Hosting Virtually or In-Person – How Different Is It Really?

Wine tasting experience

A highlight of positivity that came out of a very difficult time over this past year was the almost overnight rise of the virtual experience (VX). While the differences between a virtual experience and an in-person experience might seem lightyears away, they’re not too far off from each other.  There are benefits and challenges to both but always opportunity to sell wine and connect with customers in meaningful ways.  In this newfound channel of reaching new and existing consumers, wineries are not soon tabling the option of virtually hosting guests. There are too many reasons to host virtually – guests who might not be able to make it to the winery as well as having more consistent and frequent interactions with these guests through VX.

Let’s compare and contrast the tasting experiences: VX versus In-Person.

Reservations: Booking a tasting whether in-person or virtual is a fairly similar process. A well-thought-out reservation process will ask pre-qualifying questions to help the host make the experience as individualized as possible – regardless of the type of tasting experience. For the in-person tasting reservation, the questions might include if there are any food allergies, any special occasions, etc. The virtual tasting reservation may ask if everyone in the party is joining from the same location or what wines the guests plan to taste if they are selecting from their own collection or purchasing at a store.  Reservations are a great way to set expectations and set the stage for a fantastic tasting experience. The more information gathered in advance, the more unique the experience.

Group Sizes: There are many great reasons for different sized groups for either VX or in person. Both in-person and VX have the ability to be hosted privately, in a group setting, or have tailored tastings for club members.

  • Private virtual tastings are perfect for all types of wine consumers. For newbies, this format offers a ‘safe space’ to ask questions of a dedicated host without the fear of being overheard by other tasters.  These are also perfect for seasoned wine geeks that like to show what they know and have in-depth wine conversations.  Another benefit of private VX is the ability to create a venue for family and friends that may not be able to gather (pandemic or not!) to enjoy a shared experience together.
  • Group tastings are great for corporate customers, hosting virtual release events or for those guests looking for a more accessible entry to wine or to enjoy a social event.
  • Wine Club Programming can offer added benefits to those not local and not able to participate in ‘free’ tastings, or as a member benefit for special access to the winemaker or other perks not available to non-members. It can help leverage wine club benefits even when the guest is out of the area or doesn’t frequently travel to the region.  Wine Club VX programming also offers wineries the ability to meet the customer, quite literally, wherever they are!

Tasting Format: Unlike in-person tastings, virtual tastings can offer a bit more flexibility for the guests.  Offerings can include flighted tastings, tastings of bottles purchased at retail shop nearest the customer, or a selection from their own cellar.  Flighted tastings can be the bottles in a recent club shipment or a selection of the current releases, or – get creative with the pack sets!  Think themed sets (all red, single vineyard, vertical, etc.), small format bottles, or bundling a Coravin in with the package to allow guests to enjoy a tasting portion rather than being left with several opened bottles.  There are tons of possibilities with virtual tastings!  In-person tastings do allow the host to customize on the fly as well as offer a greeting wine, bonus pour, or library splash.  Which leads to the next part!

Surprise & Delight: At face value – the surprise and delight component of a guest’s VX can seem impossible to pull off.  But here’s the good news: there are so many creative options to surprise and delight in a virtual setting!  The owner, winemaker, or principal can ‘pop’ into the tasting, a surprise gift or edible item can be included in the pack of wines featured in the tasting, a creative background or image to highlight a milestone can be added to the virtual presentation, a Go-Pro style tour of the vineyard, cellar, and tasting space makes the guests feel like they’re right in the mix!  The ideas are endless, but if the right questions are asked within the reservation, hitting out of the ballpark can be easy. While a host can’t reach through the screen to share a splash of a bonus pour – a guest would be trilled to find local grissini, roasted almonds, or artisan chocolates in their virtual tasting pack! What can we do to surprise and delight beyond expectations – either in a VX or in-person experience? This is what will make our brand memorable.

Conversation & Interaction: Hosting over a virtual platform might seem like it would be distant and impersonal, however, if done well – this format can actually open up lively conversations and allow for guests to ask questions they wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable sharing in an in-person format.  Hosts are also able to engage directly with this captive audience and can encourage interaction between guests in non-private virtual tastings.  The host is entirely responsible for setting the tone and energy of the virtual tasting whereas a myriad of external factors influence the vibe of a guest’s in-person visit. Most likely guests are “Zooming” in from their kitchen tables or living rooms and just might even be in sweatpants!  We’re practically in their house hosting an in-home tasting – and that’s totally personal!

Any way you slice it, the new channel of virtual experiences is an exciting addition to the DTC repertoire and while not the same thing as an in-person experience, it can be just as powerful, engaging, and personal.  Here are just a few things each of these two types of experience have in common:

  • WISE Triple Score:
    • Ask for the sale
    • Pitch wine club
    • Build mailing list
  • Rich interactions
  • Deliver excellent hospitality
  • Storytelling
  • Brand messaging
  • Surprise & Delights
  • Opportunity to follow up with offer or personal note
  • Ability to host club members in unique ways
  • No ‘backstage’ showing (keep the magic alive)
  • Sharing passion and enthusiasm, knowledge
  • Planting sales seeds throughout the experience
  • Noticing buying signals
  • More…

We could go on and on, but the point is there are many, many similarities to hosting people whether VX or in person. We see long-term viability for this new channel and a lot of opportunity for wineries to increase overall revenue if we’re leveraging this channel. So, if hosting customers virtually hasn’t yet been tapped into – there’s no time like now to start!