The challenges and joys of Virtual tastings

By Mandy Stevens
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We are living in unprecedented times and are having to adapt our businesses accordingly to keep up- show our customers we are still drinking, enjoying and offering advice on wine. I had considered the idea of a virtual or online wine tasting a few years ago but quickly decided it was a terrible idea (for me – sorry to anyone making it work already!) Well, fast forward to last week and I realised I had to think again. It’s one of only a handful of ways to get in front of wine enthusiasts in this lockdown.

My main challenge was to decide if I needed to have everyone drinking the same wine. That’s what we do, right? Take people through each wine and educate them about it. But I don’t feel it’s ‘essential’ to be sending out bottles of wine right now so I went with the ‘join in with any bottle of wine open’ approach even though it was the first time I have done a tasting like this. It actually worked really well! Except for the couple who opened a rosé, only because I suddenly had more to talk about in the time I’d allocated for that part of the tasting. So on this point from now on I will be recommending a colour/ style/ country to keep a little more focus. (Tip no.1!)

In terms of numbers, as I wanted more group participation, I had 11 other screens join. I’d capped numbers at 15 but as with everything online I am discovering, we had some ‘drop-outs’ (one mid tasting – luckily they came back so my pride wasn’t dented too much).

One of the couples were clearly more high-tech than me and had managed to get a virtual background of some vineyards in the Loire. It was a fun touch and one that made everyone else feel at ease too when they joined the session. I just had my horn and bell I use in my normal tastings to keep everyone on track which was definitely used less than previous tastings 😉

The first 45 mins flew by, I didn’t even have to look at my emergency ‘talking points’ (again not something I am used to needing –  and I did have that rosé to cover). But what was interesting was when I did bring one up, it swung the tasting in a new direction with so much more to discuss. And without the common wine to refocus on it was like a waterfall, with natural and easy interaction.

There are of course many ways to conduct a tasting from more of a Webinar arrangement, videos, back to the classical session with pre planned wines but I wanted to share the challenges I faced to make it easier for all my fellow wine (or other) educators, who may be sceptical about our limitations, so we keep spreading some wine joy to our enthusiasts.

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Comments

  1. MRS LAURA CLAY

    April 7, 2020

    Encouraging, Mandy, thank you. Did you use Zoom?

  2. Profile photo of Heather Dougherty

    Heather Dougherty

    April 7, 2020

    Thanks for sharing this Mandy. You’ve made me think that I could do try out a virtual tasting – good tips!

  3. Carol Brown

    April 7, 2020

    Hi Mandy, thanks for sharing this. I have been thinking about doing something like this but unsure about the best way to approach it especially should everyone be tasting the same wine. Were you tasting along with the group?

    • Profile photo of Mandy Stevens

      Mandy Stevens

      April 7, 2020

      Yes, I had a Sancerre open. Then you can chat about why you felt like that particular wine. Everyone had different things so we did like a pros/cons of each choice and got to discuss food options, weather, palates etc. I also had some nibbles (!)

  4. Profile photo of Vivienne Franks

    Vivienne Franks

    April 9, 2020

    Well done Mandy, certainly food for thought, thank you for sharing the experience

  5. Claire Blackler

    April 13, 2020

    Hi Mandy, lovely to hear your thoughts. I did what was supposed to be a quick 20 minute online tasting with my L3 group last week (turned into 45 mins (my fault I expect for talking too much (I haven’t spoken to anyone (except my husband) in weeks!))), I took a slightly different approach asking them all to buy a Muscadet if they could. It worked really well, of course we all had different Muscadets but they all showed more or less the same profile and allowed us to talk through the SAT. Some joined in without the wine. They enjoyed it and have asked to do more. I’m not sure whether it’s “the future” but we’ll see!

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