Could virtual tastings and tours be the saviour for wine producers?

As those in the wine business find new ways to communicate during the pandemic, video content and virtual experiences are enabling brands to establish new relationships with customers.

Pivotal moments in history can offer up new challenges and force us to think in different ways. In such times new ideas present themselves as solutions to problems and technology often takes care of the rest.

So, as the weeks pass and more of us face up to social distancing and the enforced changes of lockdown, businesses are beginning to feel the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the US, the closure of tasting and tap rooms has had a dramatic effect on businesses and Rabobank reported that wine tasting room sales were down by around 40% over the first two weekends in March and that with US on-premise sales typically totalling around $10bn a month, businesses are taking a huge hit.

One knock-on effect is the almost overnight transformation of some business operations. While restaurants, bars and pubs have all been forced to close, off-trade, e-commerce and the online sector is booming.

In the UK, the coronavirus effect and subsequent lockdown has been good news for firms such as Rebellious Goods. The beer and wine supplier reported over a 1,000 percent increase in sales, with its online business seeing 11 times more orders in March, according to City A.M.

Similarly, Kent-based beer and wine producer, Chapel Down, has indicated that its spike in off-trade and online sales is on course to ‘more than make up’ for its loss in trade in other areas, having been forced out of pubs, theatres and hospitality venues in the wake of the virus.

"It is too early to extrapolate any trends but if the current sales rate continued the off-trade sales and on-line growth of our wines would more than make up for the loss of on-trade wine sales,” it confirmed in a trading statement.

Back in California, the home of wine production in the US, social distancing is bringing about other changes in other ways.

With customers unable to make it into tasting rooms, wineries are turning to technology and virtual meetings to give consumers a powerful experience from the comfort of their own home.

These include virtual tours, tastings, social meet-ups and private tasting experiences, all delivered by the now ubiquitous Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime.

With California responsible for over 80% of US wine production and generating more than $114bn in 2018, the technology aspect has now become crucial with direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales totalling more than $3bn in the same year.

Kathleen Willcox picks up the story for Wine Enthusiast.