Sonoma wine tastings go online, turn to Twitter

Ross Halleck is a combination high-tech branding and marketing consultant and Russian River Valley pinot noir producer. So it makes sense that he would venture head-first into social media, participating in his first Pinot Noir Twitter Community Tasting this past summer.

Halleck was persuaded to participate online and host a simultaneous tasting at Aubergine Restaurant in Sebastopol by Ed Thralls, an Atlanta-based wine blogger and tweeter who is also a member of Halleck Vineyard's wine club.

"I jumped in with both feet," Halleck said. "I thought, I'm a savvy marketing guy and this seems like something I could use if nothing more than to differentiate myself. Here's a hook. Everybody's interested in this Twitter thing. There's no downside."

So while he sat around a table with wine club members and other interested folks who had come to the restaurant on that night, Halleck watched as a huge screen scrolled live tweets all about pinot noir, a two-hour blur of commentary involving 2,073 tweets by 323 people.

"There was a robust online community jabbering away at the speed of light," he recalled. "Then there was the live community who was sharing wine, food and company. Wine has this magical ability to elevate a conversation, bring people together, enhance intimacy and create community."

The virtual, high-tech Twitter culture has joined forces with the sensual, physical wine-tasting culture. It was only a matter of time.

Lisa Mattson, communications director for Jordan Winery in Healdsburg, agrees that for consumers and wineries, a Twitter tasting that involves going to a restaurant, retail store or tasting room can be a lot of fun and an effective way to spread the word about wine.

"The most successful way to do a Twitter tasting is for there to be a brick-and-mortar component as well as online," she said. "It can be interesting to meet people for the first time that you've maybe seen on Facebook or Twitter. But as a winery you have to be willing to put in a lot of promotional effort."

For the topic of wine in general, Twitter is an effective way of starting a conversation and getting aficionados together. Just last month, an entire day was devoted to the subject of cabernet sauvignon (#cabernet), a chance for wineries and wine lovers to express enthusiasm, ask questions or otherwise engage in the subject 140-or-less characters at a time.

In support, wineries, restaurants and other establishments hosted special tastings too, some 75 real-life meet-ups around cabernet, getting people together to enjoy the varietal, including at St. Supery Winery in Rutherford, where Rick Bakas, the day's organizer, is director of social media.

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