The COVID-19 pandemic affected wine proprietors in ways that boosted community awareness and wine education, and offered a sense of hospitality that wasn’t possible before businesses turned to the virtual sphere.
As a new restaurant that only served in-person customers for four months before the shutdown, the owners of Waxlight Bar a Vin (Waxlight) relied heavily on social media to engage with their guests. Jessica Railey, partner and sommelier for Waxlight, hosted Instagram Live blind wine tasting classes to do that.
Railey leveled with her virtual guests by blind tasting the wines with them. She added a level of comfort to the experience by offering tasting notes and asking virtual guests to discuss what they were smelling and tasting, wine standouts, with a goal of having her guests think like trained sommeliers.
Virtual classes allowed other restaurant owners to tune in, and for Railey’s last class, she invited the producer of the featured wines to join, and they had a conversation about the wine that the guests were tasking and wine-making techniques.
“My goal is to make Buffalo a wine town,” Railey said. “I hope the blind tasting sessions helped toward that goal. I want more wine shops, more informed guests, more curious guests looking to try new wines and who the professionals to guide them in the right direction.”
Now that the restaurant has reopened to the public, Waxlight has since halted its online blind wine tasting classes, but still offers blind wine to-go, where guests receive mystery wines pricing tiers ranging from $25 to $55, which include tasting notes and producer information.
Pre-COVID, Melissa Winkler, owner and sommelier of Winkler & Samuels Wine Purveyors, would provide in-person hospitality to her customers and give wine recommendations that way. Winkler buys all the wine for the shop, and is able to give recommendations based on what satisfied her palate. Losing that intimacy during COVID hasn’t stopped her momentum, though.
Winkler is currently working to create an online wine shop, and hosts virtual wine classes where guests enjoy four wines from their homes. Each $85 class package includes four wines, notes on the wines and their producers, suggested recipes and food pairings for each wine, as well as suggested charcuterie pairings. Aside from the virtual classes, customers are still engaged and rely on Winkler’s skills for their wine choices.
“Customers call us up, they give me an idea of the wines they enjoy, they give me a budget and I curate an order for them,” Winkler said. “It’s the same idea as the wine class – we get to share great wines that we know they’ll enjoy, but maybe they would not have picked out for themselves. It’s been a lot of fun to share our passion.”
Upcoming wine classes for Winkler & Samuels include “Summer Wines” coming up on Wed. Aug. 5, “Rose All Day” and “Porch Pounders.”