In a typical year, Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Research Institute (CCOVI) welcomes thousands of industry professionals and wine enthusiasts to its slate of in-person tastings, conferences, workshops and other special presentations.
When the pandemic hit, however, CCOVI explored new ways of staying connected in a virtual capacity — and those efforts are paying off.
In the past six months alone, CCOVI has engaged with more than 600 community and industry members though its new online initiatives.
“At a time when we cannot connect in-person, it’s important for us to still stay in touch,” says Barb Tatarnic, CCOVI’s manager of Outreach and Continuing Education. “Similar to the increased demand we saw for our online continuing education courses, we knew there was a demand for virtual outreach experiences, too.”
More than 100 guests attended CCOVI’s new virtual wine tastings, for example. Featuring industry partners like Gabriel Demarco (BSc ’13), Winemaker and Viticulturist at Cave Spring Vineyard, and Mitchell McCurdy (BSc ’18), Winemaker at Marynissen Estates Winery, the events have been so popular that CCOVI is already planning for additional offerings in the future.
“The past 15 months have been challenging with COVID-19, so our tasting was a chance for my senior team and their partners to connect, have a few laughs and learn about wine and pairings,” says Trent Hilpert, President of Piller’s Fine Foods. “The depth of Mitchell’s knowledge was absolutely incredible, and the event was very well done and creative.”
For Cory Petznick (BA ’94), Piller’s Director – Business Development, Alternate Channel, Co-Pack and Food Service, the online tasting experience was an inviting way for a beginner like himself to learn more about wine. Doing so in the company of other local Brock alumni was an added bonus.
“It is always great to reconnect with people that you share something in common with and I find that when I come across alumni from Brock, you quickly discover that there are so many great stories that you have in common and it brings back some very cherished memories,” says Petznick, who participated alongside his wife and fellow alumna, Molly Petznick (BA ’96).
The CCOVI Lecture Series, held in a solely virtual format this year, was also popular with the grape and wine community. More than 400 people tuned in to watch the lectures live — more than double that of the previous year. CCOVI also makes the videos available online, so the content can be viewed when it’s most convenient for the viewer.
The same approach was taken with the technical webinar CCOVI developed with Scott Labs Canada and the Institut Oenologique de Champagne. The webinar featured international expert Bertrand Robillard, R&D manager at Institut Oenologique de Champagne, and was made available to winemakers across the country to view as it fit within their schedule.
“We knew the Brock team would be committed to executing an online delivery that would meet the needs of the winemaker, and as always, they exceeded our expectations,” says Steve Clattenberg, Vice-President and General Manager of Scott Labs Canada.
For Dan Wright, Winemaker at Unsworth Vineyards, the ability to access CCOVI’s “trusted” resources at his convenience has been especially important during the pandemic.
“With there being so many online seminars these days, I have found it difficult to attend all the ones I might have found interesting,” he says. “But this way, I was able to schedule it and allow my staff to watch this webinar, which otherwise may not have been possible.”
Although CCOVI will resume hosting in-person events as soon as it is safe to do so, Tatarnic says expanding its online offerings has created new and exciting ways to engage with wine professionals and wine lovers alike.
“Knowledge mobilization has always been an important part of CCOVI’s mandate and providing these new virtual experiences, with increased flexibility in content delivery,
has meant that more people could take advantage of the resources we offer,” she says. “We look forward to offering more innovative opportunities like this in the future.”