Tag Archives: virtual wine tastings

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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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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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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