Virtual Wine Tasting in a Box

Ingenuity takes flight at Hickory Creek Winery

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Krystal Schmandt of Birmingham, shown here with her twin sons Graham (yellow helmet) and Grayson, has preordered a wine flight from Hickory Creek Winery — as have several of her friends. They’ll taste together during a virtual wine tasting with Hickory Creek owner/winemaker Adam McBride leading them through it. (Photo courtesy of Krystal Schmandt)

Every Thursday evening since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, Krystal Schmandt and several friends have been doing a Zoom girls’ night.

Not too far into the virtual gatherings, they realized it would be fun to come up with a theme for each week. They’d been to Hickory Creek Winery two years ago, enjoyed themselves and had been following the Buchanan winery on Facebook since, Schmandt says.

So when they saw that owner/winemaker Adam McBride was going to be offering a new tasting flight option so consumers could do their own wine tastings at home, they were delighted — especially because McBride is happy to lead participants through a virtual tasting.

“I thought, ‘That’s the smartest thing ever in this virtual era we’re in right now,’” says Schmandt, 35, who lives in Birmingham and is a mother of infant twin boys.

McBride says he came up with the idea after the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order meant Michigan winery tasting rooms had to close.

“We started thinking about how can we stay connected with our customers, with our wine club — how to replicate that (tasting) experience if they can’t actually come to the winery,” McBride says. “So we thought, ‘What if we got some type of small-format bottle to mail a flight and do a video tasting with them?’”

And that’s exactly what he’s done. He found a supplier to provide a 50 mL clear wine bottle and worked with his label maker to adapt Hickory Creek’s label to the smaller size.

“It’s basically using the similar format label we would use for 750 mL bottles,” he says, noting that as of April 22 he was waiting for state approval following the federal OK. The 50 mL bottles he’s using required no additional approvals, he adds.

Each of the three wine flight offerings comes with five miniature bottles, a logoed glass, a bag of oyster crackers and coupon for $10 off a future purchase of two bottles of wine. (Photo courtesy of Hickory Creek Winery)

McBride has assembled three flight options that are available for pre-order at the Hickory Creek website. Each bottle contains a 1.7-ounce pour, he says.

“Usually, you think of a tasting pour to be between 1 ounce and 1.15 ounces,” he says. “This is a very healthy pour.”

The Hickory Creek Signature takes tasters through a dry white, a dry rosé and a couple of dry reds before finishing with another dry white.

“I like to call this the crowd pleaser,” he says. “It’s the full spectrum and shows our signature wine style.”

Like all three flight options, it comes with a winery logoed glass; a packet of oyster crackers; instructions for setting up a guided tasting appointment with McBride via Zoom, FaceTime or Google Duo; and a coupon for $10 off a separate two-bottle purchase. Retail is $25, plus $5 shipping.

The Winemaker’s Select at $27 leans more red and dry, he says, coming with three dry reds and two dry whites.

“I think these are my personal favorites,” he says.

The Patio Flight “kind of channels that warm summer afternoon out on the patio,” he says. With a white, a rosé and a few sweeter wines, it runs $22.

The price reflects the labor-intensive nature of assembling it all by hand.

Friends Sarah Ruzzin, Jaime Colegrove, Nichole Keppen and Krystal Schmandt will participate in a virtual wine tasting using flights from Hickory Creek Winery. (Photo courtesy of Krystal Schmandt)

“We don’t make much money off this,” McBride says. “The hope is to showcase our wines, maybe get in front of some people we wouldn’t have otherwise … and that someone has one of these tastings, really enjoys it and wants to buy one, two, maybe six bottles.”

Meanwhile, Schmandt and her friends have each preordered the same flight and can’t wait for their Zoom girls’ night wine-tasting party.

“We don’t have a wine trip planned this year,” she says, “so it’s going to be like we never missed it.”

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