Food & Wine

Virtual events bring the tasting room to the living room

Wine Tasting
Courtesy of Christine Moore
Virtual wine events bring winemaker input to at-home tastings.

One of the highlights of living in California is our easy access to world-class wine destinations. A weekend spent touring one of our local wine regions sat firmly at the top of my list of favorite ways to celebrate big birthdays and anniversaries, enjoy reunions with friends or entertain out-of-town guests.

Many of the wineries found on these adventures were small, family-owned businesses whose bottles I never would have enjoyed had it not been for a chance encounter in their tasting room.

Enter COVID-19 and the cancellation of formal plans, booked events and spontaneous afternoons of touring. Within weeks of the shutdown, wineries from Mendicino to Santa Cruz, Santa Lucia to Livermore began to pivot – making themselves available to both loyal fans and curious wine explorers virtually.

BYO screen

Online events provide guests with a pretty incredible degree of personal interaction with winemakers, vintners and sommeliers, who often host the sessions. Virtual wine tastings have actually opened up the world of local wine during a time of closing down.

While restrictions are loosening in Santa Clara County, virtual wine tastings are here to stay. The events really do feel like special occasions, offering a totally new way for bon vivants to expand their wine knowledge and collections. Corporate teams, far-flung friend groups and wine-loving families have employed virtual wine tasting as a way to sustain community and create memories.

Russian River Valley-based Balletto Vineyards (ballettovineyards.com) has even hosted wedding parties virtually.

“With wedding guests celebrating via video platforms such as Zoom, FaceTime, Google Meet and Facebook, we’ve been able to help create a real sense of togetherness,” said Micaela Green, Balletto’s marketing and e-commerce manager. “We partner with couples and ship wine to guests. A member of the Balletto team serves as host of a special online tasting. They might not be in the same room, but toasting the newlyweds with a shared glass of Balletto wine has helped make meaningful memories.”

Balletto Vineyards now considers virtual tastings an integral aspect of its offerings. A member of its team manages the virtual program, which allows the winery to connect with fans across the country.

“We’ve found that this new, more personal virtual presence provides a fantastic way to connect with wine club members,” Green added.

For more information on virtual sessions, follow Balletto Vineyards (@ballettovineyards) on social media.

An evening of pour decisions

Whether you’re interested in joining a planned event or working with a winery on a private tasting, the options are wide-ranging. A simple way to learn about virtual wine tastings is to visit a wine region’s association website. The membership-based organizations exist for the purpose of connecting consumers with vintners.

The Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains association (winesofthesantacruzmountains.com) launched a wine club with a virtual element in January. Event and membership manager Leah Ulmer said the club will have three releases each year. The club offers three membership options to suit various wine preferences and will host virtual tastings to complement the wine allotments.

“We had previously offered the option for shoppers to purchase custom wine packs of Santa Cruz Mountain wines,” Ulmer said. “This was a big hit. So we decided to launch a club that will include virtual wine tastings as well as our incredible local wines.”

Small wineries in particular rely on in-person visits to their tasting rooms. Organizations such as the Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains help build awareness of boutique wineries.

“For many of our association members, who are tucked away in corners of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the club allows us to connect wine fans with winemakers they might otherwise not discover,” Ulmer said.

Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers (sonomavalleywine.com) publishes a regularly updated list of virtual tastings on its website.
Locally, Rootstock Wine Bar (rootstockwinebar.com), with locations in Mountain View, Cupertino and Los Gatos, offers personalized and customizable tastings for small and large groups. What’s ideal about its virtual events is that it offers half-size bottles, making it perfect for even individuals to sip through a series of wines.

If you’d rather skip the host but still gather virtually over food and wine, check out Corner 103 (corner103.com). The winery’s website offers recipes that pair with it wines. A very enjoyable evening in could be had by choosing a three-course set of recipes from the site and then arranging for friends or family to order the recommended wines, cook the dishes and meet over Zoom or Google Meet for a virtual dinner party.

Large gatherings

Just as we once gathered in large groups to celebrate holidays, specific causes or fundraise, virtual wine tastings provide opportunities for large gatherings online.

Cambria Estate Winery (cambriawines.com), located in the Santa Maria Valley, is celebrating Women’s History Month with a series of virtual events that began March 4. The free, virtual events celebrate the wines but go beyond wine, too. They will feature inspiring women leaders and include a digital promotional campaign to help raise funds for SeaTrees, an organization dedicated to planting and protecting blue-carbon coastal ecosystems around the world.

Celebrating Women’s History Month with wine events makes sense for Cambria Estate Winery, as it has a proud legacy of strong female leadership, starting with owner Barbara Banke, who co-founded the winery in 1986. Banke’s daughters Katie and Julia carry on the family tradition as co-proprietors today. For more information, visit cambriawines.com/international-womens-day.

My family’s Russian River Valley winery, Teac Mor Vineyards (teacmor.com), has enjoyed finding virtual ways to help folks celebrate holidays, including Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day.

This month, we’re especially excited to host a St. Patrick’s Day virtual event 5-6 p.m. March 17. Teac Mor is an Irish phrase that means “big house,” which was what locals in my father’s hometown of Leitra, Galway, called his family home. We can’t think of a better way to bring the meaning of Teac Mor to life online than celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with great conversation and wine.

If you’d like to join in on the Teac Mor St. Patrick’s Day virtual tasting, email [email protected] for details.

Christine Moore is a Mountain View resident. To read her blog, visit sheepishsommelier.blogspot.com.

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