power. And it’s pretty darn even between the two.

Virtual Tasting Engagement
webinar engagements

Takeaways:

Obviously, we’ll need to keep watching these numbers whenever things hopefully, someday get back to “normal.” While it’s easy to envision webinars still going strong post-COVID, I know many folks have been skeptical about the long term viability of virtual tastings. I don’t think we can pull any concrete takeaways from the data just yet. However, after seven months, there’s enough here to suggest that there will be some sustained interest in VTs.

Lesson 3 – Free or Paid events?

Outside of the “When should I hold my event?” question, the topic of whether an online event should have the cost of wine included upfront or be a free BYOB (bring your own bottle) event is one of the most frequent queries I get. This was the subject of another lengthy Twitter thread I did last month while looking at the data for the top 100 events based on buzz ranking.

That was more back of the envelope extrapolating. But looking at the hard data, events categorized as “Free” do get significantly more engagement. The average user engages with 3.6 free events compared to 2.3 engagements with all other events. However, as I noted in the Twitter thread, it does seem like that trend is changing with more consumers having their interest piqued by paid events.

Free events on VWE

Note: If an event lists a cost range like $0-20, it is not categorized as a “Free” event.

From Impulse to Intent.

In the Twitter thread, I shared my suspicion that one of the drivers of this change is that the mindset of consumers looking for online wine events seems to be shifting. At the beginning of the year, with the COVID pandemic and lockdowns freshly sprung upon us, folks were looking for an escape, for entertainment. That search for distraction played well with the novelty of virtual tasting and easy to consume options like IG Lives.

But as we settle into our new normal with (hopefully) more entertainment options opening up, wine consumers aren’t necessarily looking for distractions anymore. Instead, the ones who continue to seek out virtual events are looking for particular things. It’s more active engagement instead of passive consumption. We’re moving from a mindset of impulse (Hmm, is there anything to do tonight?) towards one of intent (I want to do ________). And consumers are usually more willing to pay for something that fits what they are explicitly seeking versus what strikes them on a whim.

This relates to another trend I see on the site.

The average user is spending a lot more time on VirtualWineEvents.com, clicking and engaging with listings. Right now, the average engagement is 3 minutes and 6 seconds. But compare the numbers from our first two months (May & June) with those of the past two (October & November).

May June engagement time

Oct Nov engagement time

Not only is the overall average engagement time higher but the average per session is also nearly a full minute longer (1m 06s to 1m 53s). And it’s not because there are more events to look through each calendar day. On the contrary, May and June were the two most prolific months with nearly 2600 events. At the other end, October and November only featured around 1200 events.

But even though the number of events has waned since the pandemic-induced frenzy of virtual tastings, the overall quality of events has improved. And accordingly, the seriousness and selectiveness of the consumers looking for these events have risen in response.

So what comes next?

While there was a lull in events during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, activity has definitely picked up in the winter. It surprised me to see already 412 events submitted for December and another 91 for January. Typically that number slowly builds throughout a month as events get submitted on average 3 to 7 days before they happen. Quite a few only get submitted the day of or day before.

I hope this trend is pointing towards hosts being more proactive in scheduling events with enough time to promote them.  We really need to move beyond a “fly by the pants” mentality of throwing things together and just hoping people show up. Allowing more time to promote gives events a chance to build buzz and reach more consumers. As people move from what’s happening now? to actively searching for events that they want to attend, you want to show up in that search even if your event is still several days or weeks away.

And you want them to find you after the fact as well.
Add past event

Even if your event wasn’t originally featured on VWE, you can still add a video replay link.

I can’t overstate the value of video replays–especially webinars and winemaker events. That archive of quality content is truly the future of virtual wine events and where folks can find their most significant ROI. This will be another area that I’ll explore more in future posts as I keenly keep an eye on what’s popping up on the Trending Replay section.

Another thing I’m working on is categorizing the buzz rating data by keywords in their descriptions to compare events. I want to see how events with things like cooking class, blind tasting, cheese pairing, etc., fare in generating engagement. Which grape varieties or wine regions generate the most buzz? Does featuring a well-known moderator, Master of Wine or Master Sommelier help set some events apart? Tons of great stuff to sink my teeth into.

Of course, folks are welcome to ping me (amber@spitbucket.net) anytime about virtual events. As I said above, my goal for VWE is to be a tool for the wine industry. So if there are ways that this data can help wineries, wine shops, restaurants, educators and influencers better reach consumers, I’ll do my best to share it freely.

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The New Wall of Wine & Why Some Wineries Aren’t Even Making it to the Shelf

By now, I’m sure a lot of folks have heard about the viral video of two brothers reacting to hearing Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’ for the first time. If Tim and Fred Williams want to continue their tour of 80s hits, one song that the wine industry could certainly use a blast from the past of is Lionel Richie’s 1983 classic ‘Hello (Is it Me You’re Looking For?)‘.

That’s because as we stare into a future of more consumers beginning their buying journeys with online searches, many wineries have no clue of how to win the hearts (& wallets) of those consumers.

Even before COVID, a new Wall of Wine was being built that wineries needed to adapt for. But it’s not what we find in brick and mortar settings. It’s the changing way that consumers approach shopping for products to buy–as well as places to travel and visit.

Sleep on Search and Digital at your own peril.

Smartphones have changed the way we live and think about everything. Having a world of knowledge at our fingertips has fundamentally reprioritized how we approach information–what’s important to remember vs. what we can search for on the fly. And while, as a wine geek, I hate to admit this, for a lot of consumers, “wine knowledge” is pretty low on the totem pole of things worth remembering.

Wine Intelligence has noted this trend for some time but points out that this, interestingly, coincides with greater overall consumer confidence in buying wine.

Why?

Because a consumer doesn’t need to fret about knowing the difference between Pinot noir in Burgundy compared to Oregon when all they need to do is Google it. The answer is right there–or at least an answer good enough to satisfy their query. While “serious wine people” may quibble at things like Wikipedia and Wine Folly being top results, regular consumers sure don’t. This is the future, so we need to be paying attention to it.

Think of how many wine sales begin with a question. What’s a good Napa Cab to give as a gift? Are there vegan-friendly wines? What’s the best wine to have with chicken marsala? Even at restaurants or wine shops, consumers are just as likely to Google the answer as they are to ask a sommelier or steward. Maybe even more so.

Now think of how many wine sales are missed by wineries not evening trying to be the answer to those questions.

Do you have a spot on the digital Wall of Wine?

Come on, Lionel! People are searching. Are they finding you?

Don’t just Google yourself. Google what you do, what you make and where you are. Think of questions that consumers might ask that could lead them to you. Take a look at this search for California Zinfandel.

California Zinfandel Google Search

BTW, if you’re doing a virtual tasting/webinar, these questions in the Google results box would be great titles & themes to use.

The wineries mentioned in first page results (particularly in the very click-coaxing starred articles) definitely have a shelf spot on the digital Wall of Wine. But even if you’re not showing up in results for a high-value search term like “California Zinfandel,” hope is not lost. You could still show up on the first (maybe second) page of results for things like spicy Zins, Zinfandels that aren’t sweet, bold Zins, sustainable Zinfandels, Cheap Zins that don’t taste cheap, etc. While you may not be at prime “eye-level” placement on the digital shelf, finding yourself at least somewhere is better than not being stocked at all.

And don’t forget to check out YouTube as well. More and more people are incorporating video search in their buying journeys. This is an area that is only going to continue to grow–especially with the integration of voice search and smart TVs into our lives.

The importance of this extends far beyond just online shopping.

Even if you don’t want to bother with that “digital stuff,” the digital stuff is certainly going to bother you if your winery is built around tourism and tasting room visits. It’s very likely that one of the long-term impacts of COVID (as well as growing concern about the carbon footprint of traveling) means that folks are going to be more selective about where they go. If people are traveling less, they’re going to be researching more to make those fewer trips really count. And where do you think they’re going to be doing this research?

Picture a Zin-loving consumer at home, sitting on their couch, thinking about taking a trip to Sonoma. They turn on their smart tv, go to YouTube and start researching “Wineries with old vine Zin in Sonoma.” What are they going to find? Is it you they’re looking for?

Old vine Zin Sonoma YouTube

Mostly product reviews with really only one winery-produced video in the top results.

Do you remember me talking about wineries needing to think BIG about Virtual Tastings and Online Wine Events?

Folks, it was never about selling tasting packs as a short term revenue gap. It was never about trying to replace tasting rooms or just making due until things “got back to normal”. The wineries that took that approach are no better off today than they were before lockdown.

The wine businesses that hit home runs as virtual wine events were taking off were the ones that realized the value in the content they were producing. Content that shows up on searches.

In the last few months, hours upon hours of new wine content have been added to the digital Wall of Wine.  And it’s still coming as wineries, wine shops, influencers and educators find more ways to leverage these digital tools. Some of it’s great with strong keywords (not ‘Virtual Tasting May 14th with the Winemaker’ stuff) and captions containing more relevant search terms. Some are pretty blah, showing the half-hearted effort and short-term thinking of the people behind them.

The really savvy folks find ways to use the content from an online event in multiple ways.

Maybe that involves partnering with a digital marketing firm to add a professional flair and slice it up into easily digestible 2 to 4-minute nuggets like what Pour Agency and Outshinery do with their productions. These could be uploaded to places like YouTube and Vimeo where they’re prime to show up on consumer searches–giving you more opportunities to reach consumers.

Plus, don’t forget winery websites (many of which could use some love and touch up). Think about how much more alive and humanized a product detail page could be with a short video clip of the winemaker talking to real people about the wine at a virtual tasting.

Heck, I’m sure that even the most blasé virtual tasting or Instagram Live has at least two to three sound-bite moments. Why not mine these for 20 to 40-second clips that could be used on social media? Lord knows that wineries are never short in need of fresh SM content.

Sonoma Zin VWE search results

On VirtualWineEvents.com, we’re seeing a lot of traffic move towards people looking for video replays of past events. So it’s clear that this content has the potential to keep delivering results long after the event.

The digital Wall of Wine is only going to get more crowded.

If there is any lesson to be learned from COVID, it’s about how tenuous the old marketing playbook can be. It all works great, up until the point that it doesn’t. Tasting rooms, restaurant sales, they can all be gone in a snap. And retail is certainly not going to get any easier.

With DtC sales the lifeblood of many wineries, it’s never been more critical to keep the blood pumping. It’s not enough to rely on impulse and influence to make a sale. You have to cultivate intent.

Your consumers are already searching for their next bottle to buy or tasting room to visit. Is it you they’re searching for?

And, most importantly, is it you they’re going to find?

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What’s the Future of Virtual Wine Tastings?

While the present is still grim in some areas (such as South Africa), many wine regions have open up their tasting rooms even in a limited, socially distant capacity. That’s been sure relief for cash-strapped wineries and a welcome respite for wine lovers who need to digitally detox. (Provided they feel safe and welcomed.)
Photo by Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0). Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons
But make no mistake. There is still a lot of value and a healthy market for online wine events. The folks that have gotten used to finding wine edu-tainment from the comforts of their couch aren’t melting away in the summer heat.

Since launching VirtualWineEvent.com in early May, I expected things to get quieter as places opened back up. But if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been writing as much, I can tell you that those expectations didn’t play out. Running VWE is turning into a full-time job with managing listings as well as counseling wine businesses about their events. (Though we’re still committed to keeping this as a free resource for the wine industry.)

Now I will say that the number of online wine events featured on the site each day has certainly decreased from a high point of 60-70+ a day in May/June to about 30 to 40 a day. (Though, to be frank, that high point was a bit much.) However, our site traffic keeps rolling on. A big reason, I suspect, is that even though the number of events have gone down, the overall quality has gone up.

Sure, there’s still the smattering of sucky virtual tastings.

But the number is much lower as those wineries putting on those lackluster events likely didn’t see many results for their efforts. Maybe they had a little bump in the first few weeks but probably soon saw attendance and enthusiasm fizzle. However, the wineries, wine shops, educators and influencers that got it–that figured out how the game was to be played–are the ones we see still investing and putting out quality online wine events.

Now, of course, there isn’t a magical formula. However, there are definitely some common threads that have emerged. First among them was the initial approach. As I told Jess Landers of SevenFiftyDaily in her article, How Wine Brands Can Successfully Utilize Virtual Tastings to Drive Consumer Sales, trying to replicate the tasting room experience virtually is a nonstarter. Those who tried usually failed spectacularly.

The wineries that viewed virtual tastings as nothing more than a revenue stopgap were always thinking too small and too limited. Meanwhile, other wineries, like Ridge Vineyards and the many who have partnered with 67 Pall Mall, approached these events as brand-building opportunities instead of wannabe tasting room experiences. These are the folks who nailed it from the get-go and will continue to see results.

Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about this and more as part of Outshinery’s On the Spot – The State of NOW in the Wine Industry panel.

Outshinery Promo

You can save your spot for the event here.

I encourage my readers to save a spot and join us at 10 am PST/1 pm EST. I’ll be sharing many of the insights that I’ve learned from managing VWE.

I’m not going to give them all away here, but I’ll leave you with this thought.

In a crowded marketplace, you can’t always rely on impulse driving a sale. Think of a label or bulk stack catching a consumer’s eyes. The sign on the road saying “Tasting Room Open.” That interesting name and just right price on the wine list. All the things that we used to rely on encouraging a wine lover to give you a shot.

As the COVID shutdown has shown us, relying on impulse is tenuous. Instead, you need to drive intent. You need to give consumers a reason to look for your wines, to want to go to your tasting room or visit your website and social media.

The ease and global reach of digital video is a powerful seed planter and intent driver. The future of virtual wine events belongs to the wineries and wine businesses that understand this.

And that future is now.

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The Booming Popularity of Instagram Live Wine Events

I call them the “Witching Hours.”

IG Live events

Every day starting at 5 pm, my smartphone buzzes alive with notifications. Someone is going LIVE on Instagram! Then another and another! 6 pm, 7 pm until they finally start to die off around eight.

And that’s just the first round of Witching Hours for IG events in Europe and South Africa. Like clockwork, if I forget to shut off my phone, I’m sure to be awakened at 2 am (CET) when the 5 pm Witching Hour on the US West Coast springs to life.

Of course, it’s not just wineries who are rushing to this platform. Pretty much everyone is hopping on the IG LIVE train from celebrities to chefs and musicians to regular folks just wanting to chat.

Eventually the avalanche of events will abate, but they’re not going to go away completely. As I’ve noted before, new habits are being forged and, for the 800 million daily users of Instagram, IG Lives will always be some part of their consumption. To that extent, I fully endorse wineries dipping their toes in this digital ocean.

But after months of watching numerous IG Live wine events, I do have a few suggestions.

1.) Realize that this is a competition for eyeballs

In short, don’t suck.

Every winery knows the challenges of competing amidst the “Wall of Wine” at a wine shop. However, on Instagram, you’re not just competing with a swell of other wineries and wine folks hosting events. You’re also competing for attention with Cardi B, Justin Bieber and Carmelo Anthony.

You obviously shouldn’t expect 10,000+ viewers, but even if you only manage to pull in a few dozen, you have to understand that those eyeballs are precious. There are so many other things that they could be doing or watching. But they’re here, watching you. So make the most of it.

The first thing you should do is understand the platform and what you can do on IG Live. Instagram has posted a playbook recently with links and tips. Be creative and, above all, be social.

Don’t fall into the trap of so many virtual wine tastings. No one wants to watch you drone on and on about wines that we likely don’t have at the moment. Even people that do have the wine often get bored to tears listening to that. These events should be more about featuring you–your personality and passion–than they are necessarily about selling wine. If people like you, they’re going to seek out your wines.

Two ways to get people to like you is to entertain or engage them.

Baby goats photo by Pinoydiscus. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

And if you have adorable baby goats, by all means, show us those adorable baby goats!!!!

Show them something different. Right now, a lot of folks are craving the outdoors like never before. So show them some of the beauty and diversity of your vineyards. Give them a behind the scenes view of the winery that they ordinarily wouldn’t get on a regular winery visit. Everyone sees the manicured lawns and beautiful barrel rooms. Show us the reality and not the mirage.

Feature a guest. It could be someone else in wine or a musician, comedian, chef, etc. If you’re a family winery, hammer that point home by showing us Grandma Jean or Uncle Roger. Even if they’re not directly involved in the winery, they’re part of your story and what makes you different. Bonus points for featuring embarrassing childhood photos of the winemaker.

But remember that one of the charms of IG Live is the real-time feedback and interaction. Ask questions of your audience and pay attention to their responses. Make them feel like they’re part of the event.

2.) Make sure that people know that you are having an event–and cast a wide net

The biggest limitation of Instagram Live is that often people don’t know when they’re happening. Oh sure, if you’re like me and following lots of wineries and wine people, you can’t escape them. But most wine consumers aren’t following that many brands–especially on Instagram where years of boring bottle porn have turned off a lot of folks from following wineries.

The beauty of IG LIVE is that you can use engaging events to bring more people back to your Instagram feeds and encourage them to follow you. But you have to reach them first.

Overcoming this obstacle was one of the reasons why I developed VirtualWineEvents.com. With digital platforms, you can reach a global audience and don’t have to be limited to only folks who already know and follow your brand.

VWE Screenshots

Once we realized how often people were searching for “Instagram” and “IG” on the site, we created a separate page just to highlight IG Lives.

There’s no reason why a winery in California hosting an IG Live at 1 pm can’t reach a consumer in Chicago, Dallas (3 pm), Toronto, New York (4 pm), Buenos Aires (5 pm), London (9 pm), Paris, Capetown (10 pm) or even Auckland (8 am).

Even if your wines aren’t available in those markets (yet!), people travel and talk.  Tourism will eventually return. So why not be part of the global conversations that are happening everywhere online?

3.) Remember, it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere

The most practical advice I can give wineries is to listen to the wisdom of Jimmy Buffet and Alan Jackson. We don’t need to launch these events all at the same time. Especially with that global reach, there is an audience for exciting and engaging online wine content almost any time. It’s undoubtedly advantageous to have your event when there is less eyeball competition.

The vast majority of IG Lives get launched at the top of an hour. So even a simple offset of starting at half-past (when many events have ended) or quarter-till (before the next batch starts) is a smart move. But if I had a winery in the US, I would particularly think about doing a late-evening event between 8-10 pm (PST).  I’ve been seeing things on VirtualWineEvents.com that suggest this time slot could be very promising.

Though, a caveat. With the Virtual Wine Events site only being live for a couple of weeks, I don’t want to read too much here. But, so far, we’ve seen a fairly consistent traffic pattern with a jump of users checking out the site and clicking on events at 8 pm (PST). Below I have a document read chart (i.e., events seen and clicked) from a typical day.

Document reads chart

PST – West Coast US
CET – Central European Time (Paris, Rome)
AEST – Australia East Coast (Sydney, Melbourne)

Again, a small sample size but intriguing. If you think of it from a consumer’s POV, what do we usually do after dinner when we’re bored? We hop on our phone and look for something to entertain us.

But at that time, you might not want to commit to a full master class or hour-plus event. Folks are more likely to be looking for something easy and fun–a distraction. Dropping in on a short IG Live event (most last around 25 to 45 minutes) doesn’t feel like that much of a commitment.

If the topic is interesting (i.e., not “Hey, watch me drink and swirl a Chardonnay for 20 minutes!”), then it’s an easy click of the button for someone to join from the comforts of their couch or bed.

VWE Tweet about IG Live events

To leverage that impulsive, looking for something to do nature, I set up schedule tweets with the VWE Twitter account to steer people towards interesting IG Live events happening soon.

This is definitely (at the moment) an untapped time period for US wineries. It also works great for Australian wineries that are eying the US market as this witching hour falls smack in the middle of the day for you. Maybe even catch some early rising Europeans as well.

Again, this is the advantage of using these digital tools.

Thanks to platforms like Instagram Live, when wine consumers are looking for something to do, they can usually find it. Even when things return to semi-normalcy, we’re not going to abandon these habits completely. The urge to ward off boredom is always present.  And the dopamine high of a notification buzz is potent.

Thankfully, it also pairs well with wine.

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Now is the time for wineries to think BIG with online wine events

Since the launch of VirtualWineEvents.com, I’ve been stunned by the response. Even though the site has only been live for a few days, we’re going to hit more than 100,000 pages read by the end of today. We’ve haven’t even climbed to the top of Google search rankings yet. So nearly all of this is coming from word of mouth. However, the big driver behind the “pages read” number is that once users are on the site, they’re spending several minutes visiting multiple pages and clicking on events.
Chum salmon leaping photo by Photo: K. Mueller, USFWS. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-2.0

Now, of course, there is some novelty at play. But as I noted in my last post, there’s no reason to think that audiences for online wine events are going to vanish as soon as things get “back to normal.” The horse has left the barn.

Every day, as consumers become more familiar with using Zoom and checking in on Instagram and Facebook Live events, new habits are being formed. While we all can’t wait to get the heck out of our house, eventually, the novelty of that will wear off too. Though (hopefully) quarantine-life won’t return, a new normal is already emerging. One that certainly involves more digital tools than it did before.

The fascinating thing about putting together VirtualWineEvents.com, as well as attending numerous online wine events myself, has been seeing the different approaches to these events.

Some have been very creative such as Peltier Winery in Lodi hosting “Wine and Comedy” shows featuring their winemaker with a professional comedian. Or Tinte Cellars in Woodinville doing Facebook takeovers with local musicians. Other wineries, shops and entrepreneurs are hosting cooking events, yoga, pajama parties, painting classes and even tasting parties centered around solving murder mysteries.

People are having fun, creating worthwhile and engaging events–taking advantage of digital platforms that give their brands a larger reach.

And then there are the folks who are thinking small.

While a lot of wineries are doing fantastic jobs focusing on retention and taking care of their wine club members with personal, one-on-one virtual wine tastings. Far too many wineries are limiting themselves to the same formula. Take a look at the listings on Virtual Wine Events or just Google and take a gander at Facebook event postings. You’ll see the same script.

Hey, we set up a special virtual wine tasting pack for you to enjoy. Order by _______ and we’ll get it sent to you in time for our next event on ________.

These events, in and of themselves, aren’t bad. Every winery should be doing them periodically to generate revenue. But the over-reliance on them, and making them the sole expression of their digital strategy, introduces the same problems that make the traditional tasting-room model unsustainable. You’re fishing from a small pond stocked with fish that likely already know your brand. You’re just playing catch and release.

Meanwhile, you have a whole digital stream of wine lovers spawning and flowing right past–and you’re not even casting a line.

Online wine events are brand-building bonanzas.

They allow consumers a chance to discover a brand without having to invest much commitment–just a little time. I don’t need to already be familiar with a winery in order to be intrigued by an engaging topic for a virtual event. Such as Pearl Morissette Estate Winery in Ontario talking about Cabernet Franc in the Niagara or Laird Family Estate’s Clone Wars. If it sounds interesting, I’ll check it out even if I don’t have the wine. If it ends up being boring, I can just leave. No biggie. It’s even more painless to drop in and out of IG or FB Live events.

That ease makes me more willing to check out news brands. For wine consumers, that low bar of commitment offered by digital is GOLD. It frees us to be adventurous because the barrier of entry is far lower than say, visiting a tasting room.

So why squander that gold by basically treating virtual wine events as tasting room visits?

Have you ever stopped to think about what wineries ask of consumers under that traditional tasting room model? How much of a commitment they’re counting on, just to discover a new brand? Let’s say someone has never heard of or knows very little about a winery, to get them interested in buying wine we expect them to commit:

Time
Planning
Travel
Money

…to come visit a tasting room, try the wines, hear the spiel and so on. All this, just to get to know your brand. You’re asking quite a bit, even for local consumers, much less of consumers in other markets. And this is just looking at it from a pure, self-interest consumer POV. We’re not even considering environmental concerns that will also diminish people’s motivation to travel across the country or oceans.

Now with the traditional VT script, the travel commitment is removed. However, wineries are still asking a commitment of time, planning and money upfront. Again, all this, just to get to know them and figure out if they’re a brand worth paying attention to.

No wonder so many wineries are fishing in a small pond.

Vineyard Chat

Jeff Harding, the Beverage Director at The Waverly Inn in New York, has been doing some great IG Live events with winemakers out in the vineyards.

To really buy-in to all the opportunities that digital offers, wineries need to think beyond the tasting room. Yes, the wine club and personal one-on-one virtual tastings are great. They can convey intimacy and personal attention, which will surely pay dividends. But that should just be one aspect of a broader digital strategy.

To maximize the massive potential of online wine events, wineries need to look beyond the pond. They need to expand the scope beyond just “Hey, let’s taste some of our wines–which we hope you already have!” Instead, they should be using these virtual events to show us the vibe and personality of the brand. Consumers want to know if wineries share their values and if they’re just plain likable or interesting.

These digital platforms are opening up new streams of consumers from across the globe and bringing them closer than ever to wineries.

Now is the time to be thinking big and casting lines.

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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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Dead Weight — Are heavy wine bottles a good idea?

The other night I had a gorgeous rosé….which I have ZERO desire to ever purchase again.

Empty Muga bottle

For comparison, I weighed a FULL bottle of Champagne as well. You expect that to be thick and heavy to hold the pressure.
It was 1595 grams, meaning that this empty rosé bottle (892 g) weighed more than HALF a full bottle of Champagne.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It was absolutely lovely. Superb even.

The 2018 Flor de Muga from Rioja checked off so many of my yummy boxes. High-intensity aromatics of strawberries, citrus peel and peaches. Crackling acidity and freshness with a little bit of creamy texture coming from the oak. Long minerally finish that introduces some cinnamon spice to add complexity. Scrumptious to the last drop.

But every time I refilled my glass, enthusiasm for buying this rosé diminished. Because regardless of how much pleasure it was giving me, I couldn’t get past how obnoxiously heavy the bottle was.

It was ridiculous. Holding the empty Muga bottle in my hand, I was startled with how similar the weight felt compared to the bottle of Bodegas Tradición Amontillado I had just opened that was mostly still full. While I bought this bottle online, the next time I see this wonderful and exceptionally well-made rosé available for purchase, it’s going to get a big ole “Nope” from me.

Why?

Because there are TONS of wonderful and exceptionally well-made rosés out there that I can buy instead–including many that I have yet to discover. There’s no monopoly, anywhere, from any region or winery for quality wine. Like every other consumer, I have near limitless options to spend my money. Making good wine alone doesn’t cut it.

And, frankly, life’s too short to waste time with obnoxious fat ass bottles.

As part of a Millennial generation that has been telling brands for years that we want more sustainable, less wasteful packaging, seeing wineries still cling to these ridiculous heavy bottles sends the message that they’re not serious about sustainability. I don’t care what platitudes of stewardship you put on your website if I’m holding the contradiction right in my hands.

But this isn’t just a Millennial thing.

Folks like Jancis Robinson have been speaking about the foolishness of Naughty Heavy Bottles (NHBs) for years. Thankfully, savvy wineries have been responding. Many are finding that not only can they save a substantial amount of money by being more environmentally conscience, it’s what many of their customers want.

Jason Haas of Tablas Creek noted his surprise at this revelation when he looked back on his winery’s journey towards greener bottles.

But before we made our bottle change, we reached out to our fans on Facebook, Twitter, and this blog asking for what they looked for in a wine bottle. I was expecting a mix of people in favor of the solidity and feel of the heavier bottles and those who wanted the greener environmental footprint of the lighter bottles. And there were a few of each of those. But the overwhelming majority of the responses focused on utility: people wanted bottles that they could lift and store comfortably, and larger bottles don’t fit in many pre-made wine racks. The hostility toward the larger bottles was eye-opening.

— Jason Haas “A lighter wine bottle revisited, 10 years and 1,370,000 pounds of glass later”, July 29, 2019

But wait, Amber. What about all those marketing and psychology studies saying that people respond positivity to heavy bottles?

They’ve all got merit. I’m not going to dispute that. There are certainly plenty of case studies out there to back them up. But besides invoking the wisdom of Bob Dylan about times a-changin’, I want to cast light on something that those case studies don’t consider.

The success of the “Heavy Bottle=Better, more premium wine” strategy is wholly dependent on ignorance. It’s a tent propped up with two poles.

Ignorance of what makes a wine truly high quality and premium.
Ignorance of the huge carbon footprint and environmental debt of transporting heavy glass bottles.

Pup tent photo by 	Joost J. Bakker. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Another thing to consider–a flimsy tent is easy to set up. Other, even cheaper, brands can adopt thicker bottles–negating your “competitive” advantage.


Sure, you may fool Joe RandoCustomer on the sales floor with your hefty Bottle A swaying him away from Bottle B. But you can’t escape that the long-term success of this trick depends on sustained ignorance. As soon as any of that ignorance chips away, the tent collapses.

Go back to Haas’ Tablas Creek blog.

Note that it was his loyal (i.e., repeat) customers who were telling him so overwhelmingly how much they hated the heavy bottles. These customers are less likely to be fooled on the sales floor by a heavy bottle because they’ve found plenty of premium wines, like Tablas Creek, that aren’t in those kinds of bottles. The light bulb has “clicked” for them so that pillar of ignorance loses its support.

However, losing that second pillar of ignorance is what’s really going to sink heavy bottles.

With all the talk about sustainability these days, would you really want to place a wager on your customers staying ignorant about wine’s carbon footprint? Or that the vast majority of a winery’s carbon costs come from the packaging and transport of glass bottles?

Glass waste bin photo by Usien. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

While glass is 100% recyclable, it does have its share of problems.

Sure, we can talk about cans, pouches and other alternative packages, but I’m not going there today. Instead, I just want wineries to start reading the writing that’s on the wall and the messaging that their customers (both current and future) are getting.

Every day, we see more companies reducing packaging waste. Coca Cola has been making their bottles lighter. The beer and cider industry have adopted “lightweighting”.

And in the wine industry, numerous forward-thinking wineries like Jackson Family Estates, Tablas Creek, Torres and more have long ago shown that, for them, sustainability isn’t a platitude. While they might not aggressively market their lighter bottles as a competitive distinction, there’s going to be wineries that will.

While it’s not just a “Millennial Thing,” it certainly is important to us.

Lots of ink has been wrung worrying about Millennials and Gen Z consumers. The hot question is always when are we going to come around and start adopting wine like previous generations. There is some truth to the optimism that all that my cohorts need is time. However, wineries need to be thinking now about the messaging that they’re sending to these consumers.

Because, yeah, your wine may be great. But so are numerous other wines that similarly want a piece of our wallets. If we have the choice between a wine that speaks to our values and one that doesn’t (or is even hypocritical about it), you know which one has the advantage.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s not something I would wager on.

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How Can We Make Virtual Wine Tastings Less Sucky?

Note: This piece was mentioned in Meiningers Wine Business International’s April 15th, 2020 article “Can virtual wine tastings be saved?” by Robert Joseph

The last few weeks, I’ve been wrapping my head around the new abnormal. This has included indulging in the smorgasbord of virtual wine events that have sprung up everywhere. They’re fairly easy to find via social media and handy calendar pages. But while several events, such as Master of Wine Rebecca Gibb’s Lockdown Wine Quiz, have been terrific distractions, most of the virtual wine tastings held by wineries have been absolute duds.

Eduard Ritter - Wine tasting. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under the public domain

Which has really bummed me out.

I was very high on this idea. Virtual tastings seemed like an excellent way for wineries to stay connected while generating revenue with the sale of VT wines for the events.

While sommeliers, retailers and bloggers have also been hosting virtual wine tastings of their own, I focused on winery VTs to see how they were adapting to this platform. But after sitting in on numerous virtual tastings (or watching the post-broadcast YouTube recording) from wineries big and small, US, Australia, UK, France–one consistent theme emerged.

Most of these events are boring as hell.

I’ve not seen a winery publicize data from their virtual tastings. But for the ones that have conducted multiple events, I’m willing to bet that they’re already seeing a participation drop as we move from novelty to reality.

However, rather than scrap the idea altogether, we should take a critical look at where these events may be falling short.

Other writers, such as Antonio from Wine and Other Stories, have offered feedback and suggestions from a consumer’s POV. But I want to focus on how these virtual tastings are likely failing with their two main objectives (building connections & generating revenue)–and how we can reframe them to make them more effective.

It’s hard to make a connection when you’re missing the critical connecting link.

This is the Achilles’ heel of winery virtual wine tastings. They want to “bond” and connect with consumers over bottles of wine that the person on the other side of the screen probably doesn’t have. Even tastings that are tied to wine club shipments or special VT kits are hampered by limitations as most people don’t want to open up multiple bottles at once. And you certainly can’t bank on everyone having a Coravin at home.

Few things increase the “suckitude” of a virtual wine tasting more than listening to folks go on and on about a wine that you’re not tasting. It doesn’t feel like a chat or a connection. At best, it’s a wine review of something that you might be interested in buying in the future.

But consumers don’t want to devote much time and attention listening to wine reviews. Think of why digital-savvy wineries tend to keep their “About this Wine” video clips reasonably short. You lose people’s interest droning on about wines that they’re not tasting.

Sometimes, you even lose it while they are tasting.

The goal shouldn’t be to connect over the wine but to connect with the people.

Now we’re not going to abandon objective #2 (generate revenue) completely. But if wineries want to make virtual wine tastings a long term success then they have to divest from the “tasting” part that’s limiting their reach. Instead, we need to start thinking of these events as FaceTime Podcasts.

Every winery should make it a priority to check out Levi Dalton’s I’ll Drink to That! podcast before they even think of doing another virtual wine tasting. These fireside chats with winemakers and other industry folks are chockful of best practices on how to maintain a wine lover’s interest for an hour (or more).

Many episodes of IDTT start with a special offer to buy a wine from the featured guest.
Levi Dalton I'll Drink to that

I haven’t yet hunted down a bottle of Hanno Zilliken’s Saarburger Rausch Riesling but this winery is still top of mind even 5 years after I first listened to this episode.

But that single wine is never the focus, nor are the chats ever bogged down with tasting notes and minutiae–even though they can get plenty geeky. Instead, Dalton keeps the attention on the person behind the wines. And it’s not just the stories or anecdotes that are superb. In the interactions between Dalton and his guests, you get a feel of their personality and presence. They become real and more than just a name or label.

There’s scarcely an episode of IDTT featuring a winemaker which doesn’t make me more interested in finding that producer’s wines. Even if I don’t immediately buy them, seeds have been planted that make their brands more likely to blossom, top-of-mind, when I see them on a wine list or retail shelf.

Before even tasting a drop of their wine, a connection has been forged.

Now think of combining that seed-planting with digital video and interactive platforms.

The advantage of a virtual wine tasting is that folks can see the winemaker interacting in real-time. They can ask questions and have them answered live on screen. That’s freaking cool and we should be excited about this potential.

These are powerful tools to build strong connections with consumers. So why limit them to just people who already know your brand and have pre-bought your wine?

You want the reach and effectiveness of a podcast. The difference between a virtual wine tasting and a “FaceTime Podcast” is like fishing with a small hand net vs. a large casting one.

Cast with a bigger net. Broaden your web event’s topic.

By far, one of the better virtual wine tastings I watched was done by Elizabeth Vianna of Chimney Rock Winery in the Stags Leap District. Now, yes, I am admittedly biased because I clearly adore Chimney Rock wines. But over the past few weeks, I’ve sat through at least a half-dozen virtual tastings, FB and IG live events done by other wineries I equally love that were thoroughly lackluster.

I want to highlight Chimney Rock’s tasting because it has both the inherent limitations of VTs (focus on a pre-sale kit of wines) as well as the tantalizing hints of what a good “FaceTime Podcast” could be like.

While talking about the four wines in front of her, Vianna kept dropping intriguing tidbits that spoke to broader topics about vintages, blending, aging wine, etc. While answering questions from the audience, more fertile themes emerged that could be their own dedicated topic for future events.

For example.

(6:33) Ying & Yang of blending hillside fruit vs. valley fruit

(8:06) The “Lazy Winemaker Vintages” of 2013, 2014, 2015

(17:34) When should I drink this wine?

(20:50) Why Cab is king

(21:50) Winemakers as interpreters instead of creators, aka “What happened in 2012”

(27:25) The 2011 vintage, aka “What would happen if Napa Valley had Bordeaux weather in a tough year.”

(40:04) White wines for red wine drinkers

All of these could be done inclusively while still prominently featuring a winery’s wines.

Picture promoting this kind of an event.

The 2013, 2014 and 2015 vintages produced some spectacular wines in the Napa Valley. With droughts and Mother Nature doing a lot of the heavy lifting, these vintages are playfully nicknamed “The Lazy Winemaker Vintages.” Join us this Saturday, April 4th, with your favorite 2013-2015 Napa wine as our winemaker answers your questions and takes you through what made these years special. Don’t have a bottle handy? We’ve got you covered [link to store], but you can bring anything you like.

Throughout the event, you’re featuring your wines from those vintages but they’re more like “product placement” props. People are still seeing the labels and getting your insights on how the vintages shaped those wines. There’s plenty of seeds being planted to intrigue the consumer. However, because the focus is on the vintages, rather than those specific wines, the audience doesn’t feel left out or that the event isn’t relevant to them if they’re not tasting the exact same wine you are.

Also, your content becomes way more useful and searchable for people to discover down the road. A YouTube video with strong keywords in the title like “Why Cabernet Sauvignon is King in Napa Valley” is going to get a lot more views over the years than “Live Tasting Event April 4th” or “March Wine Club Shipment Live Event”.

Long term vs. short term thinking

seedling pic from Petr Smagin. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-4.0
The current en vogue of virtual wine tastings built around wine club shipments and VT kits might produce some short-term revenue. I don’t discount that that is incredibly important right now.

But their inherent limitations still mean that you’re fishing with a small net that’s not going to get much bigger. And you’re relying on those existing consumers to stay interested enough in the “virtual tasting” format to continue participating. While it’s too early to have any concrete data, the shelf life for VTs doesn’t seem very promising.

But the potential of these online tools is extremely promising. We just need to continue to innovate and experiment on how we use them.

The key to remember is that even when you’re not selling bottles, you’re still selling your brand. You’re selling your passion, personality and insights.

You’re planting seeds.

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