Masks or no masks, virtual wine events are here to stay.

President Biden and the CDC delivered long awaited welcome news yesterday that vaccinated Americans can shed their masks outside. The updated mask mandate is seen as a harbinger of the next normal, but while many of us are more than ready to lose our masks after a year of living with the specter of COVID, there are some aspects of pandemic life we won’t give up. Two of those behaviors will have lasting implications on the wine industry: online shopping and virtual events.

Online shopping is a no brainer. In its State of the U.S. Wine Industry 2021 report, Silicon Valley Bank wrote, “Large numbers of consumers will incrementally grow in their desire to shop online as their preferred means of shopping…Online selling is, without question, the change agent that will deliver the greatest transformation to wine sales over the next decade. Online sales might represent 20 percent of alcohol sales in the next decade or sooner and at the expense of three-tier sales.”

Forbes had this to say on the same topic, “Even as conditions begin to normalize as the year goes on, this shift to e-commerce won’t disappear. Now that consumers have been introduced to the accessibility and convenience of purchasing alcohol online, they are likely to continue to e-commerce as the experience and convenience of shopping online only continues to improve.”

It makes sense and should lead to more diverse options and improved consumer experiences. What is less obvious and even feels a bit counterintuitive is the prediction that virtual wine events are here to stay.

In 2020, wineries pivoted to do virtual tastings out of necessity, and even though we coordinated some very successful events for clients including Benziger, Imagery and Dutcher Crossing, we never imagined long-term adoption. However, corporate America loves them. Elin McCoy explained the appeal in a recent Bloomberg article writing, “Corporations, which couldn’t lavish travel and entertainment money on reward retreats to Napa, tapped wineries to host special sessions for employee team-building and perks, a trend that’s also here to stay. (No, it’s not day drinking.) Each employee gets mailed a specific set of bottles (snacks, too, sometimes) to sample at home while participating.

“And for the harder stuff, the Cocktail Guru is leading virtual mixology classes for companies ranging from the London Stock Exchange to Pfizer.”

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times, is celebrating the shift to virtual – and not just for corporate customers. Travel writer Rosemary McClure writes, “The tastings have been a silver lining in a period fraught with disappointment.

“The wine industry needed some creativity. We’d been doing the same things for too long,” said Chris Puppione, director of Passalacqua Winery, a small vintner in Healdsburg. “The Zoom tastings allow us to be creative; they allow us to have a dialogue with people, not a monologue.”

Creativity and silver linings: the wine industry has had its fair share of finding and delivering those. So have American wine consumers.  It’s been a tough few years for all involved. But somehow, we come together and raise our glasses– even virtually.