This pandemic is forcing a realization of just how tight our interglobal connections are. It’s been profoundly unsettling as we’ve watched the stock market tank, schools close, colleges send students home, supplies disappear from store shelves, events get postponed or cancelled, and major league sports suspend their seasons.
And then we started paying attention to Italy—perhaps a bit too late. Regardless: we are here and many of us are now under lockdown. If this doesn’t yet apply to you, believe me, it will shortly. So what to do? Maintain calm. And keep the corkscrew handy!
Here’s how many in the wine industry are adapting to the change:
Events Postponed or Cancelled
Pretty much every California wine event has fallen off the calendar. The 23rd annual Anderson Valley Pinot Festival has been postponed until next year. Pinot & Bubbles 2021 will be held Friday, May 14 through Sunday, May 16, 2021. Taste of Mendocino has been moved to next year at the same time: April 18, 2021 at the Berkeley Yacht club. The Monterey Winegrowers has moved its annual Wine Festival to August 29, and WIVI and Central Coast Insights in Paso have been moved to August 25 and 26, respectively. Let’s hope we’re out of the COVID woods by then.
Individual Winery Impact
The Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times” has never seemed more relevant. For wineries, the inability to be open for tasting will cause a grievous disruption to cash flow. The impact is far beyond how it will impact tasting room staff and that weekend infusion into the business: It means delays throughout the winemaking chain.
Steve Burman of the 3 Steves in Livermore, Calif., says he’s come to the conclusion that he has to put off his bottlings (scheduled for April and June). There’s simply not the cash flow to cover the costs right now. “I believe it’s smart to shut down for a period of time, but I don’t know how businesses will survive, when their sales are such an important part of cash flow management. We’re going to suspend all spending indefinitely.” That said, he is thinking about ways to make the best of it. “Heck, everyone will be stressed out and need alcohol anyway!”
Tommy Fogarty of Fogarty Winery in Woodside, Calif., admits to having high anxiety, an emotion shared by many in the industry. In a Facebook post, he broke it down succinctly: “Here’s what actually happens at a small winery (and you can imagine similar for independent restaurants, bakeries, fine food, artisan products or art businesses). Conscientious and proud people working very hard for far less than they’d make at a big company. People looking at every single penny that gets spent, hoping to add meat to our paper-thin margins. This includes working with antiquated equipment and fixing it themselves instead of paying for repair or replacement. People commuting long distances because they can’t afford to live nearby. People spending their weekends and evenings away from family raising awareness about the product they’ve lovingly made, and trying to explain the difference between a real quality wine and the millions of gallons of factory-made but cleverly marketed garbage out there. People genuinely focused and passionate about the work they do, not “phoning it in” and waiting for their next day off. People working long days (and nights during harvest) in bitter cold or scorching hot conditions on uneven mountain terrain in vineyards. People spending hours and hours poring over P&Ls and Balance Sheets trying to justify growing grapes and not luxury homes. People in cellars doing tedious, back-breaking and sometimes dangerous work with heavy barrels, tanks and equipment. People spending an unreasonable amount of hours dealing with the arcane, needlessly complex and increasingly expensive regulatory and taxation systems. People being asked to wait for payment while simultaneously writing checks to entities and agencies that will NOT wait for payment because, well, as a small business we just don’t pull much weight.”
He says we should all patronize small businesses now, as many of them will fail otherwise. His message: Stop buying stuff on Amazon and buy local instead.
We heard from Sam Tesconi of Ramey Wines (Healdsburg, Calif.), who wanted to share this with you: “We’re running a Wine Club shipment in the middle of all of this, and the big takeaway was anticipating the needs of your club members. Many are under quarantine, too. When you are exiled from your office and events are so fluid, you don’t think about your wine club shipment arriving to an empty business. So we were proactive and clear in how we recommended updating their shipping address in the time of Corona.”
From Chris Howell of Cain Vineyards (St. Helena, Calif.), comes this sobering, but grounding observation: “Although it doesn’t rise to quite the same level of urgency, just as the cows need to be milked (twice a day!), our vines require constant attention.
“Lockdown or no, we’ll be in the vineyard. Where we are somewhat less clear concerns the operation of our bottling line, which involves many hands, working closely together. For this reason, we stopped bottling, to the great concern of our highly committed staff. That being said, the wine doesn’t wait.”
Wine to go?
As restaurants scramble to adopt a takeout only model, many wineries are following suit.
Near Sebastopol, Calif., Balletto Vineyards tasting room will be open for pick-ups and retail purchases only. It’s offering complimentary deliveries to anyone in Sonoma County. But even if you don’t live in the area, you can purchase wine online and have it shipped directly to your door for only 1¢ (for a six bottle minimum). May we recommend their rosé? It will brighten even the gloomiest of lockdown days.
Handley Cellars in California’s Anderson Valley is offering 1¢ shipping on all orders of four bottles or more. Use the code WELOVEYOU when ordering online. Staff is available to assist you via phone or email Monday-Friday during regular work hours. Shipments will be processed daily and pick-up orders are also available.
From our friends at Mi Sueño in Napa, Calif., came this kind offer. “As you take time with family in a safe setting, Mi Sueño is here to offer a little respite from these hectic times. Keep your cellar stocked for the days ahead and skip the trip to the store. Our wines can be shipped safely, straight to your doorstep. Why not make the most of the time you’ll have at home with delicious wine, be it with a shared family meal or a simple Netflix and Chill.”
From Kent and Lisa Callaghan of Callaghan Vineyards in Elgin, Ariz., we received a note saying they will be offering private tastings by appointment for groups of six or less, Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Says Kent, “All wines are available for will call at the winery. We have more than 30 vintages of wines! We can put your order together and hand it to you in the parking lot. Consider how our wines can be paired with your favorite spring meals. Also, what about a vertical of Padres, Caitlin’s, or Claire’s?”
How about some cheese with that order? Starfield Winery, in the beautiful Sierra Foothills of California, is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for order pickups. On orders of six or more bottles, you’ll receive a complimentary, take-home cheese plate. Cheese and wine are pretty fine! They’re also offering $5 ground shipping on all orders of three or more bottles. Customers in Alaska and Hawaii, enjoy 2-day shipping at half the regular rate: use SENDWINE at checkout. They also have 57 miles of nature trails to enjoy. Get out for some fresh air while picking up the wine.
Make It Charitable
Bricoleur Vineyards in Windsor encourages you to shop online and enjoy flat rate shipping of $9.95 in California. (Code: SipFromHome) Additionally, they’re committed to donating 10 percent of all wine purchases (excluding shipping & taxes) to The Redwood Empire Food Bank to help provide food to those who need it at this time. The winery has worked closely with REFB before and stand by its mission in serving the local community.
Also supporting REFB is winemaker Josh Phelps, who will be donating 10 percent of sales from Grounded Wine Co. to help those who’ve been significantly impacted by the coronavirus shutdown. “The moment we’re living is a great opportunity to take care of each other and come closer together as a community,” said Phelps in the announcement. “The unprecedented ripple effect of the coronavirus has had a devastating and unexpected impact on our friends and neighbors who have temporarily lost their jobs.”
Kathleen Inman of Inman Wines in Santa Rosa, Calif., has a series of three-packs ready to roll, including rosé, bubbles, and single vineyard Pinot Noir. To support at-risk elderly Americans, 5 percent of the proceeds will be donated to Meals on Wheels. If you purchase one of Inman’s three-packs, you’ll also be invited to join a series of scheduled online “Meet the Maker” happy hour tastings via Facebook Video Chat, where you can enjoy the wines together with fellow wine lovers. Inman says, “As our country collectively goes through this difficult period of social distancing, I wanted to harness the power of the internet to connect over wine. Social media has received its share of criticism, however in these times, I believe it provides our greatest opportunity to combat the feelings of isolation. Wine is unique in its ability to connect us with our senses, the present moment, and community. I’m looking forward to safely sharing a glass of wine with friends, new and old, through these tastings.”
Make It Interactive
Zoom will become a very popular way for winemakers to connect with their fans and followers. Think about Facebook tastings. Instagram contests. Astra Digital Marketing Services in Napa advises wineries to suggest which board games pair with their wines. It also suggests teaming up with local restaurants that offer takeout and delivery: Buy a certain amount of wine and get a gift card for that restaurant. Take it a step further and offer that restaurant your wine at a slick price.
Parallel Wines, produced by top consulting winemaker Philippe Melka, has launched a private online tasting experience to foster friendship, education, and community. The idea is to get no more than 8 people together for an interactive experience led by General Manager Adrienne Capps, during which guests will taste Russian River Chardonnay, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Black Diamond Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Receive everything you need for a tasting at home, including sample wines, food pairing suggestions, tasting notes, wine order forms, and Wine Club materials. Tastings are $95 per person, and are complimentary for up to four if you’re a wine club member.
Make It A Diversion
Shopping online is the best way to help support wineries all over the country. And if you can, go pick up the wine—it will make for a diversion, even if you’re just driving along otherwise empty roads after you’ve made your grocery run. Expect that lines will be longer at all grocery stores, and there may actually be restrictions on when you can shop, depending on where you live. I’m remembering the oil embargo of the 1970s, where you could only gas up on certain days of the week, based on the last digit of your license plate. Yes, it’s coming. But this gives you more time to do research and explore the online world.
Speaking of oil, winery owner and artist, Gary Conway, of Carmody McKnight in Paso Robles, Calif., reminds us of the importance of olive oil and good balsamic vinegar, along with wine, as part of a healthy, Mediterranean diet. He’s Sicilian. His daughter, Kathleen, makes an incredible selection of fabulous infused Tuscan olive oils and flavorful balsamics from their organically tended property. She also makes delightful sparkling wines, including from estate grown fruits like lemon and pomegranate. Consider signing up for their olive oil and balsamic clubs, so all the good stuff gets delivered right to you.
Gary and I always have joked that what makes the world go round is also round. Think about it. All good things are round: olives, grapes, tomatoes, tomatillos, cranberries, hazelnuts, lentils, radishes, oranges, beets, etc. His wife, Marian McKnight Conway, who appears as Mother Nature in an email reminding people that olive oil and wine are basic disease defense agents, was Miss America in 1957. She’s as beautiful as ever and advises you to “Listen to your Mother.”