Wine Culture Magazine

The industry is accelerating, fast, into high-tech education and new media experiences

At Gray Monk Estate Winery, wines are paired playfully with unexpected bites from The Lookout Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Gray Monk

In the chic new Estate Room at Gray Monk Estate Winery, the last thing you’d expect to find is trippy 1970s vibes. Yet the amusing big-screen vintage images (think fondue pots and leisure suits) and Odd Couple theme running through this tasting knocked any potential stuffiness and pretension out of wine pairing, in the most lighthearted and accessible way.

“While we take our wine and food program very seriously, we are not quite as strict with ourselves,” says Jeff Hanson, regional estate manager. “These experiences are all about injecting fun and levity.”

It’s just one new digital-first B.C. wine offering—born by the pandemic and enabled by technology—creating a new suite of virtual wine experiences in the industry. Wine e-commerce (and the customer data it allows companies to gather) and the virtual tasting trend (cleverly nicknamed Skypéro hour in France) are two other obvious pandemic by-products, but digital-assisted wine edu-tainment is the latest to access today’s tasters on new platforms. “The wine business is based on tradition. It’s ready for a revolution!” says wine marketing expert Barb Wild of Good Wine Gal.

Playing the Odds

Back at Gray Monk, we’re guided by the big-screen presentation and a charming live host to reconsider “odd couplings” of food and wine, through a flight of Estate and Odyssey wines and surprising bites from The Lookout Restaurant. Pinot Gris brings out an herbaceous burst in steak with chimichurri, dry rosé whimsically elevates an haute sliver of peanut butter and raspberry jelly toast, and a savoury Cab Franc’s smoky notes are unexpectedly drawn out by a toasted marshmallow.

There’s also a Match Game tasting that “gamifies” the experience of learning to pair food and wine, with up to 20 other guests. You can be seated at a small table with friends, safely and privately distanced from other guests, but also part of lively discussion. It’s a brilliant way of delivering an intimate experience to a small group, in an era when securing the qualified staff and health protocols to deliver one-on-one is more challenging than ever.


At Winemaker’s Cut, what is believed to be the first virtual reality tasting room is open 24/7. Photo courtesy of Winemaker’s Cut

Next-level virtual tasting

Wine and marketing expert Barb Wild had already been using Khalil Ashanti’s WeShowUp event-ticketing software successfully for Good Wine Gal virtual tastings, so when he approached her about the potential for creating a global-first virtual-reality (VR) tasting room, it seemed like a glass-full proposition. Wild took the idea to renowned winemaker Michel Mosny, who was launching Winemaker’s Cut, one of the vanguard brands in Oliver’s now-opened District Wine Village.

“They didn’t have a tasting room at the winery yet, so this solved a problem for them,” Wild says of creating a highly photorealistic tasting room and storefront, technology supported in part by Buy BC. The VR experience captured the imagination of the world wine media and was featured in feeds around the world. Longer-term plans include adding a virtual winemaking tour of the press, tanks and barrels; plus a vineyard walk-through that will detail soil types, grape varieties and growing techniques from trellising to canopy management.

“In the off-season for wine tourism, customers can be tasting at home accompanied by a virtual experience,” says Wild. “And it’s … more interesting as a recurring shopping experience” than just clicking a cart in an online store.


Nora Hamade photo

Ear candy

Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country had a unique response to tasting room and travel limits imposed last year: it dove deep into education about the people, terroir and winemaking of the region—deep into our auditory pathways, after our tastebuds, one of the most intimate ways of learning.

Moss Scheurkogel of Oliver’s The Vinstitute wine school has been hosting the Uncork the Sun podcast (and accompanying Facebook Live interactive tastings) since last April, on topics ranging from creating a wine cellar to barrels, vines and GIs, interviewing the region’s colourful personalities along the way.

Averaging 200 downloads per episode, and attracting listeners mainly from Canada, but also the U.S., UK and Europe, it’s “a ‘place’ where enthusiasts of the B.C. wine industry can connect … and learn … without travelling,” says Scheurkogel. “Almost like a regional radio station that you tune into when on a road trip adventure”—but conveniently on demand, when wine fans might be running, driving, relaxing and even sipping along at home.

Over the past year and a half, listeners have requested specific topics for episodes and winery recommendations for upcoming visits—proof that the podcast format is driving engagement.

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