Ghielmetti 10-05-18 088 TC

Many of the Tri-Valley's wineries are creating virtual experiences for customers and pivoting how they make sales during the shelter-in-place. (Photo - Doug Jorgensen)

The Livermore Valley is known for producing excellent wine, both white and red. Tasting rooms abound in the region and would normally be bustling with activity at this time of year. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed them all, but that does not mean wine enthusiasts can’t enjoy a bottle with their favorite winemakers.

Many of the area’s labels have moved their tasting rooms online, creating virtual experiences for customers to enjoy from the comfort of their homes as they shelter in place. In most cases, customers can choose to have wine shipped, delivered or brought to their cars for curbside delivery.

McGrail Vineyards and Winery begin the SIP club for people to enjoy wine together while apart. Members pay $50 each week for two surprise bottles of wine to be delivered or picked up and meet for a Zoom call on Friday evenings to taste the wines together and discuss pairings. Heather McGrail said they try to keep the evenings fun.

“Anyone can join the virtual meetings, and every week we change it up,” she said. “We always talk about the wines, but we also play games and have themes. At first, we were leaning toward the educational angle, but we have found that people want to talk . . . we get lots of questions and a great sense of community from being together.”

McGrail added that the winery will also begin a virtual happy hour on Tuesdays that will be less interactive and more educational.

For wine enthusiasts interested in a more personalized experience for their group, Page Mill Winery has designed a VIP experience catered to the consumer. Interested groups of five or more will connect with the winery’s winemaker, Dane Stark, to select wines for a tasting scheduled at their convenience. Wine is shipped or delivered to the participants; then, Stark hosts the tasting virtually, discussing the wines and answering questions.

“We wanted to be able to cater to the consumer’s schedule,” Debbie Cristiano, sales manager for Page Mill, said of the choice not to have a standing, public Zoom tasting. “People ask for recipes to go along with the wines, so each of the people in the group can all be tasting something with the wines.”

Cristiano said they have had groups made up of people on both ends of the country, making the ability to schedule the tasting an important way to connect families separated by distance.

Page Mill also moved its Twilight Tasting fundraisers online, with the first to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California at the end of the month.

Another way for wine drinkers to learn more about a new bottle at a time of their own choosing is Wente Vineyards’ new guided home wine tasting app, available through Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices.

“We are really looking to connect with customers and give everyone a chance to feel entertained,” said Aly Wente, Senior Brand Manager for Wente Vineyards. “We know that everyone is at home and looking for new ways to be entertained at home, and we are really trying to provide more inspiration for that.”

Wente detailed the brand’s new app experience, a recording that offers listeners the opportunity to learn about three bottles of wine; two from their Livermore vineyards and one from Monterey. She said there is something for everyone in the recording, from the wine connoisseur to the ignoramus, as well as something of the history of Wente Vineyards in California. The three bottles are available for purchase on the website.

Wente Vineyards also offers Wine Wednesdays, a virtual tasting experience launched at the time the shelter-in-place orders took effect. Available through Zoom and Facebook Live, Wente and her sister host a 30-minute session each week, talking with other members of the Wente family, baking sweet treats or pairing their wines with a takeout meal from a local restaurant.

Larry Dino, proprietor and winemaker for Cuda Ridge Wines, has another option for bringing the wine country home. He plans his tastings every two weeks, scheduling them out far enough to allow people to obtain the wines he will be tasting each evening.

“We do two or three wines per tasting,” Dino said. “We offer those wines at 25% off, and we do local delivery or curbside pickup.”

Dino said he was pleased by the turnouts his virtual tastings have received, with more attendees every meeting.

Chris Ehrenberg of Ehrenberg Cellars chose not to limit his virtual options to tastings, but included bingo parties, trivia nights and taco Tuesdays. He has paired up with a local poke maker to create a poke and wine paring evening on May 24. Participants can purchase a variety pack of poke with some Ehrenberg wines and taste everything in an online party.

“We have done some fun things and gotten some good responses,” Ehrenberg said.

At Big White House Wines, assistant winemaker Jessica Carroll said virtual tastings are likely here to stay.

“We are doing a virtual tasting every Friday at five,” Carroll said. “Even after (the shelter-in-place) opens up, we are aware of how restricted we will be in the tasting room, so we might not do it every week, but we’ll still do it at least once or twice a month. We know that we will still have customers who won’t feel comfortable coming in, and we still want to connect with them, so I think this might be a permanent thing we do.”

Retzlaff Vineyards hosted an online music event during the early days of the shelter-in-place. As are many local wineries, they remain available to fill wine orders during regular business hours.

“We still have quite a few people coming in, club members picking up orders or just people wanting to buy wine,” said Tina Rebello, Retzlaff senior associate. “We have drive-thru pickup for that.”

For more information on these events and more, as well as events with wineries not mentioned, visit the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association events page at https://www.lvwine.org/events/.