Richard Hemming MW: Is the future of wine online?

In less than two months, wine communication has moved 100% online.

For an industry that’s supposed to move at a glacial pace, our collective embrace of this new virtual reality is a testament to the dynamism of the wine world. In the pre-pandemic world, it would have been unthinkable that video conferencing was not only a feasible alternative to face-to-face tastings, but one which is both thriving and, in some cases, profitable. Wine lovers have been flocking to join interviews, masterclasses and tutored tastings, both live and pre-recorded.

It’s worth saying that this scenario is far from ideal, of course, and that many wine businesses and their employees are facing huge hardships due to current conditions, with a protracted recovery period ahead. However, it is encouraging to see how the
wine world has adapted to the new restrictions.

As a host of webinars for 67 Pall Mall, I have witnessed how successful online wine sessions can be. Attendees number between 100 and above 600, depending on the time of day and subject. Tasting packs can be purchased in advance, giving people the opportunity to sample the wines being discussed and providing a valuable revenue stream.

Retailers, producers, importers and wine bars all around the world have been establishing their own versions, taking whatever advantage they can of being locked down. As our experience with the medium improves, standards are getting higher – both with the technology involved and the online presenting techniques.

SOFTWARE CHOICES

Zoom has become the software of choice, providing a good basic standard of video and audio streaming, the capacity to host
hundreds of attendees, and functions such as chat, screen share and Q&A that encourage interaction. Instagram Live tends to be much less formal, more like eavesdropping on a video call than watching an event.

For presenting techniques, there is a noticeable benefit to using external microphones, lighting and cameras – although most audiences seem remarkably tolerant of the often shonky specifications of the inbuilt technology that comes with many laptops and smartphones, perhaps fuelled by the generous nature of lockdown goodwill... and by drinking along.

Regardless of hardware, the best presenters are alert to the techniques necessary to produce quality content: being professionally dressed; looking into the camera not the screen; ensuring they aren’t interrupted by their children/spouses/housemates; and talking with fluency and focus while monitoring chat feedback and other distractions ... including drinking along.

Now we have become accustomed to sharing wine online, is this a preferable model for the future? After all, the wine industry is a travel-hungry one, generating a significant carbon footprint. Surely internet-enabled tastings are an ideal solution?

Yet I suspect their importance will diminish after lockdown. Wine is inherently social, and virtual events are no substitute for an
in-person tasting or wine dinner. Even so, online wine events could still offer a valuable supporting role, and retailers should be primed to take whatever advantage they can in these drastic circumstances.

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