Featured image: two cats fight during a live report on a Philippines Television. That video made me laugh so hard.
Everyone is doing webinars now: I am, MWs are, MSs are, producers, educators, retailers, journalists, enthusiasts, everyone. Being it a virtual tasting, an informative seminar, some kind of lesson, I have seen more people doing webinars in this period than in my entire life.
What is the future of such events? Will they last? Are we modifying the way we teach and communicate wine?
I don’t think so, at least not to a big extent. This is why.
Now people have time to stay at home
Many people are staying at home now. They don’t have to commute (me included), they cannot or don’t want to go outside, they cannot organize events, tastings or dinners. So what better than reconnecting with others by having a virtual tasting (meh) or listening to a Master of Wine sharing his or her study tips (much better)?
However, when we will be allowed to go outside again, when we will need to go out to work at our office, our restaurant, our shop, many people will not have the time or the strength after a full day work to open their laptop and listen to yet another lesson about wine. Someone will, but it will take energy and there better be a good reason, i.e. content worth watching. No one will care of a random dude tasting a random wine on his desk.
Producers and celebrities too are staying at home
The other day I watched a webinar by Vinous where Antonio Galloni was interviewing Gaia Gaja. Man, it was excellent! And yet after that I was reasoning that this event had been possible only because both Galloni and Gaja were forced to stay home. Normally the former would be visiting wine regions and the latter would be rather spending her time promoting her wines than doing free online sessions.
In an “unlocked World” Galloni and Gaja may still be able to work out a schedule to meet and have a webinar, but this would be much much more difficult. They may be taking part in international fairs, traveling the World, judging at tasting competitions, who knows? The epidemic confined them in their homes, like everyone else. In such conditions taking a PC and start a conversation is much easier.
Wine Professionals need and want to feel connected with their customers
Another reason why we are seeing this plethora of webinars is because wine professionals need and want to feel connected with their customers. This is true for every layer of the wine industry, retailers, sommeliers, producers, educators. I have done a couple of webinars myself reserved to my students, to make them understand that they are not alone and they should keep studying because normal life will eventually resume, in one way or another. Honestly, it was also useful to me, to remind me that there is life beyond coronavirus and to remind the participants that there is a school in central Tokyo waiting for them.
However the need to feel connected by internet will eventually fade out when -well- we will be able to connect again for real! In normal times I may have up to three-four lessons a week. At that point the need to sit down and have yet another lesson online will be much much lower. That may happen, but only when the said lesson is planned well in advance and it is meaningful. A review before an exam or a seminar about a topic that I really care for example.
I think this is true for many others.
Wine is also contact
As much as I respect the drive underneath, when people will once again be able to meet in person, casual virtual tastings, those events where people meet online to randomly chat over a bottle of wine, will disappear as fast as they have popped out.
Even a satisfying webinar + tasting event is difficult to realize: without considering bottle difference, being able to fetch the wines presented by the host may be challenging, some producers may not be available or the price may just be too high (especially in this period of economic struggle). Hearing Ms. X commenting about the wine in her glass when you cannot taste it (and ideally you should share the same bottle) is pretty underwhelming.
These events, when not supported by substantial content, will vanish very soon.
Meeting in a classroom is just much more efficient and much more environment-friendly: 12 people, one bottle. And thank the Heavens! Have you ever noticed how few wine online courses you find compared with, say, online courses to learn programming?
One could become a professional Android developer from scratch without spending a dime, just with free tutorials and Youtube. Try to do the same with wine. The peculiarity of wine learning is that, as I already said in another post, you need a physical dimension that is difficult and expensive to replicate outside a class. Trying to learn wine just from books or videos would be like trying to master a martial art just by reading manuals. Good luck with that.
Webinars are tiring
It is just me or is it really difficult to follow a webinar lasting over one hour? Especially if I am watching a recording I find really hard to focus. It is not like reading an article or a book. With the written word I can first check the content to decide if I want to invest my time on it, then I can skim or select what I need, go back again, highlight, review; with podcasts or webinars I have to keep paying attention all the time because I do not want to miss something important and I have much less control over the flow. And then maybe there is the cat, the kids shouting in the other room, Facebook notifications popping up etc etc. So many distractions. This is tiring.
It is easier to concentrate in a dedicated environment, like a classroom. All people are there with your same goal, listening. You can share wine, you live “inside” the lesson, you are not just watching it. There is less distraction and a more complete experience.
Webinars are also tiring for speakers: in a classroom a good teacher will “feel” the class, look at the faces, glance at the students and sense if people are following or not, if you are going to fast, if you are not being clear. This is impossible online: my first webinar was extremely weird, it felt like I was talking alone. And even if you set a meeting, so you can look at the faces, who has the time to check all those small windows to see if something is off?
Webinars are not economically viable
This is especially referred to English language webinars: there are just so many excellent free webinars over there, that it is really difficult to find something people will pay for. I heard more lessons from MWs the last two months than the previous two years. And they were free!
If an MW or an MS starts giving away content for free, because they have the knowledge at the top of their fingers and after all they have nothing else to do now, what can we common mortals do to rise up some cash?
The solution is talking about something either not in English, because at that point the number of available resources drop, or which is related to a niche field that the host knows well. Webinars related to certified courses, those where you need to be an approved provider to offer them, may also be worth the investment.
However I am sure that this free webinar-fest will end once coronavirus enters History: time is a valuable commodity and the more a person is renown, the higher price he or she can fetch to share knowledge.
“So you are against webinars” I hear someone say.
I know that modern World does not welcome balanced views: either you are for something or you are against something. Even when you give explanations, people will close your idea in a box, put a tag on you, and make their own assumptions.
But I will try to be clear.
I am not against webinars, I did some and I will do others. The wonderful advantages of online learning are before our very eyes. They are giving new chances to people, especially those (in the case of wine) living far away from producing Countries, me included. In the morning you can hear the CEO of Chateau d’Issan talking about en primeur, in the afternoon you have four Master Sommerliers on your screen discussing recent trends in the industry. Wonderful. People who spent some time adapting to a new tool (i.e. webinars) will keep this knowledge and use it to integrate future events or educational programs. That is very sensible.
It is just that everyone and their grandmother is organizing webinars now. This abundance won’t last, it is only the result of lockdowns and slowing economies freeing up the time of many people, people who would usually be much much more busy.
Online learning WILL last, but it will not mimicry live lessons. The context is different, so the structure must be adjusted. WSET Online approach is nice for example and in fact it dates back to a previous time, it is not just the hasty reaction to a crisis. I got the Diploma thanks to it!
Let’s enjoy this novel opportunity and use it to make the best out of this difficult period. Stay safe and keep your spirit high.