Like other industries, the wine world is adapting to social distancing. The first activity to get the video treatment has been wine tastings. Many of you have probably received invitations to video tastings done by your favorite wine store or restaurant, or perhaps a winery or a wine writer. Reviews on these tastings have been mixed, at least initially – although the quality will likely improve with time and practice.
In the world of wine professionals, wine shows have been the main vehicle for importers and distributors to meet wine producers. A few of the organizations that organize wine shows have tried video format, and I “attended” my first one last week. I’m looking forward to more.
I’ve written about the different kinds of wine shows before and how they’re like dating services. You either have the big singles mixer or something more like a dating app, where you pre-screen. Last week’s show was the latter kind. I picked from a list of producers and they then had to decide if they wanted to meet with me. At least both parties have agreed, providing a degree of enthusiasm going in. Appointments were set and videoconferencing began.
The one thing missing was the wine. In a video tasting done by a wine shop or winery, you can buy the wine ahead and taste it with the presenter. None of the Italian and Spanish producers I met with in this show already exports to the U.S., so it wasn’t possible to get the wine ahead of time. Normally, at least half of our 20-minute meetings would have been spent tasting and discussing the wines with each producer. But with the video it was up to us to fill the time.
I always take a few minutes to explain my business, since it’s unusual. I’m a retailer who imports wines because I’m allowed to do that here in DC, and I sell directly to the public online without a walk-in shop. I’ve got the elevator pitch down now and I know where I’m likely to get questions. “Wine retailer” has many different permutations in Europe so I have to nail down precisely what I do and don’t do. And I occasionally still have to explain that Washington DC isn’t Washington State.
But beyond that it’s their time to talk, with some questions at the end. How they fill the time tells me a lot about them, whether they intend it or not. I was surprised that only half of the producers I spoke with gave the kind of presentation I used to have to make routinely when I worked for an environmental advocacy organization – giving me a concrete idea of why I, the importer, should want to buy their wines.
In the old days, tasting the wine and seeing the price sheet might be enough. But that wasn’t an option. There were some language issues, which was unfortunate. And the quality of the video feeds were erratic. Still, I’d have thought that every one of them would have had some kind of talk ready, going from the big picture down to the specifics of their vineyards and winery.
As with virtual wine tastings, it’s early days, and I guess most producers haven’t had to think like they’re making a pitch on “Shark Tank.” Especially the ones taking over a generations-old family business. They prefer to let the wine speak for itself. I’m sure each of them would be a genial, informative host in a two-hour meeting at their wineries. They just have to translate that into something that works on a short video link.
The best presentations all had a few things in common. The producers first put their wines into the context of their region in terms of tradition and the recent trends of wine making. Then they got down to more specifics about the vineyards and the winery, including some of the history of both the property and their families (since they’re mostly family businesses). Finally, to the wines more specifically and what they were trying to accomplish with them.
This sounds formulaic, but there’s plenty of room for individuality. No one sounded rehearsed, and they got the information across with a good dose of their personalities as well. They made me exceptionally sorry I couldn’t pick up a glass and try the wines – which I hope I can do in the coming weeks.