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Virtual Vines

In a time of social distancing, innovative purveyors have gotten creative when it comes to sharing and learning about wine.

By Julie Craven Wagner, Stefanie Celata, and Elizabeth Aragao

Whether you just know what you like, or consider yourself to be a full-fledged oenophile, lovers of wine know that one of the most intriguing aspects of their passion includes an exploration of styles and varieties beyond what is immediately familiar to them. An examination of what influences a particular vintner’s latest, or even their most renowned offering, is what makes the journey of discovery rich and meaningful for those who want to expand their viniculture horizons. For those wanting to continue to try new wines as well as the professionals who need to increase their audience, the absence of wine tastings and wine dinners threatens a drought that would render a thirsty public unfulfilled. As is usually the case, a need often develops into an opportunity, and during Governor Baker’s recent Stay-at-Home orders, some innovative entrepreneurs across the region started to create new ways to share their love of wine with virtual wine tasting.

As people are literally living virtually, Tracy MacDonald and Heidi Holdgate log on to Nantucket’s Epernay’s online sessions for wine exploration.

Cape Cod Package Store in Centerville has been a regular stop for Mid-Cape oenophiles as well as a destination for those from more far-flung areas like the Outer Cape as well as off-Cape. Second-generation owner, Danette Atsalis along with her sister Andrea Pendergast have continued their father’s professional reputation for being a purveyor of distinction for those looking for depth and breadth in a collection of wine. In-store tastings were an integral part of the day-to-day activity in the busy store, until they weren’t. “My husband and I were supposed to go to Sonoma for a vacation this spring until it was cancelled due to the pandemic,” Atsalis shares. “It was a Christmas gift from our kids and we were so disappointed not to go.” That disappointment fueled Atsalis’ innovation to do something new and different for the business in the form of virtual wine tastings: a web-based presentation of wine and information to an online group that, in most cases, would pick-up the featured bottles of wine at the store prior to the event.

The first of three virtual wine tasting events kicked off with a moderated talk by local winemaker Joseph Carr and was attended by over a dozen online participants. The second event featured a French wine importer and featured a food pairing of Oysters Rockefeller. Atsalis leveraged her relationship with other local businesses by partnering with Cape Cod Oyster Company, which offered an online purchase of oysters, and chef Matt Tropeano, chef/owner of Spoon and Seed restaurant, who contributed his Oysters Rockefeller recipe and prepared them live in his kitchen for the event. The last event was a tour of Spanish wines and was promoted locally by groups like Cape Cod Young Professionals.

Nantucket’s Epernay Wine and Spirits 

The fall is a time that Atsalis expects to really get creative and offer a robust schedule of virtual events and new opportunities for local partnerships as she brings everyone together over a glass of wine. “People are very quick and efficient with their trips to the store, so the opportunity to spend some time learning and interacting isn’t happening as much anymore. A chance to connect virtually appeals to everyone,” Atsalis reflects.

Stores such as locally-owned Luke’s Cape Cod, offered a “Virtual Visit to Duckhorn” (Napa Valley’s Duckhorn Vineyards) where Joey Casco, CSW/CSS, beverage marketer for the Luke’s organization, posted videos of conversations with the winemaker, as well as discussions of particular varietals in their weekly periodical, The Grape Bunch. “I think the real value is that most of these virtual tastings aren’t just tastings. They’re also webinars. You get to learn about the history of the wineries, the vineyard, even the region. People see and interact with the people who are involved in making these wines,” says Casco. The Grape Bunch also spotlights fun in-home tasting packages. Six wines with a common theme are selected monthly by Casco and are presented in an informative and timely way. Some of the recent themes have been “The Grillin’ 6 Pack,” which offered wines that pair with food hot off the grill and included accompanying tasting sheets and recipe suggestions. Additionally, there have been “Rosés of the World.” This tasting offers a passport around the world, guided by the elusive pink summer nectar found in the world’s various wine regions. As people search for social activity during times of quarantine, or even as we remain socially limited, expanding not just one’s wine knowledge, but also one’s tasting and cooking skills is the perfect pastime. A six-pack is under $80 and even includes free delivery in this age of COVID. According to Casco, “We see that it is such a great opportunity to expand wine adventures from home without traveling. I believe virtual wine tasting will still be going strong after this crisis is over, and that’s why offering things like free delivery just make sense for everyone.” 

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