Cool Twitter Event: WineTwit’s ‘Virtual Tasting’

Businesses do really well online when they create “events” — as local promotion companies ranging from Zvents to Active.com have discovered. Home Depot has classes. Those are events. Brew pubs have free samples. Those are events, too. And so are REI’s adventure trips. They all pop up on calendars, in search results and in social media as well.

Brands can jump-start events too, sometimes in partnership with retail. Last night’s Georges Duboeuf and Burger Night” produced by WineTwits was a stellar example. GD, of course, is the original wine event company, with an annual event built around the pent-up demand every year for the release of its Beaujolais Nouveau.)

WineTwits boasts 62,000 followers on Twitter, and has produced a number of events for wine brands and distributors, tying in with wine influencers and local retail establishments. It is part of a broader entity that produces similar events for spirits companies and also provides happy hours promotions (the original model, incidentally, for LivingSocial’s deals).

Georges Duboeuf’s goals in having an event were clear from the getgo. It is marketing several red wines that it considers perfect summertime fare for BBQs — but consumers don’t normally think of refrigerating red wine.

Working with WineTwits, GD put together an all-star event. It hired Bob Waggoner from PBS’ “UCook! with Chef Bob” to match its wines with several burgers; and it arranged for a live, one-hour Rachel Ray-like cooking and tasting Webcast in NYC. It also heated up demand by FedExing a trio of bottles to key influencers around the country, along with the burger recipes — dozens of whom tweeted away.

There was, in fact, a great deal of pre-event buildup on both WineTwits and #GDandburgers. It was a lot of fun, as the tweeters discussed their expectations for the burgers, their related shopping activities, etc. Some 3,500 people have registered to participate in WineTwits’ Virtual Tasting Network. Past virtual tasting events have involved wine bars (i.e., The Wine Loft) and wine restaurants (i.e., City Winery) and retailers (Stew Leonard’s).

WineTwits founder Steve Gilberg tells us there were ultimately “hundreds of parties going on nationwide, generating thousands of tweets” and an estimated reach of 1.75 million people. Gilberg estimates the event was probably less expensive than “the cost of a TV ad or a couple of full-page ads in leading publications. It is certainly easier than having reps travel around the country and host events, which has been the industry’s standard practice.”

More important, from GD’s perspective, “the engagement with the brand is really powerful,” says Gilberg. “You see people talking about your brand. And it creates such momentum.”

For my part, my wife and I invited two couples over, and had a cookout with all three recommended burgers (which were quite excellent, although we liked the Portabella Mushroom Burger the most, accompanied with the Beaujolais-Villages.) We got a real kick out of the Twitter stream before and during the event — there was a lot of interesting trivia given about the wines, and their native regions in France, as well as funny stories about individual events.

But we only paid attention to the cyber-stuff for a few minutes. For one thing, we didn’t want to spill wine on the iPads and smartphones. Mostly, we just had a really good time. Was the event a success? We’ll certainly think about GD wines — refrigerated — for the rest of our summer meals.

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