Taste Now, Travel Later: Wine Tastings at Home
Most Napa and Sonoma California wineries will not have a 2020 vintage, but you can support the regions’ recovery at home.
Story by Laurie Jo Miller Far
California’s San Francisco Bay Area was sweating out a week of uncommon triple digit temperatures in the summer of 2020. And things were about to get much, much worse. In the pre-dawn hours on August 16 a very rare series of dry lightning strikes illuminated the skies, sending massive chunks of electricity to the ground and setting off small brush fires. Within days, a series of 650 wildfires had ignited across Northern California, eventually destroying approximately two million acres and hundreds of homes and structures in just over two weeks.
The unsettling reality is that in Northern California, harvest season and fire season have become one. Much of the 2020 vintage was lost, either charred by flames or tainted by smoke that lingered for weeks. “It is one of the saddest years ever,” noted winemaker Phillipe Melka told Wine Spectator.
Coupled with the pandemic, the timing of the 2020 fires meant that destination wine country could not look to tourism for recovery. Charming towns and inviting vineyards throughout Napa and Sonoma counties were closed, opened, and closed again as California safety guidelines shifted time and again.
Because “pivot” played such an important role alongside “unprecedented” in 2020, wineries quickly adapted. Careful packaging and expedited shipping are two examples of how wineries help facilitate virtual wine tasting events, chef-led pairings, winemaker dinners, and expanded wine club offerings for wine lovers everywhere. Online experiences offer compelling ways to join a group, schedule a private tasting, book a live event, or opt for an experience to view on demand. The silver lining? Virtual wine tasting experiences of all types are here to stay.
How can you help the esteemed wine regions recover? Here are a few options:
Alpha Omega Winery in St. Helena says on its website: “Zoom is an ideal way for us to deliver a private, enlightening wine tasting led by a knowledgeable and personable wine educator to you in the comfort of your home. These live experiences offer an intimate, interactive and immersive exploration into Alpha Omega from beginning to end. Choose from several flight options or allow us to curate a selection uniquely tailored just for you.”
Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga invites you to schedule a personal 45-minute virtual tasting with a wine educator via Zoom. You’ll be contacted directly to set a time and date, plus are encouraged to invite friends to join the interactive conversation that’s tailored around the wines you select. There’s even the option of a Coravin wine preservation accessory that keeps wine fresh for weeks.
Inman Family Wines in Sonoma suggests hosting a bachelorette wine tasting party online. “It’s an obvious way around not being able to get together as a group in Wine Country,” notes the winery’s website. “Our vision is to bring wine country to brides and wedding guests no matter where they may be.”
In St. Helena, Raymond Vineyards, part of Boisset Collection, offers a super-popular “Winemaker for a Day” experience. Four bottles are shipped to wine lovers at home: unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet with new oak, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. You’ll also receive graduated cylinders, pipettes, and blending worksheets. Jean-Charles Boisset then guides you and other participants in a fun, educational hour during which you’ll make your own signature red blend.
Trefethen Family Vineyards in Napa Valley offers virtual tastings. Your choice of wines will be shipped ahead of time. The website notes that it will “then pour on the good cheer as we guide you through the tasting and share stories from our estate.”
Among the many harsh takeaways of 2020, there is this one: Mother Nature has her own agenda. As spring 2021 draws nearer, the deep roots of grapevines sense the earth getting warmer and each day grows just a little bit longer. It won’t be long until bud break appears. And with the appearance of tiny green sprouts comes hope for a better, safer season in 2021 when visitors can return to California’s beautiful wine country.
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Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Laurie Jo Miller Farr is a transplanted San Francisco travel writer with deep roots in NYC and London.