As the country went into lockdown in March last year and many businesses shut their doors, another door opened for those with forward thinking: move your business online.

But how do you taste wine on line? This was the dilemma I faced when suddenly I found myself with no venue to hold my regular wine tasting events.  As a wine educator, international wine judge and wine writer, I had been holding wine education courses in North London for a number of  years with a great following.

Some events are offered free for members of the U3A (University of the Third Age) the nation-wide association with charity status for older people, with over 1,000 local branches and with around 450,000 members. At retirement age, to keep active and keep on meeting people, members choose to learn a new skill, from playing an instrument to exploring the countryside, and skills such as learning about wine are in high demand.

Some other wine events are offered to the customers of local clubs and restaurants, or to my own learning groups – but no venue – no tasting!

There was a sense of despair when I visited the local supermarket at the beginning of lockdown last year – every shelf was bare, including the wine shelves.  The spirit of entrepreneurship was however alive and well, and apart from the big supermarkets, many shops geared up to setting up local delivery services in no time at all, whilst little by little, supermarkets shelves were fully stocked again.

Whilst talking to people on Skype, and having just learnt about Zoom – the easy-to-use meeting platform which since then has become an everyday tool –  I had the idea of moving my own business on line too.  I invited my class participants to join me on line. Our first meeting was a discussion on wine, but soon we were able to move our tastings from virtual to real – although the setting was a little  surreal and new to everyone. Setting an easy theme, participants provided their own bottle by shopping where possible, or having it delivered by a professional delivery service or by a kind neighbour.  And we were off.

I still remember my  first tasting: it  focused on ‘Chardonnay in the World’ exploring the wines this versatile, easy-to-find, international grape variety produces in classic countries such as France or Italy, as well as in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and in Eastern Europe of course.  We sipped our own individual choice of wine, and shared in the comments of everyone else’s.  What a rich experience!  I then circulated a list of all the wines tasted.  Time consuming, yes, but needed – and rewarding. We then had an Italian-focused tasting with a ‘Tour of the Italian Vineyards’ and a much-loved  tasting was ‘Spotlight on Spain’. Another tasting was dedicated to the winemakers of South Africa, in support of this troubled country.  I was bowled over to see that everyone made an effort to get something a little unusual, thinking outside the box as I had been teaching them to do, and brought some really unusual gems to the ‘party’.

The tastings on Zoom might have been virtual, but what was in the glass was very real!

For the U3A members, my aim was to ensure that older people who might be on their own, or in need of isolating and not able to see their families, continued to have a lifeline, a group that they could meet with on a regular basis, and some ‘homework’ to do in between tastings, to keep them active, interested, and looking forward to the next tasting.

The same principle applied to my own groups.  There are only so many ‘chats’ one can have in a day, but setting time aside to learn a new skill, especially one that gives you pleasure and it’s so much fun, and it’s also expertly guided, it enriches your life.  I am about to resume my wine tastings in-person, and  I expect nothing less than a bunch of experts!

1 Comment
  1. Vivienne Franks 3 years ago

    Luisa, isn’t it lovely when a plan works and a whole new teaching style is born?
    Zoom sessions really opened up a new way to teach and learn about wine.
    I think that concept is here to stay now.
    Happy zooming

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