How the Pandemic Shaped Wine Drinking in the Twin Cities

Wine sommelier Leslee Miller predicts how the Twin Cities wine industry will change
Wine sommelier Leslee Miller pivots to online tastings and education

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Online wine sales were up in 2020, but the industry overall saw a lot of challenges. Wineries, restaurants serving wine, and in-person tasting experiences all took a hit. For Twin Cities-based sommelier Leslee Miller, she felt the change right away.

“I remember it sort of being shocking,” she recalls. “Then, obviously, I started to panic as obviously our state started to shut down pretty rapidly.”

Miller is a dual-certified sommelier in the International Sommelier Guild and the Court of Master Sommeliers and owns three businesses, Amusée, Sip Better Wine Club and Cépage, which provided in-person experiences. Throughout Miller’s career, she has educated people about wine at events and on national television.

She had to act quickly to shift her businesses to virtual experiences. Her dilemma last March wasn’t the barrier of a screen, but the ability to get the equipment to teach from home. “How do I make sure that I have all of the right equipment?” Miller says. ”Everybody was doing this at the same time. The equipment was very expensive and a lot of things instantly went out of stock.”

Despite the challenges of setting up her in-home production studio, Miller reached a wider audience than ever before with her virtual classes. At times, people would be participating in her inexpensive wine courses from Mexico, Canada and all regions of the United States.

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Miller says shifting to virtual classes allowed people to find an accessible and fun new hobby during this uncertain time. She believes that businesses are missing an opportunity to reach larger audiences if they aren’t taking advantage of this limitless virtual era of online happy hours or blind wine tastings.

Two Shifts in the Cities

That opportunity to explore from the comfort of your home is one of the biggest takeaways from 2020. Over the past year, Miller saw new trends emerge in the Twin Cities wine industry.

Expanded Horizons

Through teaching her wine courses, she has seen participants gain confidence in their willingness to explore the world of wine outside of chardonnays and cabernets. That exploration led to people’s increased interest in wine.

“I think that would be the silver lining here,” Miller says “I’m hoping that we’re giving the consumer more. That we’re offering a service that is a part of your habits; the more you explore, the more want to explore.”

More Retail Options

Prior to the pandemic shutdown, many wineries only sold their wine to restaurants. But restaurants shut down, leaving wineries without clients and revenue. “This is the first time that consumers can walk into a retail shop, a small bottle shop, and see some of these really unique rosés that had generally not been offered on their shelves,” says Miller.

The pandemic meant the consumer could go straight to the source instead of having to go to a restaurant for certain wines in the Twin Cities. Trends throughout the pandemic show that alcohol consumption went through the roof, wine included.

“If a small winery saw they could sell their product very easily in retail, will that winery now set some amount aside now for a small bottle shop and a restaurant?” wonders Miller.

She says it will be interesting to see how small wine distributors handle sales going forward as restaurants reopen. She also hopes that the consumer builds on their confidence and curiosity to buy unconventional wines and step out of their wine comfort zone when restrictions loosen and we return back to a new normal.

To learn more, visit amuseewine.com

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