There’s something unique about coming to wine country, mused Napa-based B Cellars' general manager Curtis Strohl during a recent wine tasting. “It forces you to slow down and really experience the terroir,” he said. “Some people say the wine never tastes as good as it does at the winery. I don’t think that’s true, but there’s certainly something to coming here.”
Northern California's wine country encompasses four counties: Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake. The climate of the region is perfect for growing grapes, thanks to long, warm days that are both sunny and dry, combined with cool breezes, fog from the ocean at night and temperature swings of 40 degrees or more in a single day. Typically, visits to wine country might include bus tours, bike tours, DIY itineraries with cars, and a mix of luxury and boutique lodging.
Coincidentally, the B Cellars' wine tasting session I participated in happened online, digitally spanning between California's Napa Valley and Chicago. While everyone is sheltering in place, businesses are figuring out ways to engage customers and stay afloat. And for Northern California's wine industry, that means virtual tastings—and bringing that wine country experience directly into your home.
Founded in 2003, B Cellars is best known for its proprietary blends, heritage wines and several other small-batch varietals. The current location, complete with more than 12,000 square feet of wine caves and 5,000 square feet of tasting rooms and event space, opened in 2014.
“Small wineries need to stay connected to our customers,” Strohl said. “Normally we do that by inviting them in, and now all of a sudden we can’t have guests. That whole piece of it got cut off. So what do we do now? We started doing virtual tastings. This too will pass. But in the meantime, we’ll meet you online.”
If you had a trip to wine country planned, or have always wanted to experience it, now’s your chance. These seven wineries in Napa and Sonoma are offering virtual tastings from the comfort of home.
St. Supéry Estate Vineyards and Winery; Rutherford, CA
After a successful first series of virtual wine tastings throughout March and April, Chanel-owned St. Supéry Estate Vineyards and Winery has decided to continue their virtual tastings throughout the ongoing lockdown. The Great Sustainable Seafood Tasting Kit (starting April 30) comes with six wines, and includes a virtual tasting (one wine at a time) each Thursday on Zoom for six consecutive weeks. The tastings are in the evenings, led by St. Supéry Estate Chef Tod Kawachi, seafood purveyors and guest chefs, and the winery provides recipes alongside each wine in order to help customers create an entire meal.
What it Costs: $207, shipping included, or $165.60 for wine club members with shipping included
B Cellars; Oakville, CA
At B Cellars' on-site Hospitality House, 90-minute wine tastings include bites of food designed to complement each glass, one dish for each wine. The winery’s virtual tasting replicates that experience. Buy your preferred blend, rosé, red or white wine, and then the general manager, Curtis Strohl, will not only guide you personally through the wines, but he will also discuss each food pairing. Recipes can be sent in advance so you can prepare the bites yourself prior to the tasting. Newcomers visiting the winery virtually enjoy a short interactive tour of the grounds, including the wine caves, where the tasting takes place.
How it Works: Place your wine order on the B Cellars website. Following that, you’ll receive information about booking a private guided online tasting on Zoom.
What it Costs: Starting at $28 per bottle, plus shipping; virtual tasting is included in the cost
AXR Winery; St. Helena, CA
In addition to offering three as-is “quarantine cases” of wine, AXR Winery has three different four-bottle options for virtual tastings. You can get a selection of current release wines, a selection of red wines or a Single Vineyard series. Before your tasting, you’ll receive digital tasting notes. The tasting itself is one-on-one with one of the winery’s brand ambassadors. They’ll lead you through the wines and teach you about each varietal as well.
How it Works: Pick your tasting bundle from AXR's website. Note that for the Single Vineyard series, you’ll need to contact the winery to get the special virtual tasting price. After making your purchase, you’ll receive more information via email.
What it Costs: $175 for the current release wines, $250 for the reds, plus shipping
Clos Du Val; Napa, CA
Clos Du Val’s virtual tasting comes in two packages of four limited-production wines each, one in all reds and one in an assortment. Both packages come with a Coravin Model One Wine System, a tool that allows you to pour wine without removing the cork, and then get an airtight seal when you’re done so the rest of the wine doesn’t oxidize before your next glass. The one-on-one tastings, led by one of the hospitality associates at the winery, last between 60 and 90 minutes and cover both the wine and the history of the vineyards and estate.
How it Works: Select one of Clos Du Val's virtual tasting packages, and after you buy, you’ll get a reservation link where you can book your tasting online.
What it Costs: $385 for assorted wines or $395 for all reds, plus shipping
Belden Barns; Santa Rosa, CA
Belden Barns wants you to try all of their wines, and their virtual wine tasting reflects that. The 11-wine portfolio is on sale, accompanied by a free weekly wine tasting series on Zoom. Nate and Lauren Belden, founders of Belden Barns, launched the Sunday series on March 29, with a Sauvignon Blanc tasting, and returned on April 5 with Pinot Noir. Don't worry! You can watch the video replays—and the series continues through May 24. It’s not a typical wine tasting, though. Alongside the standards of participants discussing taste, appearance, and pairing ideas, you’ll get to enjoy unique questions like "Which of the following songs would go best with this wine?" and "If this wine were to come to life as a celebrity, who might it be?" You’ll also partake in experiments pairing the wines with items from your stockpiled pantry, like beans, marshmallows, peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, and more.
How it Works: Register for the tasting series and buy the wine package here. You will also find recipes for food pairings.
What it Costs: $270.40, plus shipping
Inman Family Wines; Santa Rosa, CA
For every three-pack of wine purchased from Inman Family Wines right now, the winery will donate 5 percent of the purchase to Meals on Wheels. You’ve got four options for three-packs—rosés, sparkling wines, pinot noirs or a variety pack, including a chardonnay, a pinot noir, and a rosé—each of which are followed up with a virtual happy hour with the winemaker.
How it Works: Pick your preferred three-pack from the wine shop on Inman's website. Once you make the purchase, you’ll get an email with the happy hour schedule and directions for how to join.
What it Costs: $84 to $216, shipping included
Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery; Healdsburg, CA
Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery is offering two virtual wine tasting packages. The first is six wines from the Russian River Valley accompanied by a private tasting and exploration of the area with the Estate sommeliers, Tiffany Kuhn and Kevin Patterson. The second package has four wines from around Sonoma County and a small-group tasting with Kuhn and Patterson. If you already have Gary Farrell wine at home, you can participate in an online happy hour every Sunday and Tuesday at 4 p.m. Pacific (by reservation) with the two sommeliers who are there to answer all your wine-related questions.
How it Works: On the winery’s website, first purchase either the six-bottle Russian River Valley Neighborhoods Package or the four-bottle Beyond the Russian River Valley Package. You’ll receive tasting notes and a video about each of the source vineyards by email. Next, make a reservation for the virtual tasting experience of your choosing. The tastings and happy hour will be held on Zoom.
What it Costs: $270 for four wines or $380 for six wines, plus shipping