Hunter Valley virtual wine tastings a hit as COVID lockdown bites

FORWARD THINKING: Glandore Estate at Pokolbin introduced "virtual tastings" when the Greater Sydney lockdown came into effect.

FORWARD THINKING: Glandore Estate at Pokolbin introduced "virtual tastings" when the Greater Sydney lockdown came into effect.

Hunter Valley winemaker Nick Flanagan saw the writing on the wall when COVID case numbers started to increase in Sydney in June.

It was time for Glandore Estate Wines to "pivot" to an online model, and quickly.

"We are so affected by what is happening in Sydney that once things started to get a bit away from the guys in control down there we knew we had a long road in front of us," he told Food & Wine.

"For a while we were still having people from unaffected areas drop in, but once they were in lockdown, things got pretty slow here. If I had to put a date and time on it, it was 2.30pm on June 26 and we were about to kick off our annual Burning of the Barrel.

"We had 500 people arriving in 30 minutes and the government announced that the Greater Sydney Region was going into lockdown at 6pm that night.

"It was crushing and an incredibly stressful time."

Virtual tastings have now replaced the typical cellar door experience.

"There is a straight-up wine tasting of four of our most popular wines at the cellar door or a luxurious experience where our wines are paired with handcrafted Adora chocolate truffles," Flanagan said.

"Depending on the tasting experience, in the packs you receive four 100ml wine bottles, chocolate truffles (chocolate tasting only), tasting notes, chocolate mats (chocolate tasting only) and a Glandore glass to taste from.

"These tastings can be self-driven, where you jump online with friends and family and have some fun, or hosted experiences where you schedule a day and a time and a Glandore team member will join you online and take you through your tasting."

The most popular tasting has been the Chocolate and Wine Tasting Experience.

"The virtual tastings are exactly the kind of excuse people are looking for to connect and reconnect with loved ones," Flanagan said.

"There has been a really strong response from the business community as we originally pitched the idea as a way of building some fun into online team meetings or to replace the missed afternoon drinks.

"These guys were trying online trivia, Pictionary and other games but wine is a great anchor for people to hold a conversation around, so it has really come together.

"Everything we do at Glandore is for the love of wine and having a good time but that doesn't mean you can't learn a thing or two.

"The hosted sessions are based around the casually informed atmosphere we maintain at our cellar door here in the Hunter. It's relaxed, informative and far from a classroom lecture but the customer always leaves knowing more than when they arrived.

"We were last year's Hunter Valley Cellar Door of the Year and we like to maintain a standard we would expect to enjoy if we were to partake in something like this or a cellar door visit."

Online wine sales are, of course, still being offered.

"We have been releasing a range of limited release wines and experiences, along with our core range of wines, as we are always trying to convince people to buy direct from the maker rather than the giants of retail out there," Flanagan said.

There are other Hunter Valley vineyards offering virtual tasting experiences, including Brokenwood Wines, Savannah Estate, Mercer Wines,Margan Wines, and Saddler's Creek Wines.

There are many, many online options, including gin and spirits tastings.

Save the date

The Hunter Events Seafood & Cider Festival 2022 now has a date.

It's all happening at Fullerton Cove's Stanley Park on September 10 next year, 10am to 4pm.

There will be fresh and cooked seafood, food trucks, live music, market stalls, a Kids Zone, oyster shucking and prawn peeling competitions, seafood and wine pairings, information about sustainable fishing and marine conservation, and much more.

You can even learn how to properly fillet a piece of fish or clean a crab at one of the masterclasses and demonstrations being held on the day.

You can signup to the mailing list online at seafoodandciderfestival.com.au to get exclusive access to the first wave of tickets when they're released.

Community spirit

Slow Food Hunter Valley are known for their community-driven initiatives, and their Community Cooking Program is no exception. It is helping to provide meals to people in need in the Maitland community, aided by donations of rescued food by OzHarvest Newcastle. Over the past fortnight Slow Food volunteers have made 182 kilograms worth of tasty and nutritious meals.

Also doing their bit for the community is Suspension Espresso at Islington, who have partnered with REACH Homeless Services to distribute free breakfast packs through the cafe to those in need, and Newcastle's Soul Cafe. It's open for takeaway hot and frozen meals (Monday to Thursday, 11am to 12.30pm) at the corner of Hunter and Watt streets. Soul's pantry is open Tuesday and Wednesday, 1pm to 2pm, and Friday, 9am to 10am.

Short and sweet

High-profile chef Lesley Taylor has been busy helping the Soldiers Point community during lockdown, supplying close to 500 free meals to people in need.

The Blind Monk at Hamilton is now open for takeaway pizza and cocktails.

Our Taste of Greece at New Lambton is now offering takeaway and home delivery Thursday to Saturday from 5.30pm.

Lovedale Smokehouse Gourmet Pantry & Cafe is now selling $12.50 heat-and-eat frozen meals. Order online for pick up Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 2pm.

Kahibah Sports Club is now selling takeaway cocktails ($10 per jar).

Oh My Papa in Newcastle's East End is re-opening this Friday for pick up and delivery, food and beverages.

The Nag's Head Hotel at Adamstown has introduced a weekend Lockdown Survival Kit (cocktail and a meal).

The Wickham Park Hotel is launching a takeaway and delivery menu today. It's available Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 2pm, and 5pm to 8pm.

This story Food Bites: Hunter Valley virtual tastings a hit first appeared on Newcastle Herald.