Using Zoom for virtual wine tastings - WineUncorked: Wine Reviews and Tips

Zooming along to a wine tasting has now gained another meaning. It used to mean rushing headlong through the doors of the nearest adult education venue so as not to be late. But now if you bring up the name of the branded video conferencing software called Zoom into the conversation it means you are having an online virtual experience. Zoom has entered the language - for good or bad - and it's here to stay. So what does it involve and how can you take part?

Social distancing (another term that'll surely be part of the Oxford English Dictionary by the end of 2020) means that face-to-face classroom wine tastings, chats and club meets have had to be cancelled and (finally) existing technology has taken over.

Slowly at first, with 'early adopters' spotting an opportunity and now in a steady trickle as wine retailers, vineyards, wine schools and wine enthusiasts use their existing social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and, if they remember, on their websites) to inform their followers of one-off or weekly events with a time, date and a login link with a (hopefully) secret password given to those that sign up.

'Zoom bombing' is another term that's become well-known - unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. What can be planned as a social event using Zoom's software capababilty to let many people see and talk to each other from the comfort of their own homes using the video camera and speakers found on computers and mobile phones, can turn into an unpleasant mess as malicious computer 'hackers' join in and add offensive content just for 'fun'.

How can this happen? By letting paswords become widely known. The message that banks and email providers have been telling us for years - do not share your password - has not been taken on-board by some of these 'early adopters' who happily shared this information for all to see on websites and social media (yes I have seen it).

Fortunately as the use of Zoom (other software is available such as Crowdcast) becomes more common these occurances will stop.

So what's it like attending a Zoom wine chat? First of all the wine event organiser (such as national retailer Laithwaites and London-based Newcomer Wines) will send out a link and password (usually via email) to those who responded to an event posted on their website or social media pages.

Clicking on this link on the date and time shown (or 10 minutes before to check your computer is working properly) will take you to Zoom's website where you enter your password and then wait while the 'host' checks you are who you say you are and avoids Zoom-bombing.

You'll then see the faces of others taking part (if they switch on their video cameras) and a central area with either the host's face or some text information on tonight's event (7pm is a popular UK start time but remember to add in time zone differences if the organiser is in the United States which can be PST Pacific Standard Time or EST Eastern Standard Time and then factor in British Summer Time GMT+1).

The event may be fully interactive with general chit-chat via your video camera or, more commonly, the interactivity is controlled with microphones on 'mute' and questions asked using Zoom's text chat function.

But where is the wine in this virtual world? Zoom event organisers have split into two groups on this - either the wine itself is entirely online and attendees watch the host taste the wine and tell you where you can buy it; or the wine is real and the attendee either arranges to get the wine themselves from a supermarket (with prior suggestions) with an alternative arrangement where the wine is part of the total online experience and is delivered to your door (at a cost of course).

Hopefully it will all start and end on time (online events are just as prone to organisers who like the sound of their own voice) and the internet bandwidth holds out (I've seen interviewees come and go on-screen) and the host remembers to prop up their laptop so they are looking directly into their video camera rather than leave it at table height and the downward facing chat means the virtual wine attendee looks up their nose.

Yes, Zoom wine events are still in their early stages as organisers realise they need to acquire the skills of a TV presenter or risk losing the good-will of us early technology adopters who will become everyday adopters rather sooner (or is that Zoomer?) than we all think.

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About WineUncorked and its editor, Paula Goddard Read more