Yes, there have been silver linings to our time at home! One is the ability to connect with wine enthusiasts, winemakers, authors, and other folks in the wine industry via myriad online wine events. Here are some of the best quips I heard and tips I learned in recent months.
Alta Colina Syrah Virtual Tasting
My introduction to virtual tasting featured Paso Robles winery Alta Colina. The organically farmed estate based in the Adelaida District AVA specializes in Rhone varieties. An amiable panel included the winery’s founder, grower, and winemaker emeritus Bob Tillman, his daughter Maggie Tillman, and winemaker Molly Lonborg. Following this terrific introduction to the winery, I am eager to explore the rolling hills of their vineyard in person!
Fun fact: Paso Robles is about three times the size of Napa in terms of acreage planted.
Each year wine reviewer Sean Sullivan poses a challenge to wine lovers to explore one specific underappreciated variety of Washington State wine. Participants who agree to the challenge simply uncork a bottle of that variety at least once a month and report back. Fun, right? This year the chosen grape is Syrah. Will you join the Syrah challenge? If you’re not exceptionally familiar with Washington Syrah, don’t worry! After all, this is your chance to learn more.
There are a number of ways to tackle this monthly endeavor. Don’t get too hung up on that, just start the challenge! Then if more focus is needed, here are some suggestions.
To get the most out of the challenge, include some bottles from wineries, vineyards, and regions that are new to you.
Each month open a Syrah from different Washington State American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).
OR, take a deep dive into just one or two AVAs.
Try Syrah from different vineyards.
What’s so captivating about Syrah? At a past Taste Washington seminar, Wine Bible author Karen MacNeil waxed poetic about Washington wine, vividly describing each pour as only she can. As the audience sipped on Syrah from cult producer Cayuse she uttered,
“This wine is primal scream. Wonderfully corrupt.”
The movie Bottle Shock tells the story of a 1976 wine competition in which California wine was victorious over French wine. Known as the “Judgement of Paris”, it’s a tale that many are familiar with. It seems, however, that few are aware of an important historic moment in Washington State wine. The hero in this story is the pioneer of vinifera grape growing in Washington State that has been producing classic European varietal wines since 1967, Chateau Ste. Michelle.
At a blind Riesling tasting sponsored by the Los Angeles Times in 1974, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 1972 vintage of Johannisberg Riesling won top honors. Moreover, although Ste. Michelle Johannisburg Riesling was the least expensive wine in the tasting, it beat out German, Australian, and California Rieslings. It is significant to note that producers included P.J. Valckenberg in Worms, the oldest family-run wine export company of Germany, as well as Liebfraumilch Madonna, the oldest brand of German wine. Domestic producers included a who’s who of California stalwarts such as Beaulieu Vineyards, Heitz Cellar, and Freemark Abbey.
A picture of a winery event I organized years ago got me thinking about how things could be altered to make it work during the current restrictions. Some of this might sound far-fetched, but dreams (and vino) are going to get us through these days, am I right? So, here are my ideas on what wineries could do to transform release and wine club parties into reimagined virtual wine events.
The thing about winery events is that most people don’t realize that it takes a lot of combined efforts and collaboration to pull them off. This pictured open house, for example, took a small army of caterers, party rental services, florists, a DJ, a photographer, and a magician. However, in a virtual format each could offer a focused theme on their own.
A big cheers to wineries, such as Avennia, that have included virtual music performances as part of their release events!
How about something a little different? I mentioned a magician previously. It happens that the same talented magician, Nash Fung (as seen on Penn and Teller’s Fool Us), has adapted his performances for virtual events. I’ve yet to see another winery event include a magician. What a special way to surprise and delight people during a virtual event!
Couldn’t we all use a little colorful cheer in the form of flowers right now? Let’s have a virtual floral design class. Perhaps even tie it into a wine theme, such as using wine glasses as a vase.
Party Rental Services
There is something about setting a table with classy linens, the good china, and all the wine glasses that makes my heart happy. I remember when I gave the nice folks at Cort Party Rentals my wish list for table décor, lighting, and furniture and they were able to provide it all! These days, I know party décor has taken a backseat while wineries line up to rent tents in order to provide outdoor service. However, what if a winery partnered up with a party rental firm to demonstrate how to glam up our tables at home this holiday season? This could be a nice tie in for the release events that offer to go meals. Count me in!
To Go Meals
Wineries have been joining forces with restaurants and caterers by adding on special to go meal options with wine release pickups. Hooray, a night off from cooking! That kind of partnership is a win for the businesses as well as those of us at home. Let’s keep this coming.
Just for Fun
I’m not the only one dreaming up new event ideas! A holiday party kit is an inspired option offered as a partnership between Elsom Cellars, Seattle Made, and the Seattle Good Business Network. Brilliant!
Getting to chat with the winemaker and/or winery owners at events is usually a highlight of release parties. I’ve seen winery owners such as Alex and Samuel of Aluel Cellars indicate they are receptive to working with large groups to develop some custom virtual tasting events. How cool is that?
Cooking classes have also gone virtual and it would be fantastic to see those providers partner with wineries.
If any of you wine lovers out there have participated in a virtual winery event, or have your own idea for an event with a unique spin, do tell! Share it on Twitter or Instagram.
I am incredibly grateful for all the people who have partnered with me throughout my wine career. The following were particularly helpful in my success with the event pictured in this post.
As we continue to hunker down, let’s connect via Zoom, have some fun, and sip some fantastic wines from Washington State! Do you like sparkling wines? How about balanced, complex red wine? I am conducting a virtual Washington wine tasting in collaboration with a couple of admirable women in wine. Together we will shine the light on four selections that are sure to spark more joy than decluttering your house ever could.
Save the date and order your wines now! Monday, October 19 5-6pm Pacific / 7-8pm Central Registration $12