Friends meet in virtual ‘Cheers’

We are living in relative isolation but thankfully technology lets us connect with friends. One activity I look forward each week is a gathering of fellow wine industry friends for a virtual tasting where we open up bottles at home, share what we are drinking with each other and let the conversation go where it likes. I shared the story of our virtual tastings in the Napa Valley Register so you can check out some of the reasons we love doing this so much.

It has been more than three weeks since we entered a world of social isolation. Our homes are now the center of our universe. We can no longer meet friends for a glass of wine at the end of the day or enjoy a long meal over wine in a restaurant.

Living alone, drinking wine by myself is now considered acceptable and is not judged by anyone. But, it is, of course, more fun to drink with friends and once a week, a group of wine friends and I get together via Zoom for a Virtual Happy Hour.

Wine blogger Jeff Kralik, aka The Drunken Cyclist, is based in Houston, Texas. When life is normal, he hosts blind tastings in his home for local wine writers. But, when we were all told to shelter in place, he decided to create a Virtual Happy Hour as a way to get people together. Jeff reached out to wine blogger, technology professional and friend Thea Dwelle, who is based in Sonoma and who has taken over coordinating the weekly gathering.

Wine industry friends — from wine writers to wine makers to public relation people — from across the country, and across time zones, have been invited to participate. There are close to 100 people invited and each week approximately 20-25 people join in, each with a glass of wine or cocktail in hand. For some, it is before dinner, and for others it is after dinner. But for everyone it is a welcome break in the day.

For Thea, the Virtual Happy Hour gives her a chance to “see friends, meet new people and not feel isolated. It is a time to blow off steam but also to have conversations about what is going on and how everyone is feeling.”

We all had a good laugh this week as Thea enjoyed both a glass of wine from a bottle of Bodegas Lan that she had opened the previous night and a glass of Peerless Kentucky Straight Bourbon. We were all joking that it was good to have two drinks because if you have a drink in both hands, you are unable to touch your face.

A few miles up the road in Healdsburg, Julie Pedroncelli St. John and Ed St. John of Pedroncelli Winery join in for the Virtual Happy Hour. Julie, a self-proclaimed introvert, told me that “at first it was a bit daunting to me with so many faces but now I like to see old and new friends. It does my introvert-self good to virtually visit and I am enjoying the time spent each week.”

And her extrovert husband Ed added, “It’s just a great way to relax and blow off some steam. It feels kind of like ‘Cheers,’ a place where everyone knows your name.” He added that the virtual call has also opened up a new avenue of contacts for them and as an unintentional result, they will be doing an online “Taste Up” with new friends they have made in the group.

We all know that social distancing and isolation can be lonely; to some it is depressing. These weekly tastings allow us to not only see friends and meet new people, but also to spend time with people we might normally only see once or twice a year in person.

For Jim van Bergen of JvBUnCorked, who lives in New York, “Virtual Happy Hour is a great way to see the co-workers and associates we often see at press and wine events, tastings, and dinners. Whether we talk about what we’re currently working on as writers, it’s fun to see what people are tasting, and sometimes the topics get serious. We’re all fans of some region, have a great deal of knowledge and focus on some regions, so the conversation is fabulous, and like cocktail hour, it can get funny and raucous.”

Sandra Crittenden, a wine writer from Houston who regularly tastes with the Houston Chronicle as well as with Jeff Kralik, said, “with those and the parade of tastings and lunches/dinners that regularly come through Houston that I’m not getting to do, I’m missing the wine talk and social interaction with my peers. I like the virtual events because I am not seeing my local wine friends right now. I am also interested in hearing what like-minded folks are drinking. It is an opportunity to get social time with real friends and virtual friends that I know or interact with online and I call it work as an excuse to take a break from nonstop family time.”

Also loving the break from family time are Mary Cressler, author at Vindulge, and her husband and pitmaster Sean Martin of Portland, Oregon. They just released their cookbook, “Fire and Wine,” and spend their days quarantined with two 9-year-olds.

As Mary explained, “Being quarantined with three people (two of which are the 9-year-olds) can make you a little stir crazy, so it’s nice to talk to other adults and just relax a bit. What I like the most is getting to catch up with friends live and see how everyone is doing. It’s fun to just chit chat, talk about wine, vent a little bit (if needed), and laugh. And seeing peoples’ faces is about as close to being in person as you can get (there’s something comforting about seeing people talk to you live).”

This weekly Virtual Happy Hour is something I look forward to each week. I enjoy seeing friends’ faces and meeting new people and talking about wine, life and whatever else strikes our fancy.

We are lucky to live in a world with this technology available to us. And, it is an excuse for me to open up a wine that I have been saving. This past week, my wine choice was Borgogno Cannubi Barolo 2009 from Piemonte, Italy. With more than 10 years of age on it, the wine tasted beautifully with notes of dried flowers, dark red berries, and earth and smooth but grippy tannins on the finish. It was a special wine to open, in honor of my friends in Italy, and I enjoyed being able to share it with friends, although I got to enjoy the entire bottle for myself.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.