As we all have, unfortunately, experienced, the Coronavirus has forced all of us to find new ways to socialize, invent constant home entertainment and create solutions to continue to participate in public events.
The Chinese e-commerce ecosystem not only has not slowed down its performance during the coronavirus crisis, but has actually improved it. This trend is easily understandable: if consumers can’t leave home, the choice is the online.
All sectors have been forced to reinvent themselves and the wine sector has certainly been no exception. Wine lovers all over the world have immediately equipped themselves to create countless virtual wine tastings and so have Chinese wine lovers.
An example of a successful reorganization in the online direction is Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting, a training and consulting company in Beijing wine world, which had to stop its offline business but did not spare itself in the online one. The company promptly thought of using Trust in Taste, an Australian company that provides 60ml sample bottles for blind tastings and trainings, allowing students to participate in online courses and taste wines from home.
Although these virtual wine tasting alternatives have kept many people company during the lockdown period and allowed wine lover to continue to cultivate their passion, there are still many skeptics. Culturally wine is understood as conviviality and sociality, offline fairs and events have always been the driving force in this business. Can we therefore think that online will replace physical events? Can producers benefit and learn from this period just lived or will they return, as soon as possible, to old habits?
If on the one hand it is not possible to predict what will happen to the world of fairs and offline tastings, on the other hand it is certain that the push of digitalization that the world of wine is undergoing is a permanent solution, which maybe will be integrated with the offline in the future.
Let’s analyse together some successful cases.
“In this new virtual world, we have the opportunity to engage an exponentially larger audience that doesn’t just welcome people through the door” says Ryan Huges, summer manager of Spire Collection, California.
Wine.com has created a 30-minute virtual wine tasting calendar with the theme of holidays or wine regions, involving celebrities such as Gérard Bertrand, Jon Bon Jovi, John Legend and many others. Within a few days, the first 5 virtual tastings organized, received more than 5 thousand entries and thanks to live-streaming technology, there is no maximum number of participants.
Wine.com had already started working on creating virtual experiences for its customers before the pandemic, the advent of the Coronavirus has practically accelerated execution times. The company prioritized digital experiences and is now working to find a perfect combination of the digital and physical experience.
Vanya Cullen, managing director of Cullen Wines, a major wine company in the Margaret River region, tells us that she had never organized virtual wine tastings before the lockdown but says it will most likely become a permanent proposal for her clients, because, she says: “(virtual wine tastings) create a wonderful connection, allowing interlocutors to discuss countless wine-related topics and this is phenomenal.
Wine Tasting Online is already a reality in China
In Chinese culture, the relationship between food and health is extremely important and as far as wine is concerned, it is believed, in an almost legendary way, to have great beneficial properties. Even if there are no scientific theories to support this last point, it is certain that wine can be good for the mood and during the quarantine it was no small entertainment. It is also true that in China drinking wine is a social activity and few people drink alone at home. This is why “Cloud wine tastings” or virtual tastings were born. They can be informal meetings among friends or professional tastings led by experts or influencers increasingly followed, especially by millenials in big Chinese cities.
Vanya Cullen said that their Chinese importer, using the Zoom platform, was able to reach 4,000 viewers for a single virtual wine tasting. Thinking in terms of numbers, the ability to reach more people at the same time thanks to online, is impressive.
The secret to the perfect virtual wine tasting
Lu Yang MS, first Master Sommelier in China, gives us some advice on how to organize a successful virtual tasting.
1. Choosing the right time. It is better to organize the tasting after dinner, when people can finally relax and have more time to focus on wine. Let’s remember that Chinese people dine quite early (usually around 5.30 p.m. to 6.00 p.m.).
2. Use a good software. There are several available: Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams. Wechat is definitely the one that is most popular in China, the important thing is to find a software that can fit all participants,
3. Choose carefully whom to direct the tasting. It’s better to group people with similar wine background, so as not to risk leaving someone behind who does not owe a very technical knowledge and not to bore the more experienced ones.
4. Choose a theme. Whether it is a vertical tasting of the same wine, or the same vintage of different regions, rather than different wines of the same producer, a topic helps to circumscribe the discussion around a topic.
5. Be creative. One shouldn’t be too long-winded about a single wine, interaction is everything. A successful practice is to include blind tasting games, making people enjoy continuing to learn.
Other positive factors of digitization in the wine world
Surely the virtual will not replace the face-to-face meetings, but there is to say that it could help enormously on several fronts.
Many companies are focusing more and more on biodynamic or environmentally conscious production, so for many, reducing long distance travel will be yet another way to contribute to the cause, and online can certainly help in this regard.
Let us also remember that at many times of the year producers cannot travel, as they are involved in the front line of production. The use of virtual wine tastings or online meetings, can help to overcome this problem, giving the possibility to keep alive relationships with customers even during the most intense production months.
To conclude, we should not underestimate the economic side either, particularly for those small producers who carefully choose each year how to invest their money when it comes to travel and promotion. Digitalisation can allows us to intensify business relations without having to be physically be present to meet people and consequently save some money too.