Traveling to California’s wine regions may be out, but virtual tastings are oh-so in.
“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.” –Ernest Hemingway
These words from Ernest Hemingway ring true to wine lovers near and far, especially during this time of self-isolation and social distancing. Perhaps that’s why wine sales have surged 66 percent in recent weeks—and why many California wineries are finding ways to bring the tasting experience home via online programs and private Zoom sessions.
Take Laguna Beach-based McClain Cellars—its team holds virtual tastings every Sunday at 1 p.m., and every Wednesday and Saturday at 7 p.m. on its Wine TV Channel. “Learn a new dish, drink a lot of wine, hear some awesome music, laugh until it hurts and be ready to have an amazing time,” Jason McClain says in a note on the website. “This is your chance to go out while staying in!” McClain’s grapes are grown in the Santa Ynez Valley, where the wine is produced. It’s later brought to Orange County for release. And Bellante Family Winery is delivering shipments free of charge within 15 miles of its Mission Viejo tasting room. Bellante makes its wine from fruit grown in Santa Barbara.
Up in Northern California, 14 winemakers have joined together to create Virtual Sonoma Valley. Among them: Three Sticks Wines, which is offering personalized tasting experiences to oenophiles who purchase a $285 tasting kit that features five wines and includes a private session with a tasting expert. The appointments are booked through Zoom, and time slots are available seven days a week. Three Sticks owns six grand cru level estate vineyards in Sonoma County, and all the wines are made from grapes the winery owns and farms.
Twenty or so Napa Valley wineries are doing something similar. From Bouchaine, for example, you can choose among three packages ranging in price from $59 to $250, each including a set of nectars and a 50-minute session with an expert who will lead you through a discussion of the wines, with Bouchaine’s stunning acreage as the backdrop.
Bouchaine, the oldest continuously operated winery in the Carneros District, is known for its forward-thinking practices in sustainability. It was the first winery in the region to achieve Fish Friendly Farm and Napa Green status, and the crew employs deficit irrigation to help restrict vine growth and produce low-yielding, intensely flavored fruit.
In Paso Robles, Allegretto Wines will hold two tastings in April, both at 5 p.m. on Instagram Live. On April 23, winemaker Alan Kinne will join proprietor Douglas Ayres in a live discussion about Allegretto’s two vineyards—one on the east side of Paso and the other on the west—and the fruit they produce. Then on April 30, the team’s live chat will cover balance and restoration, the qualities of red and white wine, and the pairings for each. The sessions are free, and you can purchase the wines that will be discussed from the winery’s online shop. Since releasing the first vintage in 2010, Allegretto’s vinos have captured both local and international attention, and garnered multiple gold and double gold medals.
Closer to home in Temecula, Carter Hospitality Group, which owns and operates South Coast Winery Resort & Spa and Carter Estate Winery and Resort, has produced a series of pre-recorded experiences featuring winemaker Jon McPherson and available to followers on Instagram and Facebook. Two experiences are offered on Wednesdays. Wine Wednesdays features three different flights that can be purchased online, while Bubbles for the Weekend will take a look at special sparkling wines that are perfect for weekend brunches or simply for sipping. And on Tuesdays and Thursdays, McPherson takes a closer look at a single wine from either South Coast or Carter, offering tasting notes, food pairing suggestions and recipes. And a day-of promo code will be offered for each day’s featured wine. And here’s even more reason to buy a few bottles: Each winery is donating 50% of online sales to South Coast Cares, which helps employees in need as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s all raise a glass to that!