By Elspeth Brown
Taste wine virtually? Are you kidding me? That is what I would have said a little over a year ago. Now, I am embracing it as a new business model.
When I first opened my store in 2007, I never would have factored a virtual wine tasting into my business plan. This year I did. It is always an interesting conversation to have when customers come in and ask about our wine tastings. How does this work? Well, you tune in and watch us drink. That comment always gets me some strange looks. Every week, we pick a theme and three wines to taste. Then, over the span of about 30 minutes, we explain the wines in great detail. Customers can purchase the wines before the tasting and even after because we always record our tastings. Before COVID, our wine tastings would pack the house. Now, customers are staying in the comfort of their own homes and tasting right along with us.
Even though I was excited to have another avenue for selling, there are drawbacks to a virtual wine tasting. If a virtual wine tasting is not entertaining or funny, it can be boring as hell. There must be a bond with your audience. During our in-house wine tastings, I was able to see, just by the look on someone’s face, how they enjoyed the wine. Now I am not able to do that. A virtual wine tasting can also lack emotion. It can be challenging to talk to a computer screen. I feed on other people’s emotions and reactions. Plus, on top of all of that, if there are technical issues, you are a sitting duck.
The benefits of a virtual wine tasting do outnumber the drawbacks. First and most important, you can drink as much as you want, all night long, and you do not have to drive home. You are already there! If you do not enjoy the wine, you can always cook with it. You can pause me. As much as I do not enjoy the sound of that, if you need to grab another glass of wine and cheese to pair, or your child gets out of bed, just stop the video, and come back to me whenever it suits you.
Without being physically open, it is hard to continue building a clientele base. During a virtual wine tasting, I can stay in touch with my existing customers, build a new audience and even connect to anyone in the world. Probably the most positive feedback I have had about virtual wine tastings has been that our customers receive more information about the wines than they ever did during our in-house wine tastings. I had so many customers come into the store to taste wine that I did not always get a lot of time to explain the wine and the fleshy tidbits. For 30 minutes, we get to explain three wines in detail and our viewers get to ask questions that we would not necessarily have had time to answer before. This part of the tasting has been the most satisfying for me.
I believe that wine and food bring us together, and still can. Even as we all begin to reopen to the public, there are some things that I will continue to embrace. Virtual wine tastings have been a way for me to really reach out to a large number of people and encourage them to be even more interested in wine than they were before. That is a benefit!
We conduct our virtual wine tastings live on Instagram and Facebook every Friday night at 6 p.m.
Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information, visit MaggieBsWine.com or call 828.645.1111