How to enjoy wine together, apart

Whether you want to start an online wine club, host a one-off tasting or just get together with friends for a drink, here’s what you need to know.

    Wine is inherently social, so if you’re missing having a glass with friends, digital drinks could be worth a try. You wouldn’t be the first to do so – this activity has become so popular that the Japanese have even coined a term for it with “on-nomi”, which essentially means drinking online.

    In the virtual world, coordinating such an affair isn’t as simple as picking a place and time (that is if you want it to go smoothly). But with a little effort it is possible, and it might even be quite fun to do.

    While restrictions are easing around Australia, online events remain the best way to hold a party with no barriers as to who and how many people you can include. Get started with the steps ahead.

    Go to section: Video and logistics | Themes and ideas | Food | Recording the event | Following up

  • Choose your platform, make it easy

  • Some of the best video conferencing platforms for events are Zoom and Google Hangouts. The former is the more popular, but if you are hosting a catch up with more than three people, the free version cuts you off after 40 minutes. Google Hangouts doesn’t have restrictions, but it’s perhaps not as smooth in its functionality. You could also try Skype, FaceTime (so long as everyone is an Apple user) and Messenger.

    After deciding which software to use, think about your set-up and setting. Is there an area of your home where you will be comfortable for a considerable amount of time, with minimal interruptions? Other factors to ponder are lighting, with dimly lit or backlit screens less ideal, and your internet connection (get others in your home to agree not to download or stream during your event). For the best results, especially if you’re planning on regular wine get-togethers, do a trial run beforehand to iron out any technical difficulties. There’s nothing worse than one person talking away with no sound, or your connection dropping out halfway through.

    Once you feel confident with the tools, send invitations with clear instructions, including the meeting link, time and date, a password to join, if necessary, and what to prepare (such as the wines to buy or source). For more structured tastings or large groups, it would be wise to nominate one person to moderate. When it’s your turn to host, have a list of discussion points ready to roll and get everyone involved. It might feel a little forced at first, but with video meets, this approach is the best way to achieve the flow of conversation you would have in person.

  • Choose a theme, make it fun

  • It can be harder to get people to engage with virtual events. When you’re at home and consistently doing the minimum as far as dress and activity, you need to give people a reason to put in the effort. If not, they’ll turn up in their pyjamas, with the energy to match.

    We all want reasons to do things differently right now, so make a convincing case. Ask people to wear a particular item or colour of clothing (something that makes sense from the shoulders up), or get creative with their virtual backgrounds. Much like with in-person theme parties, people might roll their eyes at first, but they will get more into it in the end. Another way to make your event more interactive is by creating live polls and Q&As using platforms like Slido, testing people’s knowledge and enjoyment as you go. Some video tools allow you to set up breakout rooms, too, so you can divide people into groups.

    As far as choosing the wine, focusing on a variety, style or region is an approach that will allow you to hone your understanding of a specific area. To make it accessible, you could even let what people have at home determine what you taste. For example, if everyone has a bottle of shiraz lying around, you could share with the group the characteristics of the type you have, and then discuss differences and consider how those relate to the place the grapes grow and producer style. If you are focusing on the wines of one label or estate, get in touch to let them know. You might be surprised to have the offer of an additional guest, such as the owner or winemaker.

  • Include food

  • Wine in the context of food is even more enjoyable, so why not plan on snacks or a meal as you taste? A fun way to go could be to have people elect a pairing and then vote for the preferred match. On the night, it can be an added point of discussion – does it work, or no? Why? If you’re all making the one recipe, swapping notes on that could be entertaining, too.

    Another option is to save work and support a local restaurant by ordering in. Many are now doing the hard yards of delivering food to different places at the same time, so friends and loved ones can still enjoy the experience of dining together.

  • Record the experience

  • Take screengrabs, record voice memos, jot down notes about the wines afterwards and start a thread. Soon enough, your wine crew will be a highlight isolation activity that keeps the conversation going throughout the week. Hopefully, you’ll get more and more inspiration as you go.

  • Follow up

  • Send a thank you, some of your favourite comments from people during the session and recap on wines tried. If you plan on hosting recurring events, a follow up can also be an opportunity to find out what could be better next time. As with anything where people put in effort and time, a note is a nice touch and helps in remembering the event fondly.

  • All sound a bit much?

  • You can always support wineries and retailers by jumping on board with their virtual efforts.