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Turn your website into a virtual cellar door – and reap the benefits

RD&E News | April 2020
03 Apr 2020
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The challenges for the wine sector brought on by the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic are an opportunity to re-think and re-invigorate online customer engagement practices, says Flinders University Wine Business Professor Roberta Crouch.

‘Over the next few months, people are going to be spending a LOT of time on the internet’, said Roberta. ‘If this quiet time is used wisely by brands and regions, attachments and relationships can be built that will remain long after things get back to normal.’

‘And the best news is that it can be done over the internet with little more than a webcam, a microphone, some wine and a bit of imagination!’

An Adelaide Hills tasting session, held during the virtual wine communities project
At home participants in the virtual wine communities project

A couple of years ago, Roberta led a three-year, Wine-Australia-funded project that investigated the use of online, live-streaming video technology as a consumer engagement strategy. As part of the project, three ‘virtual wine communities’ were developed in various wine regions and a series of events – including wine tastings, wine and food pairings and ‘a day in the life of a vineyard’ – were held.

‘The study proved that it is possible to closely replicate the cellar door experience online and, in some ways, actually enhance it’, Roberta said.

‘This was achieved by providing wine lovers an opportunity to engage directly with a winemaker from the comfort and privacy of their own home – or get together with a small group and enjoy a shared interest and experience. [Ed. Of course, at the moment that small group needs to be people with whom you share a home.]

Importantly, the research found the experience substantially enhanced customers’ willingness to purchase, willingness to pay, and willingness to provide positive word of mouth about the brand or region involved.

Getting started

Roberta said live streaming events were an effective, low cost way to engage with customers, grow your brand and build a virtual following.

‘Not only do you get the customer engagement during the event itself, but if you record the event you can then embed it into your brand or region’s website and via social media.’

‘What we did with our test regions and brands during our study was to suggest that people who followed the brand order a “tasting pack” of the wines – say a six pack. The customers then opened one wine at a time during “tasting events” held every week or fortnight. The wine they chose could be the one selected by the event stager, or a personal favourite of their own.’

‘The customers then tasted along with the winemaker and commented and asked questions about the wine.’

Roberta said the study found that events worked best if run for one hour.

‘We found one good tip to keep things rolling along was to have an “offsider” to support the acting brand ambassador (usually the winemaker) and take questions in the chat.’

Mt Surmon's wine lounge, developed as part of the virtual wine communities project
Barossa HQ, developed as part of the virtual wine communities project

Roberta Crouch’s top tips to get you started

  • Plan your events – put a schedule up – mid-week is good. We had one region that hosted ‘Wine Wednesday’ from 7–8 pm.
  • Make sure people can get the wine you are going to showcase in advance – maybe they are your wine club members – give them a bit of a ‘special’ on the wines you plan to showcase online.
  • Make sure you look straight into the webcam and keep the camera framed close to each of the presenters (the winemaker and the assistant fielding the questions). [Ed. While practising appropriate social distancing.]
  • Make sure you ask your audience lots of questions – even if they’re not actually tasting your wine that night, chat to them about the wine they are enjoying!
  • Have good lighting.
  • Taste just one wine per event.
  • Stay relaxed and friendly – pretend you’re serving at the cellar door.
  • Remember – this event doesn’t have to be solely about wine, so consider bringing in some food matching or including the day-to-day operations of the vineyard or cellar.
  • Think outside the box. One brand ambassador used to provide a recipe in advance that matched well the wine being tasted. The participants would then ‘cook along’ with the hosts during the event. Other hosts did cheese tastings or ‘who’s living in the vineyard segment?’ about sustainable practices and biodiversity in the vineyard.
  • Not everyone in the ‘room’ needs to actively engage to really enjoy the event. We found that many will just watch and listen and read the ‘chat’ comments and still really enjoy the event.


Professor Crouch presented a webinar on virual cellar doors, hosted by Wine Communicators of Australia on 7 April 2020. A recording of the webinar can be viewed here


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This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.