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Online NJ Wine Experience Exceeds Expectations
Zoom calls are great and all. Except for the people constantly tipping their cameras so all you can see is their sinuses. And crackly Internet connections. And groups that are so big that no one gets a chance to speak because you're constantly talking over someone else.
Somehow Francisco and Kristen from East Coast Wine Experience figured out how to put together the best in technology with the best in a wine tasting event and actually make it work!
In partnership with the Garden State Wine Growers Association (GSWGA), the couple organized their first NJ Virtual Wine Experience last Friday, June 5. The first thing they did right was not use Zoom, but a conferencing platform called Remo. Our tasting space was set up as “tables.” Each winery (seven of the 50 in all of New Jersey) had its own table, and you could have a max of 4 or 5 guests at each table. So suddenly instead of shouting into the void, you're having actual conversations that everyone can hear!
If all the tables were full, there were hangout areas where you could talk about different varietals like chambourcin, listen to an excellent guitarist (he just needs a virtual tip jar next time), or just hang out and chat to other winos. Chef Lo Pinto was offering suggestions on food and wine pairing. Tom Cosentino, Executive Director of the GSWGA, and I had a great chat about New Jersey wine biz and how to bring in new and more diverse audiences.
While there weren’t any mechanisms that I saw to move you on, participants were encouraged to keep “table times” to 15 minutes. A colorful timer bar across the top of the screen gave hosts cues to manage their time. I almost never get 15 minutes to chat with winemakers, so I was geeking out talking about bud break and the 2019 harvest and having a grand old time. (Pro tip: 2019 was great across the whole state! It's going to be an awesome vintage.)
But, you may ask, how do you have a wine tasting without any wine? Well, ya skeptic, after registering for the event, we got an email with links where you could order from the participating vendors at a discount! I already had some of the wineries' vintages at home, and the only economic development I need to worry about right now is my own personal one, so I opted not to order any more. I did decide to do my own personal vertical tasting of Auburn Road's Gaia, 2013 and 2016.
I first tasted Auburn Road wines at William Heritage’s fall festival a few years ago. They're in the same Outer Coaster AVA as Heritage, about 25 minutes away. I recently visited again in December, where I was amazed that my sweet-wine-drinking dad actually liked their red blends! At the virtual tasting, when owner Scott and winemaker Jules asked if anyone had any of their wines, I held my bottles up to the camera.
They both beamed! When I showed them the 2013 bottle, Jules was so excited. 2013 was their first Gaia vintage, a blend of 85% cab franc and 15% merlot. Apparently the owners have only one bottle left. I only had one bottle of the 2013 too, but I thought it was a worthy cause. The wine still showed very well, its garnet color starting to turn just a hint of brick red. It was pretty bold and rustic, but tannins weren’t overpowering. The 2016, which added cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot to the blend, was a bit more refined. Either would have gone great with a fillet of beef or roasted veg dish.
It was really fun to connect with Scott and Jules over their wine, and felt really... Real. Even through a virtual conference.