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Virtual wine learning in the US: Six great options

With #stayathome measures still very much in place, wine-focused businesses across the United States have shifted gears to stay afloat. From online courses to Instagram 'live' sessions, see the various ways to carry on learning about wine...

In addition to offering take-out and delivery services, many retailers, sommeliers and industry employees alike are looking to online education to keep wine drinkers – as well as themselves – engaged.

Ironically, there’s actually no better time to dive deeper into the world of viticulture and vinification than now.

Thanks to our virtual pivots, the internet is full of content perfect for levelling up one’s wine game. And best of all, most of it won’t cost you much – if anything.

Additionally, numerous retailers and wine bars are continuing to ship nationwide, making sipping, studying, and satisfying your craving for knowledge easier than ever.

Make the most of your quarantine and learn about wine from the comfort of your own couch with the following six suggestions.

Simply pop, pour, and prepare to walk away a little smarter than before…

Get your reading on

By now, you’re probably pretty far removed from your ‘read more’ New Year’s resolution, although social distancing may offer you an opportunity to make up for lost time.

In addition to the classics (The World Atlas of Wine, Adventure on the Wine Route, The Oxford Companion to Wine), a handful of incredible wine books have been released over the last 12 months.

For those looking to learn about wine in a bare-bones, simplified format, Aldo Sohm’s Wine Simple is the perfect instruction-based guide. Advanced imbibers can dive into the world of soil, terroir, and the ways in which the two collide in Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay’s book, The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste, as well as Alice Feiring and Pascaline Lepeltier MS’ Dirty Guide to Wine.

And for those looking to kick back, relax, and read something a bit more story-driven, look no further than Jane Lopes’ Vignette. This beautiful book simultaneously provides foundational information through the lens of 100 wine bottles (with some beer and spirits smattered in along the way), along with first-hand anecdotes from Lopes’ personal wine endeavors.

Dr. Laura Catena’s gorgeously illustrated book, Gold in the Vineyards, also highlights twelve foundational stories of love, loss, and viticultural magic through 12 of the world’s most famous vineyards.

See more great wine books to read while in self-isolation

Somm chats / Winemaker interviews

A handful of the country’s most seasoned sommeliers are offering free Zoom/Instagram Live chats with colleagues, winemakers, and fellow sommeliers across the globe.

To learn from some of the best, head to Raj Parr’s Instagram and get it on his ‘Alone Together series.’ Past guests include Paul Wasserman, James Molesworth, and Dr. Jamie Goode.

On select weekdays, tune in to Aldo Sohm’s Instagram Live for ‘Aldo Live,’ which features chats (in English or German, depending on the day) with prominent industry figures. Past guests have included Eric Ripert, Jean-Marc Roulot, and Gerhard Kracher.

And for a dose of comic (wine-soaked) relief, visit legendary sommelier Paul Grieco in his ‘bunker’ at @terroirny.

Hit the classic sites… and then some

As always, visiting wine-focused websites is a great way to learn about wine, though knowing where to look is key.

We would obviously recommend Decanter.com as one resource, but you could also head over to GuildSomm, which is one of the unofficial go-to reference for most industry professionals.

The site’s in-depth essays are perfect for diving deeper into viticulture and vinification-related topics, and their online classes, seminars, and extensive professional network make connecting with other wine-focused professionals a breeze.

Head to Terroirist.com, too, for a daily roundup of beverage-focused articles from across the world.

Online courses

Although in-person courses are momentarily on hold, many wine education centres have pivoted their classes online. Both the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and International Wine Center (IWC) are offering classes online, as is the Napa Valley Wine Academy.

For those looking for a more informal approach to wine education online, consider creating your own virtual tasting group among friends.

Elevate your weekly Zoom happy hour by generating a structured tasting around a specific topic, region, or producer.

To really add a layer of professionalism, call your local retailer and/or wine bar sommelier and see if they’ll jump on and guide your group through for a small fee.

See more top online classes to try in self isolation

Virtual masterclasses

For those looking to partake in wine classes without the structure and schedule of WSET or IWC, jump in on a virtual Masterclass held by one of the country’s top industry professionals.

New York City-based Master Sommelier Laura Maniec, founder of Corkbuzz (NYC and North Carolina) is offering a handful of Virtual Master Classes for just $10 a pop.

The Wine Workshop Club is also putting out a number of tasting workshops, ranging from Planet Friendly Wine to Blind Tasting. Be sure to place your order up to 72 hours in advance to allow for timely delivery.

Taste alongside winemakers

While we’re all dreaming of the day we’re back in winery tasting rooms, visiting them virtually is a great temporary compromise.

A handful of wineries across the country are offering virtual tasting packages, equipped with a curated selection of bottles delivered straight to your door. You will then be guided through the tasting by a winery staff member – and sometimes the winemaker.

As most winemakers are busy in the cellar year-round, and therefore unavailable to host tasting seminars, this is a great opportunity to snag information straight from the source.

Forget poking around online for various vintage and vinification details, simply ask the hands behind the bottle yourself.

For instance, Virginia-based Greenhill Vineyards hosts a weekly Facebook Live tasting with winemaker Ben Comstock every Thursday, and neighbouring Walsh Family Wines also hosts a regular Facebook Live Virtual Blind Tasting.

Willamette-based Nicolas Jay hosts weekly virtual tastings with winemaker Jean-Nicolas Méo – also owner of Burgundy’s Domaine Méo-Camuzet – and assistant winemaker Tracy Kendall.

St. Helena’s Stony Hill Vineyard is offering 45-minute private virtual wine tastings, too. Use code NEEDWINE for free ground shipping.

Elsewhere, Red Mountain AVA is running a robust virtual tasting series through to the end of June, which includes the option to sip along at home with winemakers. Topics include vineyard tours, special occasion wines and age-ability – tune in via Facebook (@RedMtnAVA).

The Red Mountain buying guide also features special shipping discounts, curbside pickup options and more.

These are just a few of the many options available across the US. Contact wineries in your area to shop small, support local, and get in on the fun.

See more virtual masterclasses to enjoy from home

You may also like:

How to host a virtual wine tasting – Ask Decanter

Top 10 wine-related shows to stream while in self-isolation

Great wine books to read while in self-isolation

Decanter launches wine learning app

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