Phelps Creek Vineyard owner Bob Morus (left) and enologist Bill Swain discuss a selection of wines during a virtual tasting at the Columbia Gorge estate. ##Photo by  Kathryn Elsesser
Utopia Vineyard owner Dan Warnshuis connects with eager customers online via social media sites Facebook and Instagram from his Newberg winery.
 ##Photo by  Kathryn Elsesser
Seufert Winery team members Michelle Wasner and Sara Weikert record a virtual tasting in the Dayton tasting room.  ##Photo by  Kathryn Elsesser
Seufert Winery team member Michelle Wasner gives viewers a close-up of the wine being discussed. ##Photo by  Kathryn Elsesser

Virtual Reality

Guided tastings keep customers connected

Story by Annelise Kelly • Photos by Kathryn Elsesser

Picture a classic Willamette Valley wine tasting on an April Saturday afternoon: Et Fille Wines is offering three 2016 single-vineyard Pinot Noirs for horizontal comparison. Kyle Maxwell-Berman, the Newberg brand’s wine ambassador, allows participants a moment to take their first sip of Maresh Vineyard Pinot Noir, and then invites them to share their impressions.

The tasters raise a glass and toast.

Some are single. Some are couples. Some are local, while others are from as far away as Chicago and Boston. One is celebrating a birthday with friends. They’re sophisticated wine enthusiasts commenting on the trace of sulfur from the volcanic Dundee Hills soil, the silky body, the nose of cherries. A printed paper tasting mat listing each wine invites guests to jot down their impressions.

It’s a familiar and cherished ritual, with a unique pandemic twist: It’s all digital, happening over the Zoom video conferencing platform.

Maxwell-Berman is in his home office, his spouse passing by the door occasionally. Wine tasters sip, flanked by the everyday accoutrements of living rooms, patios and offices. Questions merge into conversations — about harvest dates, oak percentages, fruit tonnage and how “happy hour is starting earlier every day.”

Participants have ordered the three-bottle tasting kit, specifically curated for this occasion, and they’re savoring the chance to connect with wineries, winemakers and their fellow oenophiles, despite social distancing stay-at-home orders resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just a few months ago, the idea of relying on a digital interface for an event this tactile and experiential was nearly unknown. However, since the mid-March banning of on-site food and beverage consumption in Oregon, wineries are compelled to reinvent themselves, fast. Most rely on tasting room sales for a significant slice of their revenue, so they’re transitioning their traditional hospitality with 21st century technology.

“This was our way of still being able to connect directly with our customers, and provide a virtual tasting experience, face to face via Zoom,” says Ivory McLaughlin, winery ambassador at Ken Wright Cellars in Carlton. “We’ve done things like this before with representatives from our distributors, so it’s not a brand new concept.” She describes the idea as “a long time coming,” with the current situation propelling them to introduce it.

McLaughlin’s optimistic it can play an ongoing role in engaging with customers, even after the tasting room re-opens to the public. Ken Wright Cellars offers three different tasting collections of three bottles each, focused on specific AVAs such as Eola-Amity Hills or Yamhill-Carlton. The three bottles are shipped with two wine glasses. “Along with glassware education, we include a packet of tasting information, maps and technical info on our vineyards.”

Michelle Wasner, general manager at Seufert Winery in Dayton, recalls their first virtual tasting on March 19. “We were really overwhelmed emotionally by the responses,” she says. “We got messages, texts, e-mails — people thanking us for creating a sense of normalcy. It was our goal to create community despite everyone being separate.” Wasner recalls living in New York during 9/11, noting that the sense of fear and isolation sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic parallels that experience. “From that, I know what’s important is for people to feel connection, some sense of normalcy.”

Seufert offers a six-pack special, featuring the bottles which will be explored, one each week, during their Thursday virtual tastings via Facebook Live.

Jessica Mozeico, co-founding owner and winemaker at Et Fille Wines, observes, “Now that we’re doing it, we’re asking why we didn’t do this sooner? The majority of our direct sales are to one-time visitors in the tasting room,” many of whom live far from its Willamette Valley location. “It lets us keep that social and educational component in the forefront.”

Platforms vary among wineries. Mozeico chose Zoom in order to see everyone at once, with minimal technical distraction. She limits participants to eight. At Seufert Winery, virtual tastings consist of conversations between Sarah Weikert, hospitality and sales director, and Michelle Wasner, general manager, who says she’s “impressed with how simple it has been. We use our cell phone, prop it up, hit two buttons, and we’re live.” Guests can participate via the comments.

Sokol Blosser Winery in Dayton invites all to a Wednesday happy hour via Instagram Live, featuring conversations between siblings and co-presidents Alison and Alex Sokol Blosser. They’ve scheduled three bottles for each event. Participants can order the corresponding wines, or simply open what they’ve got and join the conversation via the comments.

At Ken Wright Cellars, customers schedule a private face-to-face Zoom session with a winery representative. They may order a tasting collection, complete with a pair of glasses, or they can choose one or more bottles of Ken Wright Cellars wine from their own collection to sample and discuss.

Wine enthusiast Heather Evans belongs to five wine clubs, and joined the mid-April horizontal Pinot Noir tasting with Et Fille Wines, where she’s been a member since 2018. After a decade living in Oregon, where she fell in love with the winemaking process, she moved to Boston, a winery-free zone.

“I hope this continues for someone like me who isn’t near but values the experience,” she says. “It’s a way that wineries can connect with customers that aren’t local, and with people who want to know more about them.” Evans, an executive administrative assistant at an environmental consulting firm, has participated in a number of virtual tastings, but “this was the first one where we all tasted the same thing.”

Evans acknowledges Facebook Live and Instagram can deliver to a broader base, but she appreciated the Et Fille Zoom experience for being “more of a conversation around the table than just question-driven.” Just as important as the wine is the connection, “which was always one of the things I loved about wine and wineries, is making that connection with people.”

Consumers interested in joining virtual tastings may need to do a little detective work. While many wineries are launching virtual tasting programs, they haven’t necessarily updated their websites. Wine club members can expect to get announcements directly. Otherwise, sign up for wineries’ e-mail lists and check social media for announcements. Local winery trade associations may also consolidate information. For example, the Willamette Valley Wineries Association has compiled a list of members offering virtual tastings: See the sidebar for a sample of opportunities.

While there’s no substitute for the in-person tasting room experience, this technological pivot enables wine lovers to enjoy a whirlwind wine tour of Oregon’s AVAs and support the hard-hit Oregon wine industry — no designated driver required.



Alloro Vineyard

Enjoy online interactive tastings with winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick. These small-group tasting programs will immerse tasters in the knowledge and process to “Taste Like a Winemaker.” See website for more information. 

Archery Summit

Explore virtual tastings with Archery Summit winemaker Ian Burch, Master of Wine Nicolas Quille and more. See details, including dates and topics, online. Register for Zoom log-in. 

Carlton Cellars  

Friday Night Flights is a virtual tasting every Friday at 5 p.m. Available by reservation. Multiple virtual tasting packages available.               

The Carlton Winemakers Studio

Home to 17 vintners, the Studio is posting winemaker interviews to YouTube — shortened versions can be found on Facebook. Videos are uploaded Wednesdays and Saturdays. 

Coeur de Terre Vineyard

Join the winery on May 2 for a virtual release party celebrating the 2019 Pinot Gris and rosé, just in time for spring. Owners will go in depth on the wine, the way they crafted these wines and a full tasting. See website for details. 

Domaine Divio

Discover Sniffy Sniff Sessions with Bruno, Tuesdays and Fridays at 5 p.m. Via Facebook and Instagram Live, Bruno visits different vineyards while describing his wine and winemaking style.  

Domaine Roy & Fils        

Book a Zoom virtual tasting, and the winery will send up to seven friends bottles to join the fun. See website for details. 

The Dundee Wine Library

Produced by DirtVineWine Communications, The Dundee Wine Library hosts a virtual wine tasting every Tuesday at 5 p.m.          

Et Fille Wines    

Delight in scheduled virtual tastings, including Memorial Day Weekend, among others. These are Zoom tastings, so please e-mail to reserve a spot and get more details. 

Fullerton Wines

Winemaker Alex Fullerton is regularly posting YouTube videos to his website. In each video, he highlights wines from both his brands: Fullerton and Three Otters. 

Iris Vineyards 

Enjoy the winery’s series of virtual tastings via Facebook with some of their favorite wines. Times begin at 4 p.m. 

Ken Wright Cellars

Ken Wright Cellars is offering three unique tasting collections and the ability to schedule your very own face-to-face Zoom session with one of their knowledgeable team members. To do this, simply purchase a tasting collection and then schedule a tasting appointment that works best for you! For assistance in scheduling a tasting, you can email or call the tasting room at 503-852-7010. You can also book one of these virtual tasting experiences for something you already have in your cellar! Staff will be able to provide you with more in-depth information on the vintage, vineyard, and the farming and winemaking philosophies of your wine. The virtual tasting appointments are limited to 30 minutes. 

Lachini Vineyards            

Mark your calendar for virtual happy hours during the month of May, Fridays at 4 p.m. Call or e-mail for Zoom log-in.         

Lange Estate Winery & Vineyards

Taste with one of Lange’s wine ambassadors from the comfort of your home. Learn more about the winery’s curated estate and soil series flights. 

Lenné Estate

Any order of $500 or more during May includes a private virtual tasting with our winemaker or lead wine educator. Wine club virtual tastings/hangouts coming soon. 

Melrose Vineyards

Enjoy virtual wine tastings with winemaker Cody Parker on YouTube. Check the winery website for more details. 

Parkhurst Wine Cellars

The Southern Oregon winery tastes a selected wine with a special guest and topic each Wednesday at 6 p.m. via Zoom. For information, call 541-324-4851 or visit website. 

Phelps Creek Vineyard

Tune into Phelps Creek’s YouTube channel as well as Facebook and Instagram for videos exploring wines on the gorgeous estate with Mount Hood in the backdrop. 

Ponzi Vineyards

Social Sip provides virtual team bonding and brings a fun focus to family celebrations or happy hours with this curated wine experience. The Social Sip host purchases four to 14 packages — one for each virtual guest. Each participant receives a package containing a bottle of wine, Riedel wine glass, wine notes and a paired Ponzi family recipe. Each will be given a different wine, inviting discussion of the unique characteristics or simply enjoyment one another’s company. Each package costs $50 and includes shipping. Order online or call 503-628-1227. 

Project M Wines

The winery’s “Virtual Tasting Packs” are designed to tell a specific story and explore a particular theme. A natural storyteller, Jerry will discuss the wines, his winemaking philosophy. He will likely add a tangent or two, and maybe, if you’re lucky, a rant! 

Raptor Ridge Winery

Tour vineyards virtually with Raptor Ridge’s online video series. Follow along and explore four AVAs with $99 bundles of three bottles delivered to your doorstep or picked up curbside by appointment at the winery. 

Seufert Winery

The winery team discusses wine, food pairings and ways of staying positive and healthy in its weekly Facebook videos recorded live each Thursday at 4 p.m. During the tasting, viewers are encouraged to engage, sharing their thoughts on the featured wine. See website for details. 

Sokol Blosser 

Discover weekly happy hours on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. from the Sokol Blosser Estate via Instagram Live. Pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine or order the wine the hosts will be enjoying and toast with them. They’ll be discussing the wines, sharing winery stories and trying to decide if geese or sheep provide the best fertilizer! 

Sunshine Mill

Order wine tasting kits online, from $2 (two-ounce pours) to $24, choosing from 12 different varietals. The tasting room manager stars in YouTube videos walking guests through the tasting process. The kits are available to ship statewide in Oregon. Order online or call 541-298-8900. Weekly live tasting videos are also posted. See website for details. 

Utopia Vineyard

Winemaker Dan continues his video series, one a month, discussing wines and encouraging interaction with viewers. Check website for calendar. 

Willful Wine Co.              

Join winemaker Pam for virtual tastings and food & wine pairings. See website for information.    

Winter’s Hill

Book private virtual tasting experiences with Paul, tasting room and wine club manager. These last about 30 minutes and can be done with any Winter’s Hill wine you have at home, or visit their online shop to have wine delivered to your door. 





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