POUR TASTE: Wine Demand Tests Boundaries

The negative impact of COVID-19 on the wine industry has forced innovation to survive, even as some aspects of selling and enjoying wine have disappeared entirely. Tasting rooms are filled with fading memories, replaced with retail sales in both minimally staffed brick and mortar outlets and, especially, online distributors. There have also been increases in online wine clubs up to 800%, with revenue increasing by as much as 80% for some brands. However, not all corks are finding happy homes. Wine sellers that service bars and restaurants are reeling from significant drops in sales due to lockdown events, threatening long term viability. So while folks still want their grapes—perhaps even more so than before the pandemic’s arrival—getting the wine to them often suffers a tortured path. 

Take, for instance, a recent discovery in a wastewater treatment plant in Rainsville, Alabama. After an anonymous tip was delivered to the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, a city employee there was arrested and charged with running an illegal winemaking operation in one corner of the sewage plant. It remains an open question as to how large the operation was and how far it was extended, or whether the employee meant to sell the illegally made wine, but misdemeanor charges of unlawful possession of an illegally manufactured alcoholic beverage were filed along with felony charges of using an official position for personal gain. 

Still, searches were conducted and agents discovered a “large” amount of illegal wine produced by a secret, on-premises winery. Close to 200 gallons of wine were seized along with bottling equipment, bottles and labels. For some, making wine in a sewage plant might sound a bit unsanitary, but the fermentation process is very sensitive to bacteria, and even a small amount can ruin the batch. Since the operation presumably lasted around two years, it’s safe to say “where there’s a love of wine, there’s a way”. Thankfully, construction of an illegal winery on official property isn’t the only one.

Virtual wine and spirits tastes have become a novel way for beverage alcohol retailers to combat the way COVID-19 has separated them from their customers by using the ubiquitous power of the Internet. What exactly is a virtual wine tasting, you ask? On its face, a virtual wine tasting allows consumers to remain safely and comfortably in their homes while tasting and testing a number of different wines. Tastings can be set up in a dining room, a covered outdoor entertainment space, or simply from the comfort of one's sofa. Participating wineries actually ship what’s called a “tasting kit” to the tasters' doors, allowing small groups of friends and family to become educated about wines by the sommelier of their choice or even by the winemakers themselves using popular video services like Zoom, Google Meet or Facebook Live.

In a very short time period of time, virtual tastings have connected with wine enthusiasts who are always looking for new products, more knowledge, and a fresh experience. More importantly, virtual tastings have helped increase sales and some wineries are planning to continue them into the new year when in-person tastings are predicted to return, especially during the colder months when wine lovers are shut inside but still looking for something fun to do. The bottom line is that virtual tastings provide a significant contribution to sales, and function quite similarly to traditional tasting experiences where customers become educated and exposed to new wines and are eager to have them in their homes to share with friends and family. Virtual wine tastings also bring in interested parties from across regions, in particular from rural areas where wine tastings aren’t as prevalent as they are in big cities. All things considered, winemakers believe virtual tastings will expand their customer base and spread the love of wine far and wide. 

For winemakers everywhere, Graver offers high-quality prefiltration and final filtration products that preserve the unique character of a full range of wine products. We understand the importance of removing yeast, fermentation by-products and microbial contaminants from your wines – no matter where your wine is made, or how it is enjoyed.