As our attention starts to turn to our buying needs in 2021 the California Wine Institute in the UK has been quick to get on the front foot and plan a new form of virtual tasting that it believes can both break new ground for how generic wine bodies can put on major country tastings, but also provide a new highly effective tasting model that will still be suitable and relevant for post-Covid times. Here its two UK directors, Justine McGovern and Damien Jackman, explain to Richard Siddle just how its Essential California At Home tasting in March is going to work and how importers, buyers and press can get involved.
2020 has shown how fast and versatile the wine industry has been in adapting to deal with Covid-19. Particularly in how tastings have succeeded online. Here’s how the California Wine Institute wants to take virtual tastings to the next level with Essential at Home event on March 24 and 25.
One of the real benefits of the national lockdown during 2020 has been how companies and service providers have all had to move quickly to offer what they would normally do in person and deliver it to us in whatever format is most suitable to us at home.
It has become a particular challenge for wine organisations, producers and generic bodies that normally rely on trade tasting in order to promote and showcase the wines they hope will attract the interest of key wine buyers. To a large extent the trade has been able to carry on using a combination of Zoom and Instagram Live style tastings where producers and their importers have been able to still tell their stories to whichever target audience they are looking to reach.
That challenge, though, becomes a lot harder when it comes to putting on a generic or portfolio tasting. Just how can you replicate the chance of potentially tasting 100s of wines over the course of a few hours when you are sitting at home? The sheer logistics of it make it nigh on impossible.
Well the California Wine Institute in the UK has moved quickly to come up with a new tasting format it believes can break real new ground for how we regard, take part in and use generic wine tastings not just now during Covid-19 but long term. In a way the pandemic has provided the long over due catalyst to drive real and effective change in how large volume tastings are handled.
The new concept, devised by its UK directors, Justine McGovern and Damien Jackman, is simply called Essential California At Home. Being online means it does not need to worry about expensive venue costs so is immediately able to offer a more flexible and wide ranging tasting by holding it over two days – March 24 and 25.
The event is being organised with two main goals in mind: to get buyers tasting, buying and listing more Californian wine; and providing the right platform for the wine media to find the stories and the wines they want to write about and help promote. But by being online it also potentially offers the tasting opportunity up to a lot more people to get involved.
Here Justine McGovern and Damien Jackman set out in their own words how the virtual tasting is going to work.
You took the decision early last summer to host your Essential California tasting in March as a virtual event – can you talk us through how your plans.
Justine: In August, we decided to host this tasting virtually because we were fearful that Covid was going to be around for longer than first expected. We wanted to give our export members and the trade some certainty that we would not place them at risk, while still providing an opportunity for a large range of California wines to be tasted together in the UK. Our decision was based on trying to do the best we could in the circumstances and somehow get California wines in front of the trade.
What can we expect?
Damien: The trade and press have had the chance to select a range of samples from over 300 wines put forward by the importers. Each taster will receive an individualised pack of up to 48 wines in 50ml sample bottles delivered to their home.
We will bring all of the tasters together via our new web platform on March 24-25 to create both a social and educational atmosphere. We will have educational AVA videos by Elaine Chukan Brown to get tasters primed, and video meetings with producers in California and their importers where requested by the tasters.
You say you want to use “technology to showcase California” – how are you going to do that?
Justine: Well, we hope our awesome new event platform is the answer to that. People will have to order their samples and tune in over the two days to find out. But please note that tasters are not required to be on our platform for two full days. They can dip in and out, join masterclasses, watch educational videos, and arrange to chat to importers and producers when it suits them, though ideally, this will happen over the two days.
Producers and importers have been able to register their wine for some time? How is that going?
Damien: The importers have done a fantastic job listing a diverse range of their California wines, from the classics and stalwarts, through to exciting, fresh new wines that continue the evolution of New California. The demand for samples by top trade and press tasters has been overwhelming and we have received countless messages supporting our decision to move this event online and thanking us for getting wines to people in their homes.
And if you are a buyer or member of the press when can you start selecting and researching now the wines you would like to taste and hear about?
Justine: The wine directory link has been live for a few weeks and buyers and tasters can choose their samples until January 22. As mentioned before, they can select up to 48 samples. You have to be a member of the trade to place an order.
You are focusing more on wines that are in the market vs wines looking for registration? Why is that?
Damien: We will have a tasting opportunity for California brands seeking new representation in the UK later this year, but for Essential California the feedback from importers was that they really wanted to focus the tasters on their existing range. Particularly as so many businesses are needing to build themselves back up slowly as a result of Covid.
You are also giving some members of the trade the chance to receive a taster pack, how do you qualify for that?
Justine: Yes, we are delighted to offer this opportunity allowing as many people as possible to taste California wines. We ask anyone interested to email email@example.com stating their name, position and company name. Please note, the subject line should say ‘Tasting Pack’.
Do you think you could potentially reach more people and get them involved in tasting and taking part than you would hosting a live event?
Damien: Absolutely. Essential At Home will remove the noise and distraction of traditional, large-scale tastings and replace it with education, focus and entertainment, putting California wines on the best footing possible to grab the attention of press and buyers.
Do you think there will be an element of virtual and online tastings with us for the long term even post Covid/vaccine when we are able to travel and meet as normal again?
Justine: Yes, we do. The landscape has changed, and we need to change to meet the trade’s demands. We have felt a significant benefit from connecting our winemakers in California online with the UK trade through The California Sommelier Sessions, and the response has been fantastic. It is has proven the value of online tastings to us, and although we may never have to do an event of this scale online again, we will definitely offer virtual tastings to the trade again.
- If you would like any more information about how to take part then contact Justine McGovern on firstname.lastname@example.org.