Virtual wine tastings: Texas wineries go online after tasting rooms shut down

Tasting rooms are often a big revenue driver for Texas wineries.

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Bending Branch Winery’s Tannat Rose wine, with grapes from Tallent Vineyards.(Bending Branch Winery)

Spring is usually boom time for Texas wineries, but not this year. Amid the coronavirus crisis, social distancing has shut down tasting rooms, the cash cow of most Texas wineries.

To stay engaged with customers, wineries are finding creative ways to interact online. Virtual wine tastings, happy hours and classes are the new tools connecting wineries with the public. Many producers hope to boost sales by offering online discounts, free shipping, and even prized older vintages.

“The [tasting room] shutdown has a huge effect on Texas wineries. From a business point of view, it cuts off a big component of revenues,” says David Kuhlken, president of the Texas Hill Country Winery association and co-founder, president and winemaker at Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall, Texas. Most Texas wineries ― especially those with little or no retail distribution ― derive most of their revenues from tasting room sales, with the balance coming from wine club sales, he says.

Losing the spring traffic is especially painful for wineries on the Hill Country wine trail. “As a percent of total sales, March, April and May account for a disproportionate amount of our tasting room revenue, with April being the peak [month],” Kuhlken says. Collectively, he estimates that tasting rooms will lose 90% of their usual spring revenue (curbside sales may account for 10%). “That’s a big hit to the economy out here,” Kuhlken says.

To stay connected to wine drinkers, many wineries are taking to Facebook Live, Instagram Live, IGTV, Zoom and Twitter for live wine events, including tastings. Letting participants and viewers pose questions and comments during sessions helps connects the wine community amid the shelter-in-place era. Virtual happy hours give participants a chance to share favorite Texas wines and enjoy some camaraderie. Kuhlman Cellars touts its virtual tastings as “putting the social in social distancing.”

Many wineries’ websites and Facebook pages promote new releases and trios of wines well in advance of themed tastings, which allows time for ordering and receiving wines in time. At Pedernales Cellars, older vintages held back for special occasions (library wines) are being released for the first time for inclusion in virtual vertical tastings. The winery will also feature cooking demos led by its chef on Facebook Live.

See the full Dallas News article

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1:20 PM on Apr 9, 2020

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