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Survey results: virtual vs in-person events

Last month, we conducted a survey to explore attitudes to virtual versus in-person events in the context of the governments’ easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

We surveyed a tight group of people: only those who had attended one of Swirl’s events in the last 12 months.* This decision ensured that the results were highly relevant to Swirl and could help us make decisions in a couple key areas for us: creating events which serve our attendees best, and making eco-sustainable choices.

But while these results are highly specific to Swirl, we still think they’re worth sharing for their general relevance to our industry.

In-person tastings

We asked respondents to rate the following topics, ranked here in order of importance:

  1. Opportunities to meet winemakers and importers face to face
  2. Opportunity to network and discuss wines with peers
  3. Ability to taste at own pace
  4. Tasting from full bottles
  5. Opportunities to sample wines with food

Notably, 68% of respondents highly valued meeting winemakers face-to-face. 54% of people also liked having the ability to taste at their own pace, and enjoyed networking opportunities.

On the other hand, 68% of people didn’t relatively find it important to be able to taste from full bottles in-person. 88% of people also said they didn’t value tasting wines with food. In a later question, 68% of people said food at tastings isn’t relatively important, but it is nice to have (see chart below). This was an interesting finding for us, as clients often ask us to present food specifically paired with the wines at in-person tastings.

Other key findings regarding in-person events included the following charts which show that respondents are generally flexible about how in-person events are structured – they’re mainly just happy to be back!

Virtual Tastings

We asked respondents to rate the following topics, ranked here in order of importance:

  1. Opportunity to meet a wider range of winemakers live virtually who perhaps wouldn’t be so easily accessible in UK
  2. Convenience and accessibility
  3. Health security in times of COVID pandemic
  4. Pre-recorded multi-media that you can access at your convenience after the tasting
  5. Tasting and discussing online with others

A key contextual takeaway is that for the whole survey it was apparent that people were evenly split in terms of the importance they placed on COVID-19 health safety at the time of taking the survey. Given that by mid-June over 60% of UK adults had been double vaccinated, this reflects the public mood.

For the purpose of thinking about virtual events long-term, 70% of respondents comparatively thought that hybridised events should continue to be offered:

 

This tallies with the 54% of people who said that, relatively, the accessibility and convenience of virtual events was of most appeal to them. We had a number of additional comments which pointed out that, geographically, in-person tastings tend to be London-centric, which means they’re not as accessible for people not living in the capital.

But for us, one of the most interesting findings was that 68% of respondents said that, similarly, the opportunity to meet ‘live’ a wider range of winemakers who perhaps wouldn’t be so easily accessible in UK was the main appeal of virtual events for them. In tandem with the finding that another 68% of people relatively valued in-person tastings for this very same reason – to interact with winemakers, we know that having this connection in any way possible is very important for event attendees.

“I would just like to add that the only thing that is not useful about virtual tastings is allowing winemakers to talk endlessly about how wonderful they are. Swirl is very good at making them keep to the point!”

A key concern for the Swirl team when we created our digital arm, Swirl in the Cloud, was replicating as best as we could the experience of chatting to peers you’d experience at an in-person tasting. While necessity is the mother of invention, it’s still notable that now virtual tastings are no longer the only option, 60% said that, comparatively, discussing wines online with others was not important to them.

All in all, virtual tastings present a very efficient use of time but they’re still not seen as a desired alternative to the ‘real thing’ – in-person events.

Sustainability

Sustainability, in both environmental and business terms, is vitally important to Swirl’s future. We’ve noticed a sharp uptick in awareness of eco-sustainable practices in terms of sample delivery and the execution of events. In this context, there are benefits to both virtual and in-person events.

Virtual events reduce travel, especially air travel. But it’s necessary to send samples out individually, whereas in-person tastings require only a few bottles.

We found that, comparably, 75% of respondents rated recyclable packaging as very important. But, given everyone has different means of processing information, opinions were split on the relevance of printed materials.

Other feedback

We were really happy to see some lovely feedback about Swirl in the Cloud events, and in-person Swirl events.

“I love Sarah’s presenting style – the combination of wine, geo-politics, history and culture is always fascinating. More of that, please!”

We also got some valuable feedback on what key information is vital for event attendees. Of particular importance was the label information breakdown: grape, ABV, RRP, vintage. Tasting notes and further background was considered less important.

These are valuable insights for Team Swirl. If you responded, thank you very much for your input. We hope wine trade colleagues find this information as useful as we do.

*50 respondents from across the UK wine industry who had attended a Swirl Wine Group led event in the past 12 months.
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End of term report

Sarah Abbott shares her end of term report reflecting on our work and our clients’ successes in a turbulent 2020.

2020 began in disarray. We had the best laid plans – but my fantastic team and clients kept calm and carried on. Together, we found ways to be adaptable, creative and resilient in order to deliver what was needed, sensitively.

At the time we didn’t grasp what a crucible of adjustment it was. Fortunately, towards the end of 2019, we’d become interested in the growing trend in other industries – especially events and conferences – for blending in-person events with virtual augmentation. We had begun to research it to see how it could translate for wine – which gave us a great basis for the wholesale pivot to digital everything.

Our job is to communicate and engage on behalf of our clients, as well as assisting commercially. And I’m proud that we achieved this, in a time when promoting a product, wine, which is all about togetherness, contravened the essence of our daily lives.

So, we came up with Swirl in the Cloud – proof that every cloud has a silver lining.

From the get-go we were strict about the structure. The most important thing was fostering a sense of togetherness so, at the most basic level, either everyone got the wine, or no one did. So, we really jumped on the informational webinar format. Packing these presentations chock-full of great data and information has helped us learn so much about what really engages our clients’ audiences.

A May report from McKinsey showed that in March to May of 2020, “we have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks”. I can definitely believe it. Digital events are a great democratiser. They ensure equal access for everyone – whether you’re shielding, less mobile or just can’t get child care. That’s incredibly valuable – as we recognised in the opportunity it gave us to connect with people from across the globe. For example, for Wines of Georgia, we did a webinar about Qvevri and were joined by people from 20 different countries. Among them were some winemakers who had just started making qvevri wines in South Africa, and another using the method in Lebanon. Without that connectivity, we would never have been able to introduce them to some Georgian qvevri specialists who are now helping and advising them. That feels incredibly rewarding.

Looking forward, there are several things that this year has extracted from us which I don’t think we’ll ever put back. Clients have really risen to the occasion, making exquisite videos showcasing terroir. Combining this kind of content with in-person events is here to stay. It’s hugely valuable, especially given the high per-attendee cost of in-person events. Of course, in many ways in-person events are irreplaceable. There’s nothing like showcasing wine in the context in which it’s to be enjoyed – and we want to get back to hospitality venues as soon as possible. But there’s a high level of wastage and no-shows with the current model. I predict that this will change with a swing to smaller, more flexible in-person events blended with a digital element.

Wines of Georgia 

It came as no surprise that the team in Georgia were some of the first to embrace digital innovation – they know the importance of being creative and adaptable in difficult times.

In collaboration with their team, we’ve run 13  different virtual tastings and presentations. Year on year sales of Georgian wine to the UK have increased by 240%. We now have over 60 merchants and retailers stocking Georgian wines – a fantastic result for the producers and for our wine market. We’re also so pleased to report that importers have shared what an invaluable resource the in-depth online courses and training have made to their sales.

JFOODO

This year we’ve been running two different projects for JFOODO – one on their wines and one on sake.

Just before lockdown 1, at the beginning of February, I was in Japan. I am a complete sake novice, but though the style and tone of sake is so different from wine, I find that the depth of the culture, heritage, craft and intersection of place, personality and technique is very familiar to me. It’s just as rich as wine, so I’m really thrilled to be running two events on sake later this year.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior DOCG

Conegliano Valdobbiadene is the premium end of Prosecco. And latest figures show that they have maintained their 2020 exports at the same level as 2019, in which exports to the UK from this specific zone doubled in volume and increased by 80% in value.

This year, we hosted six virtual tastings and supported the Consorzio with two virtual press trips. It was revelatory that a virtual event allowed us a deeper insight than what would be achievable in person. For example, we worked with Professor Digeo Tomasi, a leading authority on soil science and its effect on wine style. Using recorded video and live Zoom we were able to take attendees all over the region, sharing technical analysis of the aromatic compounds which resulted from each different soil type. While tasting the wines from each zone. It was an enormous piece of work to bring that together but it was really worth it to feel like we broke through those last vestiges of Prosecco prejudice.

Wine GB

We’ve just completed a really interesting project with Wine GB, focussing on classic method sparkling wine. The UK is emerging as a wine making nation and it was tremendously exciting to be able to work with Wine GB to explore how to express our identity and place in the world of wine.

We devised a communications hierarchy for how to talk about and differentiate classic method sparkling wine from England and Wales. We wanted to articulate the uniqueness of our wines made in our terroir, informed by our culture. I was really keen to move away from that trite way of talking about UK sparkling wine – in comparison to Champagne. Of course, Champagne is the benchmark for great classic method sparkling – but we’re not wannabes. We have an even more extreme climate and a much younger wine culture. We revel in the audacity, the boldness and experimentation which typifies our wine culture.

We were able to show a range of wines to predominantly trade journalists, and it was brilliant to hear them saying ‘I’ve never heard of this producer before, but this wine is fantastic’.

Respected by Gaggenau

This is a consultancy project, and one I’m really proud to be a part of. I love working on projects where wine is part of the story but not the only character. It puts wine in the broader context of humanity – a world which is broader than the ‘fellowship of wine geeks’ (among whom I’m happy to live).

Gaggenau makes really high-end, craft-focussed kitchen appliances. Their ‘Respected by…’ project celebrates culinary culture, of which wine is a part, by asking three curators from the worlds of wine, food and design to judge nominations from regional experts in each field. I’m so delighted that wine is being considered in the same breath as design and culinary excellence and look forward to sharing more when the winners are announced next year.

 

 

 

 

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Japanese wine’s big moment

Earlier this year, a panel of industry experts gathered in London to assess over 100 Japanese wines. Analysing style, flavour profile, packaging and positioning of each wine in the market, the panel’s aim was to help Japan’s small but blossoming wine industry with targeted advice for each producer on how to develop their sales in the UK market.  This is a key part of what […]