As pandemic lockdowns and restrictions kept us all in our homes in 2020, one of the top things to do was virtual events.

For the liquor industry this meant virtual tastings, which gave brands, stores and venues the chance to connect with their customers when they couldn’t do so in-person.

Today, virtual tastings aren’t as common as they once were. But they’re still a valuable addition to the offering for independent liquor stores, as shown by Perth retailer, Old Bridge Cellars.

Back in 2020, Old Bridge Cellars created the ‘Blind Wine Time’ virtual wine tasting event series. For each event, customers would order packs of three 750ml wines with their labels concealed, instructions on what to do (e.g. chill a certain wine), and a booklet for notes. They then tuned in live to the Old Bridge Cellars Instagram, where the team would guide viewers through a tasting of the wines, encouraging them to share tasting notes, guesses and thoughts through the live commentary feed. The events also crossed live to some of the mystery wines’ makers all around the world, who gave further insight into the winemaking process.

It was a hit from the start, and something interesting for consumers to use to engage with Old Bridge Cellars at the height of the pandemic. But it didn’t end there – Proprietor Jay Beeson said the virtual event series has become an attractive additional arm to the business.

Now, the Blind Wine Time is making a return for its third year, with the first session of 2023 set to take place next month on the first day of winter, 1 June.

“While there were many negatives that came out of the pandemic, one positive that was left behind was a new found appreciation for simpler things like staying home and enjoying your own space. We no longer have to stay home, but we have found people do still enjoy a night in,” Beeson said.

“During COVID we were running these sessions every couple of months. We are now hosting Blind Wine Time less frequently, however we always get a great response when we do. It’s a unique offering, something different to do at home and a bit of a novelty.

“It also gives us a great excuse to connect with our customers in a different way and to help them further their wine education, no matter the level. It’s not often you get to taste wines blind and try guess the region, variety and flavour profile alongside retailers and primary producers.”

Feedback from customers about the event itself over the years has been fantastic, with Beeson noting that people tend to make an evening of it by inviting friends over, making cheeseboards to match with the experience, and more. There are even a few repeat customers who havem’t missed a session.

“We know our customers are enjoying themselves as we have the live commentary feed, they post questions, answer each other and there’s lots of banter going back and forth,” Beeson said.

While Blind Wine Time has been a great success over the years, it’s not the only event offering from Old Bridge Cellars. Beeson noted that in-person and in-store activity will never disappear, but virtual tastings can nicely complement them.

“We host a variety of in-person tastings, events and courses on a weekly basis. The virtual tasting is simply an additional offering and gives us the opportunity to connect with people further afield. We’ve had customers purchase packs from over east and tune in which was great,” he said.

“Virtual tastings also allow us to converse with and connect our customers to winemakers we wouldn’t usually be able to. During Blind Wine Time, we often have the Winemaker tune in and chat with us live, we’ve had the likes of Alessio Inama from Italy as well as Hélène Ponty and Francoise Roumieux from France join us virtually. We also had a cheesemaker tune in to chat through the paired cheeses we posted out. Basically, the possibilities are endless when go you virtual.”

This kind of outside the box thinking is resonating for Old Bridge Cellars, and helped the retailer be recognised with numerous awards last year – including Fremantle Business of the Year at the 2022 Fremantle Business Awards, and both WA Liquor Store and Metropolitan Liquor Store of the Year at the 2022 Liquor Stores Association of WA Awards.

You can join Blind Wine Time for yourself too – packs are available to order for the next few days via Old Bridge Cellars here.

Brydie Allen

Brydie Allen is the Editor of National Liquor News. She has been with Food and Beverage Media since 2019, when she joined the company as a journalist across National Liquor News, Bars & Clubs, The...

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