Virtual Tastings, Free Shipping, and More: Your Guide to the Wine World During Quarantine
The caves at Buena Vista winery, one of dozens offering virtual tastings and events. Photo courtesy of Buena Vista winery
The new Napa? A bushel of wineries that offer virtual tastings
Spring usually heralds the beginning of traffic jam season in wine country, but this year it’s bandwidth, not bumper-to-bumper bachelorette parties you’ll need to worry about. Much as the rest of the world changed overnight with the arrival of the coronavirus, so too has the wine world had to respond to the pandemic. With the restaurant and wholesale retail channels decimated, an entire industry—from its vineyard workers to vintners and beyond—depends on its ability to innovate, connecting with the customer directly.
Lucky for all of us, no matter whether you’re talking Napa, Sonoma, the Willamette Valley, California’s Central Coast, the Walla Walla Valley in Washington—anywhere else wine is made—there are already dozens of opportunities to connect and share a glass with your favorite winemakers. The wineries and stores we’ve rounded up here have thrown open their digital doors to customers in a series of new approaches that may even set a course for the post-Covid-19 world.
You don’t have to buy wines to participate in every happy hour or guided tasting, but most of the businesses listed below are offering the tasted wines at discounted rates and free shipping. Some do require appointments and reservations while others are simply sharing a taste with any and all.
Discussions span platforms from Instagram Live to FB Live to Zoom conference call and beyond.
Additions can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll continue to update this guide as we add to the list.
Napa and Sonoma
ACME Fine Wines
A seminal Napa wine retailer since 2003, ACME was one of the first depots to adapt to the coronavirus era. Available by Zoom or by phone, owner Karen Williams calls her tastings “Isolation Libations.” Her focus? Cult cabs and first-time releases. Williams also plans virtual tasting forums for each of her four wine clubs. Click here for more info.
San Francisco Wine School
Just south of the city sits one of the best wine education organizations in the country. During quarantine, webinar only workshops found on this page are 50 percent off and master sommelier David Glancy is hosting free Virtual Blind Tastings at 5 p.m. PST each day, describing a wine while the audience uses deductive tasting techniques to determine grape, region, and vintage. Check the school’s Facebook page for announcements or email email@example.com.
Hosting a virtual happy hour on Friday, March 27th at 2:00 pm PST, CADE Estate winemaker Danielle Cyrot will lead a tasting of current vintages and take questions. What’s more, she’ll lead a conversation on how women have transformed the industry. you through a tasting of the current vintages and taking questions from the audience on all things wine, and how women have transformed the industry. Click for more info.
Estate-driven wines from the far West coast of Sonoma are the focus at this vineyard, founded by brothers Andy and Nick Peay (pronounced “PAY”) in 1996. Dashing and knowledgable as they may be, winemaker Vanessa Wong is the reason you’ll want to tune into a virtual tasting: Wong worked her way up through Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Paulliac, France as well as Hirsch vineyards in California, so she knows a thing or two about viticulture. Wong hosts virtual tastings Fridays at 5 p.m.; click here to sign up and check out the schedule of wines.
Inman Family Wines
Owner Kathleen Inman of Inman Family Wines offers “Meet the Maker” Happy Hours on Zoom—and has pledged 5 percent of proceeds to Meals on Wheels to assist the at-risk elderly demographic. More details here.
Club members have access to a scheduled virtual tasting experience, but everyone’s welcome to join the daily Instagram Lives with winemaker Matt Crafton. Expect tastings, live Q&As, bottling line tours, and more.
Normally it’s a boon to claim you’re the closest winery to the Bay Area. But Ram’s Gate is pivoting during quarantine to regular Instagram Live tastings with winemaker Joe Nielsen. Wines are offered a 15% discount with the code RAMSGATE. Click here to learn more about their wines.
Winemaker Todd Graff takes to the Zoom screen for a 1-hour live tour and tasting from the winery’s Winston Hill Vineyard in Rutherford on Saturday. Todd’s focus: recent pinot, chardonnay, and cab bottlings. Click for more detail.
Boisset Collection (Buena Vista Winery, Raymond Vineyards, DeLoach Vineyards, JCB Collection and 1881 Napa)
Owner Jean-Charles Boisset oversees several labels both in the United States and France, and his “irrepressible” charisma and know-how are on display during daily Facebook Live virtual happy hour broadcasts at 6 p.m. each day. On Thursday, March 26, in place of the daily happy hour, Jean-Charles will appear on CellarPass TV from 6 to 7 p.m. with stand-up comic Jenny Zigrino. Both Jean- Charles and sommelier Marnie Old have also recorded digital happy hours that air every Saturday at 6 p.m. on the Boisset Collection Facebook page as well (the first one from last Saturday, March 21, is available now).
Last night’s “Wine Stream” dropped at 4 p.m., featuring casual conversation with the Palmaz family. The session offered memories from 20 years of winemaking in the Napa Valley, along with a preview of wines from their club collection. More info on upcoming sessions here.
One-hour virtual tastings with a view can be accompanied by a range of wine packages at this Carneros winery. Prices start at $59; choose a package and select a session you’d like to join.
Calling their Virtual Tastings “InJoy” (get it?) Napa winemaker St. Supery offers two tastings via Facebook live each week, one at 3 p.m. PST and another at 5:30. Click here for more info.
The Sonoma Winemaker’s association has assembled this live-updating guide to discounts and virtual tastings in their region.
This Santa Maria Valley vineyard has taken a different approach, offering a “Wine Tasting Hotline” between the hours of noon and 6:00 p.m. PST each day. Call (805) 937-8340 to reach one of Riverbench’s tasting room professionals who can chat about any of their wines or offer tasting tips. Riverbench is also offering virtual vineyard tours several days a week. Check Facebook for the full schedule.
J. Wilkes Wines
Ambassador Wes Hagen (“He’s a Hoot!”) offers daily Facebook Live wine education videos. Called “Day Drinking with Wes Hagen,” the schedule can be found here.
Fess Parker Wines
This Sunset-favorite winery is rolling out a series of virtual tastings with winemaker Blair Fox and Parker family members. For more info on the winery, click here.
Crown Point Vineyard
Known for Bordeaux varietal wines, this Happy Canyon AVA producer plans a series of virtual tastings launching next week with winemaker Simon Faury. Click here for more info.
Zaca Mesa Winery
Called “At Home with Zaca Mesa,” brand ambassador Garret Black and winemaker Kristin Bryden walk attendees through Instagram Live virtual tastings. Promotional rates on special wines follow each session. Click here for more info.
Purple Star, Frichette Winery, Hedges Family Estate, Hightower Cellars, Tapteil Vineyard
This enterprising group of smaller producers in the Red Mountain district have joined forces for nightly happy hours, each with a unique focus. Check the graphic above for more information.
Low-intervention winemakers Seth and Audrey Kitzke are leveraging IGTV for tasting sessions, cracking bottles with followers and creating conversation. Click here to learn more.
Winemaker Kerry Shiels offers a weekly virtual happy hour from her Yakima Valley facility. This week’s focus: Reisling. In addition to stylistic choices Kerry covers pairings, tradeoffs, and more. For more info click here.
A boutique Willamette Valley producer focused on pinot noir, this winery is the partrnership of former record industry executive Jay Boberg and french winemaker Jean Nicolas Meo. The two will connect Burgundy to Oregon across the digital divide this Saturday at noon. More info on the winery here.
Focused on whole-cluster Pinot Noir, this Oregon winemaker will host a Facebook Live tasting and conversation each Thursday at 4 p.m. PST. Click here for more info or head on over to their Facebook page.
The Willamette Valley wine association will also be updating additional virtual tastings here.