Corporate Virtual Tastings are Here to Stay

Corporate Virtual Tastings are Here to Stay

Guest article by Brianne Cohen

I met Brianne several years ago at Wine Media Conference and was struck by her focus and dedication to wine education and writing. Shortly afterward, she began the process of getting her WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Diploma certificate, a right of passage for serious wine writers. We had worked together on client-related wine editorial, and Brianne judged a wine competition that I co-manage. I was surprised and concerned to learn she was dropping it all, and shifting her focus to hosting corporate virtual tastings. Needless to say, her determination led to new success, and another great example of positive unintended consequences of the 2020 pandemic. I hope her article provides perspective on how your winery can benefit from corporate virtual tastings.

Brianne Cohen is a Los Angeles based certified sommelier, wine educator, wine writer, and wine judge. She hosts both virtual and in-person wine tasting events to engage and build culture with internal teams and clients through a shared sensory experience with a focus on diverse-owned wineries, cheesemongers, and chocolatiers.

One day we were happily living our lives and working hard in our careers. And the next, the world came to a halt with the coronavirus seemingly taking over our lives overnight. 2020 was a wake-up call for everyone. Whatever we thought we knew, went out the window. I was a 13-year event planning veteran in mid-March 2020 when COVID hit, took over my life, and I lost every single retainer, client, and event gig in a span of about two weeks. This stress caused me to focus my attention on an idea that came to me in those first few days of early March, as I was spending more time online and on social media. I thought: I wonder if I can host a wine tasting online.

I was a WSET Diploma certified wine writer and educator and figured I could use my event planning and wine skills to host a virtual event. I learned how to use Zoom, set up an Eventbrite account, and created a “Virtual Vino” event open to the public on March 19, 2020. The event ended up taking place at the exact same day (and time) that Gov Newsom locked us down in California (the chat box was on fire). I figured I could get a few friends and social media followers to join, and by the time event day rolled around, I had 120 registrants, and the very beginning of my email newsletter subscriber list. Fast forward to March 2022 and I have hosted 170 corporate virtual events with over 6,000 people and my company’s revenue has increased fourfold since 2019.

In those first few weeks, anyone who had anything to do with wine, seemed to be hosting virtual tastings. Wineries, retailers, writers, and out of work somms were all promoting their virtual wine tasting events. As an event planner who regularly worked with corporate event planners, I realized they had a unique challenge during the pandemic. Employees were stressed, scared, and burnt-out in those first few months. One would think that corporate event planners would have been obsolete at that moment in time. Quite the opposite. They were challenged to think outside the box and to figure out ways to bring groups of people together in this challenging time. Enter the virtual event.

Corporate event planners have learned that they must integrate virtual events into their overall event strategy in this new hybrid world that we live in, or they will be left behind. For one, workplace teams are now scattered across the country with some offices not ever reopening and some encouraging telecommuting or a hybrid work model. Also, sales people cannot travel at their pre-pandemic levels. We are more acutely aware that it is no longer considered environmentally sustainable for salespeople to be back on the road and flying three weeks out of the month. That’s a problem and it can no longer be ignored.

Virtual wine tasting events can be positioned as a “non-sales” sales touchpoint. The equivalent of “wining and dining” their prospects and/or clients. These experiences (when done right) build rapport and connection and whet the whistle for the salesperson to close the deal or increase sales at a later date. With internal groups, the goal is team building and culture building.

In the media, all we hear about is “zoom fatigue” and “let’s get back to in-person”. In our personal lives, most of us are ready and hungry for that. But we now know how to connect virtually in an effective way. We don’t have to hop in a car or on a plane for every single meeting or every time we need to see someone.

In event planner networking and industry groups, the conversation is strongly focused on how to seamlessly and effectively weave virtual events into your overall event strategy. Virtual events can (and should) work in tandem with in-person events. When does virtual make sense? When can it accomplish what you need? How can you reduce your environmental footprint and do your part? Virtual events can do just that.

Wineries that have been successful in the virtual tasting space have seen an additional revenue stream manifest, new customers, a growth in newsletter subscribers, and an increase in wine club memberships. The shared sensory experience of wine tasting is compelling and effective. Food and wine connect people. It doesn’t matter if they’re in the same room together or in a Zoom room together.

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