How to enjoy wine together, apart

By Casey Warrener

Wine remains a great reason to come together with friends online. Whether you want to start a wine club, host a tasting, or simply catch up with friends for a drink on screen, here’s what you need to know.

    Wine is inherently social, so if you’re missing sharing a glass with far-flung friends, virtual drinks can be worthwhile. At this stage of the pandemic and its recurring restrictions, this activity is nothing new, but it remains an excellent way to stay connected with family and friends, particularly if they’re interstate or further afield. Virtual drinks have become so popular, the Japanese have even coined a term for it with “on-nomi”, which essentially means drinking online.

    While only some of us are locked down right now, the beauty of these online catch-ups is they are a great way to host a party with no barriers or restrictions on how many people you can include. And you can get savvy about the wines and themes to pursue. Get inspired with the steps ahead.

    Go to section: Video and logistics | Themes and ideas | Food | Recording the event | Following up

  • Choose your platform, make it easy

  • We all have our preferred video platforms by now, but some of the better conferencing options for events include Zoom and Google Hangouts. The former is more popular, but if you’re hosting a catch-up with more than three people, the free version cuts off after 40 minutes. Google Hangouts doesn’t have restrictions, but it’s sometimes not as smooth in its functionality. You could also try Skype, FaceTime (so long as everyone is an Apple user), Messenger and Teams.

    After deciding on the software to use, consider your set-up and setting. Which area of your home will you be comfortable in for a considerable amount of time, with minimal interruptions? And is it a different spot to where you sit if you work from home? We all spend so much time online these days, mix it up from your usual station. Other factors to ponder are lighting, with dimly lit or backlit screens less ideal, and your internet connection (get others in your home to agree not to download or stream during your event). For best results, especially if you’re planning on regular wine get-togethers, do a trial run to iron out any technical difficulties. There’s nothing worse than one person talking with no sound, or your connection dropping out halfway through.

    Once you feel confident with the tools, send invitations with clear instructions – the meeting link, time and date, a password to join, if necessary, and what to prepare, such as the wines to buy or source. For more structured tastings or large groups, it can be wise to nominate one person to moderate. When it’s your turn to host, have a list of discussion points ready to roll and get everyone involved in the conversation. It can feel a little forced at first, but with video meets, this approach is often the best way to achieve the flow of conversation you would have in person.

  • Choose a theme, make it fun

  • It may be harder these days to get people excited about virtual events, so consider ways to get them excited and make a convincing case. Ask people to wear a particular item or colour of clothing – something that makes sense from the shoulders up – or to get creative with their virtual backgrounds. Much like with real-life fancy dress parties, people might roll their eyes at first, but they will get more into the idea as it plays out. Another way to make your event more interactive is by creating live polls and Q&As using platforms like Slido, testing people’s knowledge and enjoyment as you go. Some video tools allow you to set up breakout rooms, too, so you can divide people into groups.

    As far as choosing the wine for the event, focusing on a variety, style or region is an approach that will allow you to hone your understanding of a specific area. To make it accessible, you could even let people’s favourite bottles at home determine the theme. For example, if everyone has a bottle of shiraz lying around, you could each open that on the night, and share the characteristics of your own expression, and then discuss the differences and how those relate to where the grapes grow and the producer’s style. If you choose to focus on the wines of one label or estate, get in touch to let them know. You may be surprised at the wines they might be able to offer as a special pack for each of your participants.

  • Include food

  • Wine in the context of food is even more enjoyable, so why not plan on snacks or a meal as you taste? You may like to each create the same dish for the occasion, or cook up something entirely different. On the night, it can be an added point of discussion as to why it works – or doesn’t. If you’re all making the one recipe, swapping notes on that process can be enlightening, too.

    Another option is to save the work and support a local restaurant by ordering in, even more so if your are is locked down at the moment. So many venues are doing the hard yards of delivering food to different places at the same time, so friends and loved ones can still share the experience of enjoying the same meal together.

  • Record the experience

  • Take screengrabs, record voice memos, jot down notes about the wines afterwards and start a thread. Soon enough, your wine crew will be a highlight activity that keeps the conversation going throughout the week, and themes, topics and discussions with gather momentum as you go.

  • Follow up

  • After the event, send a thank you, some of your favourite comments from people during the session, and recap on the wines that were tried. If you plan on hosting recurring events, a follow-up can also be an opportunity to find out what might work better next time.  

  • All too hard?

  • So many wineries and retailers are not only offering themed wine packs that can be ideal for these catch-ups with friends, but they are also hosting their own digital sessions, where the winemakers and growers are involved. Don’t miss the opportunity to hear them discuss their range and approach to growing and making wine, as well as the chance to ask them your burning questions.