Zoom, Zoom: Winemaking club meetings go virtual!

March 20, 2020 was supposed to be a big day for the Contra Costa Wine Group (CCWG) in northern California. We held our annual wine judging and potluck in January, and the March meeting is traditionally dedicated to tasting all the first place wines and awarding the ribbons. The meeting is one of the highlights of our social calendar. But this year was different. Just five days before the meeting, the county health department restricted all meetings due to concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak . . . and so our shelter-in-place began. It is now two months later and the restrictions are lifting, but it is still way too early to convene a large group for sharing wine, appetizers, and conversation. Or is it?

Our ever resourceful program committee proposed holding an online meeting and inviting the membership to attend virtually. So we approached the club leadership and got the approval to purchase a subscription to the now famous Zoom software. We held our first virtual CCWG meeting on May 20, 2020. It was an unequivocal success! We had close to 50 participants, about the same attendance as an in-person meeting. The conversation was lively and the consensus was that we will continue using this format until it is possible to again meet in person.

So we approached the club leadership and got the approval to purchase a subscription to the now famous Zoom software.

It helps that so many people have become proficient on Zoom. Our meeting coordinator uses it for work and therefore knows the software. One thing we learned is it’s important to keep people involved during the meeting. We used leading questions to encourage people to interact. Our icebreaker question was “What wine are you drinking now?” As we went around the group, most were drinking wine they made. The ones who were not drinking wine did receive a good-natured ribbing. Other questions asked of the group included “Where are you getting your grapes in 2020?” This question led to the creation of a spreadsheet where the club can swap sources for grapes, and sign up with others for bulk purchases. We also checked in with the “farmers” in our club who have home vineyards to find out how things are going. Powdery mildew seems to be making its presence known this year.

The shelter-in-place order made our club look at ways to connect when face-to-face meetings are not allowed. Enter social applications like Zoom. Screenshots by Scott Etzel

The chat function allows any meeting attendee to text other attendees either individually, or as a group. It is perfect for side conversations. For example, I was able to pin down a source for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. One of the members was buying some and together we would meet the seller’s minimum quantity. Other side conversations were more on the entertaining side.

The night before the meeting, the program committee held a pre-meeting to test drive the Zoom software and work out the inevitable kinks. The Zoom website has documentation for running the software and tips for hosting a successful meeting on their “Meeting and Webinar Best Practices and Resources” webpage, located at: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/209743263-Meeting-and-Webinar-Best-Practices-and-Resources

Until “shelter in place” is over we all need to find ways to interact with our friends. Online meetings can be fun with some preparation and the acknowledgement that they are not the same as an in-person meeting. A little wine helps too! I am still looking forward to the day when we can meet in person again and taste the award-winning wines. On the bright side, they will have a bit more bottle age, and will taste even better.