Wine Events during a Pandemic

Wine Events online with Virtual tastings, Trade Shows and Seminars. Greg Brewer Winemaker, Mary Jane Evans on speaking on Spanish wines, Wines from Garagiste LV, Glasses from Ferguson's Downtown and Cheese from Cured & Whey

Wine Events during a Pandemic

The world has changed. The current pandemic has thrown many of our plans into disarray, if not canceled them completely. When faced with this sudden change, we innovate and over the past months, I have seen quite a bit of innovation. This is a way to get by and make it work, while people are trapped and can’t travel. But truthfully, some of it has turned out to be easier and more effective than the way we were doing things before. I anticipate many of these innovations will stay around and become normal.

Just last year, I took a class online. It was a weekly class and the format allowed for comment and questions live through the interface. I also did some online seminars, scattered in with trips to wine country.

Now that we cannot travel, this has become the norm. I attend Zoom “Happy Hours” with friends and wine colleagues, and Zoom reunions and family gatherings. This might not replace the real thing forever, but in many of these cases, many more people were able to attend. While flying in or driving was not an option, by cell phone or from their home office or laptop in a coffee shop was easy. Perhaps, for now, this is our replacement for in-person events. I do thing, in the future, this will be integrated into events, allowing us to gather electronically, more often that we were able to in person.

I have had the opportunity to interact with people in the wine industry much more in the past few months than ever before. Daily I can attend Facebook and Instagram Live chats with winemakers, there are Zoom meetings, multiple seminars, classes, virtual tastings and even trade fairs. I will highlight a few I have attended and I look forward to hearing about those that you have fit into your schedules.

The structure for online Trade Fairs

A few weeks ago I received an email inviting me to join Italian Wine Week online. The event, sponsored by Wine Pleasures, had intended to be a live event with sessions on Italian regions, with winemakers sharing their wares.  With the current situation, they decided to make this a virtual event.

One of the great benefits of this is that people worldwide can attend, without having to arrange for time away and travel.  I attended this as well as the Spanish Wine day event that just passed and I am set up to attend their upcoming Sparkling Wine Week, which will happen on July 1st & 2nd.

Mind you, for me, this made for early mornings.  The conference was on Italian time, so it was 4 am for me.  But I was determined to be a part of the live process.  They do record the sessions, so you can watch them back at a reasonable hour. But after my first live session, I was sold on the benefits of enjoying it live.

Anthony, from Wine Pleasures, led the sessions.  Typically there was an introductory session with a wine educator followed by interviews with 3 or 4 winery presentations. The wineries had an opportunity to share background on the winery and vineyards and then present 2 wines.  The chat was open for questions and people could post from around the globe. The sessions I participated in had attendees from Italy, Sri Lanka, China, Virginia, Colorado, UK, LA…it’s an eclectic bunch.  There were links to schedule one on one meetings with the wineries for buyers after the sessions. Wineries were also encouraged to voice the export markets they were interested in pursuing.

Ah… the stumbling blocks of technology.

It’s not always smooth. The people presenting are in multiple regions, dealing with Wi-Fi and other issues. They are often working with a technology they may not be familiar with. There are delays, times when you can’t see the label. At times the planned video doesn’t want to play, or the winery for some reason can’t connect. You have the typical calls to mute your mic, as well as talking heads with no sound because their mic is muted. This at least has started to become normal for us. We understand the difficulties and Anthony navigates them quickly, being very respectful of everyone’s time. I’m sure for him, at times, it feels like herding cats.

Italian Wine Week

During Italian Wine week the first day began with a session on Terroirs and wines from Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Tuscany, Vino Nobile, Umbria, Lazio and Puglia.

Following that session, there were presentations from wineries in Lazio, Veneto and Chianti. Matteo Bellato presented on the Native Grapes and soils of Fruili Venezia Giulia, followed by Winery Presentations from Giovani Foffani of Foffani in FVG and Linda of Usigliano del Vercovo in Tuscany.

Day 2 continued with a session on Amarone della Valpolicella & the Wines of Scenic Lake Garda followed by winery presentations from Montepulciano, Tuscany, Orvieto and Trentino Alto Adige as well as a winery in Puglia. A final session brought us Travignoli from Rufina, Carus Vini from Chianti Classico, and Masseria Cuturi from Puglia. So as you can see, we covered quite a bit of territory.

Spanish Wine Day

Spanish Wine Day was 5 and a half hours of detailed information, broken into 5 sessions. Sarah Jane Evans, MW, presented 2 sessions one on “New Wave Spanish Wines” and one on “Mencia and the Fresh Red Wines of the North West”. In between, there were winery presentations from Tormevinos Selection in Bizkaiko Txakolina, Hammenken Cellars in Rias Baixas & Jumilla, De Muller in Priorat & Tarragona, Bodega Otazu in Navarra, Bodega Forcada – Rioja and Bodegas Mata Mate in Ribera del Duero. The day was split with a session on Cava de Paraje Calificado.

Upcoming Sparkling Wine Week

Sparkling Wine Week promises to be even bigger and more intense with Sparkling Wines from all over the globe. It is scheduled for July 1st and 2nd I’m looking forward to the learning and sharing that with all of you.

Wine Pleasures will also be holding the International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC) in Friuli Venezia Giulia in October if all goes well. This is currently scheduled to be a live event. You can find all the details for that at

Online Conferences

With the inability to travel, many conferences have canceled. Some, however, smartly decided to hold an online conference. While you must cancel or postpone, you don’t want your attendees to forget you. I was recently invited to attend the online International Food Bloggers Conference. The conference is produced by Zephyr Conferences, who also produces the Wine Media Conference.

International Food Bloggers Conference

The International Food Bloggers Conference held a 3-day Virtual Summit covering subjects from Social Media, to Websites, to Q/As with Chefs. Francis Lam of The Splendid Table spoke. There were sessions on Getting Paid to Write on your blog, how to do a photoshoot remotely, Digital Marketing, Doing Live video, and a Real Talk session with Foodies of Color.

Yes, this didn’t deal directly with wine, but for online wine writers, there was plenty that was applicable. The speakers were all well informed and the content was concise and helpful.

These sessions were beautifully led by Sarah of Zephyr Conferences, who moderated and assisted the speakers. Rather than back to back sessions, these were spread out starting at 10 am EST, every other hour for the 4 or 5 sessions each day. So an hour on and an hour off, to have lunch or get some other work done in the office.

They offered this Live for free. In addition, they offered an All-Access Pass for $20, which allows you to download the sessions and play them back at your leisure. For some of the sessions, this was very helpful as there was quite a bit of information and it moved quickly.

The speakers, of course, have products and classes available at an extra charge to go further in-depth on the subject. That said, the information they provided was thorough, it was not just a teaser.

They will be doing a second virtual event in January from the 13th to the 15th. You can find information about them here.

Virtual Tastings

If you are a member of a wine club, it is almost guaranteed that you have received an e-mail about purchasing wines for a virtual tasting. It’s a brilliant way for wineries to make sales and create a way to interact with their club members. While attending an event where you can taste with the winemaker is great, a virtual tasting allows you to pop the bottle at home and video chat with the winemaker from the comfort of your own couch. Winemakers who were previously seemed out of reach suddenly were accessible in this format.

A Community Event Virtual Tasting

More than wine clubs, wine shops and bars have started to do this also. We attended a Virtual Tasting with a new wine bar in town. This recurring event had begun as a live event called “Pour in the Alley” by Ferguson’s Downtown. They brought together Garagiste Wine Bar & Cured & Whey Cheese Shop. When the pandemic hit, they had to go virtual and you know what? That’s okay. We did a pickup for our 2 bottles of wine, with a cheese plate included from Cured and Whey and enjoyed these via a Zoom Chat at home. Ferguson’s moderated, with the guys from Garagiste talking about the wine, Cured & Whey talking about the cheese.

The particular event we attended, was part of the Winemaker Series, so the maker of these two wines Greg Brewer from Santa Barbara, was live with us, speaking about the vineyards and the wines and answering questions. It was a wonderful evening!

Other Seminars and events and how to find them

There are so many ways to connect and learn in the industry. Amber at “Spitbucket” actually created a site called Virtual Wine Events by Spitbucket. This site works to compile as the events that are happening as possible. You can search by day or type of event, paid or free, and they have a Trending Events box that will tell you what everyone else seems to be interested in. Kudos to Amber and her wife for putting this site together to help us all through these times. More than just drinking wine while we isolate, we can build our wine education.

What does the Future hold?

I’m grateful to be able to attend these online sessions. There is nothing like speaking with a winemaker to increase your understanding of a region. But is this what will become our new normal? I don’t mind the idea of buyers narrowing their search for a wine, looking first at the winery’s story and second, tasting the wine. I mean, that’s why I’m here, to dig into the stories behind the wine! But how can this process evolve and work better? Are there ways to get samples of the wines into peoples hands? And while the sessions were informative, how can they be even more interactive? Those are the questions I am interested in.

As we wade into our new normal, I think there are so many different ways that we can find to connect in even better and more meaningful ways, within the wine industry and beyond. I look forward to seeing the innovations that move us forward.

What have you found?

We’d love to hear from you on what remote events you have been interested in and attending. Have you seen innovation happening in the industry? What has stood out as an amazing interactive means of communication in the wine industry or beyond? Share with us in the comments!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

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Robin Renken
[email protected]
  • Lynn
    Posted at 07:36h, 24 June Reply

    So much information here Robin, thanks! It seems it will indeed be a different world moving forward. All of the online webinars, events, discussions, etc., were a bit overwhelming at first because there are so many great choices. Virtual Events Online you mention is a huge help, although there are still so many out there that folks don’t add to VEO. Another one to note I’m enjoying comes from 67 Pall Mall Virtual Events, free to all.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 22:14h, 24 June

      Thanks Lynn! I need to dive into the 67 Pall Mall Virtual Events. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Wine Pleasures (@Winepleasures)
    Posted at 15:08h, 24 June Reply

    Thanks Robin. Looking forward to having you on board for Sparkling Wine Week

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 22:15h, 24 June

      I am looking forward to it!

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