(Review) Get virtually hooked on wines through online portal Vivant

June Lee

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Learning is made easier through live sessions with quizzes, videos, an Interactive Tasting Method and wine sampling sets, but it is the mission of sustainability that drives the whole programme

In December 2020, Burgundy-based Vivant debuted its brand-new interactive online platform that aims to connect winemakers, consumers and wine advisors through Live Experiences streamed in real time to your desktop. There are dozens of modules, called Experiences, covering some 38 producers and growing, coached by a team of about 15 wine advisors. At €149/S$239 a year, members get unlimited access to as many classes as they choose to join.

While there are many e-learning wine platforms, Vivant is one of the slickest designed ones we have seen – almost Apple-like in its beautiful, intuitive proprietary interface, and Netflix-like in its viewability and stickiness. That may be no coincidence, as Vivant is the creation of Silicon Valley investor Michael Baum, who is also the first American owner of a winemaking château in Burgundy, Château de Pommard, which he acquired in 2014.

Although Baum converted Château de Pommard to biodynamic viticulture, the fact that less than 3% of the world’s wines are sustainably produced ignited his next mission – to accelerate the industry’s transition to a sustainable future. “We’re putting all these chemicals in the ground and in our bodies. Not good at all,” he says in our long interview in epicure, April 2021 issue. That’s why you’ll find that 1% of Vivant’s membership fees and wine purchases go to the 1% For Wine initiative to help fund innovative new ideas and research to positively impact a sustainable future for wine.

Will you be a better wine drinker?

Aside from the sustainable mission however, has Vivant really made learning more fun? I took on a press trial to test out the features of the portal, and it didn’t take me long to get hooked on the many features of the site.

After registering an account, you’ll find a list of Experiences, which are short 45-minute modules on enigmatic topics covering France (for now). These are sorted by easy, or Essentials, such as The Roots of Champagne, or Bordeaux Basics of understanding Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. There’s also Regional, where I take my first class in A Sea of Pinot Noir in the Côte de Nuits.  For serious wine geeks, you can get further into the Interactive Tasting Method (ITM) with wines of the Loire, Bordeaux blends, or Alsace.

The easiest way to choose a class is to sort them by date, so go to the Starting Soon and Coming This Week categories that let you see the next upcoming classes. Remember, these sessions are conducted in real time. To get into a class, you have to register for it first, by clicking the Save My Spot button. After that, just log in at the appointment time and it’ll start streaming on the hour. Each class runs about 45 minutes – about the length of a television sitcom, without the ads, and are slickly fast paced to hold your attention. This again is not coincidental – Karlos Moore, the studio and production manager, is a former Lead Designer for NBC News Primetime in New York.

During the session, expect multiple things to happen onscreen as the timer ticks down. Swipe on one side of the screen to see and ask questions, chat with others, check out the leaderboard scores, and see who else has logged on from around the world. Swipe the left side for more information on the wine advisor, and wineries.

The session itself will comprise videos, guided wine tastings using the ITM accompanied by quizzes, maps of the region, and more knowledge quizzes where you can earn points to climb the leaderboard. You can choose to play along or just listen to the talks without participating. You can also join the session with or without the tasting sets or wines, which are bought separately from the retail section. If you do have a tasting kit, be sure to chill the wines beforehand and prepare at least four glasses, as the sessions move much too briskly for any sort of distractions while it’s in progress.

The ITM method will be familiar to anyone who has taken their WSET Level 2 and above. It’s a similar if more visually simplified way of understanding wines through breaking down each component of taste into profiles. A Chardonnay, for instance, is broken down by colour, aroma and palate, with final assessment of its quality. It’s not too difficult to get to grips with for a complete novice, but would be more engaging for casual wine lovers who already have some wine experience to be able to structure their tasting notes in a more cohesive way.

Up to four questions from participants are answered each session, depending on how many upvotes from other participants each question gets. That means you are more likely to get a vote for your question if it’s more interesting or thought provoking, which will then be answered in real time by the wine advisor. The cheery wine advisors are fond of dropping encouraging notes along the way, for example when all the participants get an IQ question correct (which means you’ve been paying attention to soil types mentioned).

While the Vivant-produced videos are an evocative part of the experience, sometimes the high quality of all the videos, quizzes and live streaming combined a bit too much for my network, leading to some lags at times. Try not to have too many things going on in the background. That said, I have taken 10 classes, achieved 3 badges including a Hotshot badge, and reached Vivant level 14 after 3 months – so you could say I’m a fan.

Overall, the Vivant experience is as pleasant as it gets for all levels of wine lovers. At a price that works out about S$20 per month for unlimited access to classes, it’s more than good value, but it does mean also that you need to commit to a year’s subscription as monthly ones are not available. As timing of classes vary, you also need to pin down your classes in advance and get them booked, or risk missing out. And finally, getting your hands on all the delicious sounding wines featured may not be easy in Singapore, but Vivant does a good job of shipping the sample sized wine kits out from France (at a cost).

Through all the classes, the environmental impact of wines are always addressed, and winemakers don’t shy away from addressing the issue in real, dynamic ways. If there’s anything that I learnt from Vivant (aside from memorising soil types in different regions), it’s also that all of us have a hand in making the right choices for the planet – and that the winemakers are right there on this journey with us.

Check out the portal at vivant.eco

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