Virtual event sees an 81 percent increase in attendees from 2019​

Sonoma County, California – On July 15th, executives from wineries throughout California, from Antica Napa Valley in the north to Zaca Mesa in the south, joined the virtual Research Summit. The program featured Sonoma State University faculty and representatives from close stakeholders of the Wine Business Institute, including Rabo AgriFinance,, Jackson Family Wines, and BPM. The Summit was followed by a private Q&A session that will be made available to registered attendees along with video recordings of all presentations.

“Registration for the Summit was up 81 percent over the previous year,” said Ray Johnson, executive director of the Wine Business Institute in the School of Business and Economics at SSU. “Eighty-two percent of registrants attended; 17 percent higher than the average for virtual events. The virtual delivery made for easier access for attendees beyond California, from Oregon on the west coast to New York on the east coast, and across the world, representing the broader wine value chain.”

Attendees heard from Kat Stark, director of, who shared how the retailer leveraged their newly debuted virtual tasting program to turn a time of potential financial loss into growth. The virtual tasting program featured 70 percent traditional and 30 percent celebrity tastings. Celebrity tastings received higher views while 62 percent of revenue came from traditional tastings.

Best practices for a virtual tasting program, according to Stark, are:

  • Give customers the opportunity to pre-purchase the wines to enhance their experience.
  • Include a host and feature talent who are comfortable on camera.
  • Organize camera tests with talent and ensure strong Wi-Fi.
  • Work with marketing and brand management to create a strong Run of Show.
  • Keep tastings to 30-45 minutes.
  • Provide tasting mats with notes.
  • Make it easy to purchase post-tasting.’s success is one example of how the wine community can rise above the challenges of the pandemic-altered landscape through a “mindset shift towards digital marketing,” said Pierre Costa, adjunct faculty of wine business and founder of SommDigital. “Research shows there are challenges with implementing digital marketing because of a lack of knowledge and qualified staff, difficulty understanding cost, poor e-commerce infrastructure, and lastly limited time.”

A sophisticated digital marketing program is critical in this virtual economy. “Eighty-five percent of consumers can’t remember a story of how they heard about a wine brand. Twenty percent of those who do buy wine only make a purchase when a discount is offered,” said Costa. These two consumer segments require repeated exposure through digital marketing to create brand recognition, according to Costa. For the 20 percent, known as discount junkies, “if wineries know exactly when a customer is going to drop off, say after four shipments, incentivize or enhance the fifth shipment to get people past that point and keep them even longer,” said Dr. Steven Cuellar, professor of economics in the SBE at SSU.

There are free resources to help navigate the uncertainty and gauge what consumers are thinking, according to Karen Daenen, director of research & consumer insights at Jackson Family Wines. Consumer sentiment tracking tools like Engine, Ipsos, and Deloitte can help wineries and brands improve their messaging, getting the tone right, determine opportunities for outreach, and brainstorm ideas to better engage current and prospective customers. Dataessential, Nielsen CGA, and Eater are go-to sites for on-premise insights. Daenen recommends Supermarket News and Kantar for those interested in e-commerce and off-premise data.

“Through events like the Summit, the Wine Business Institute is poised to be a hub for education and research for the community here at home and internationally. Together, we can work to find innovative solutions so all can thrive,” said Jean-Francois Coget, dean of the SBE at SSU. “We look forward to engaging with the wine community at next year’s Wine Business Institute Research Summit, scheduled for July 21, 2021, and other future events.”

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About the Wine Business Institute
The Wine Business Institute serves as an intellectual and industry hub for faculty, students, and the business community. Founded in 1996 as a partnership between the wine industry and the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University, the WBI provides cutting-edge research that informs industry best practices and program curriculum. The WBI offers online and in-person wine-focused degrees and industry certifications. For more information about our degree and certificate programs or our wine business research, please contact us at sends e-mail), or visit

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