Wineries are operating in uncharted territories. No one can predict what the long-term effects of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders will have on the industry. Businesses are suffering and wineries are no exception. Wine is as much a social experience as it is a sensory one. It’s often those experiences that help to curate buying and drinking impressions for years to come. Now that tasting rooms are temporarily closed and social distancing is the new norm, how will wine be experienced?
Wineries both large and small are looking to get the attention of the consumer. Undoubtedly, e-mails and social media feeds are being filled with content from wineries that are looking to adapt to this new reality promoting case deals, one-cent shipping, and virtual tastings. They are doing this all in an effort to connect with both loyal customers and in addition, build on their current customer base. Wineries with a large scale production, complete with tasting rooms and a sizable staff, have their own set of concerns; but what about the wineries that have limited production and no tasting rooms? These are the ones who rely on restaurant sales, tasting events, and word-of-mouth marketing. What steps are they taking to keep their name in the customer’s mind? They may not have the overhead costs involved with a tasting room, but they are also likely to not have wines on store shelves across the country, let alone in their home market.
Two words are crucial to small wineries now more than ever—connecting and collaborating. Two wineries who genuinely embrace this concept are Dane Cellars in Sonoma and Mountain Tides in Napa. Both are relatively small producers who are create handcrafted and quality wines at a competitive price. Neither of them have a tasting room.
What Bart Hansen, owner and winemaker at Dane Cellars, began to do are a series of virtual tastings. These “tastings” have been a collaborative effort of both Dane Cellars and Winery Sixteen 600. For each tasting, they showcase two wines from each winery and the experience is readily available to buy through their websites. Bart Hansen and Sam Coturri of Sixteen 600 are also hosts of The Wine Makers podcast, a weekly show that discusses all aspects of the wine world and includes guests from other wineries, journalists, and members of businesses that support the wine industry.
According to Bart, these virtual marketing tools won’t go away. He plans to keep offering his online tastings as a unique opportunity to experience his wine. Bart has hosted both corporate Zoom tasting events and small group tastings for friends who would otherwise be tasting together on vacation.
Scott Kirkpatrick, co-owner and winemaker at Mountain Tides has also been collaborating with other wine industry professionals on a slightly different level. Scott has been going to live on the Mountain Tides Instagram account to conduct interviews three times per week. His guests have included wine writer Elaine Chukan Brown (Hawk Wakawaka) and owner and winemaker Jennifer Reichardt of Raft Wines. His conversations are a fun and entertaining look into how the wine industry, both as a whole and individually, are coping with the current situation. Scott says, “The Instagram stories have been a big help. We are getting a lot of new customers.” Mountain Tides is also supporting healthcare workers by offering them a 30 percent discount through their website. Scott continues, “Our current crisis has reinforced the idea that we have to stay flexible and be able to adapt at all times”
Both Dane Cellars and Mountain Tides have seen an uptick in sales since they’ve initiated these new projects. Clearly, both have succeeded in fostering those important connections while still getting their name out there to a new audience.
While wine is a business and business means competition, there’s a community of people who are promoting the industry as a whole and not just their own brand. Small producers understand the value of promoting each other and that it’s in everyone’s best interest. What we learn during difficult times can often produce future success. While there is no doubt that people are looking forward to traveling and experiencing wine at the source, there are options now available that will make the time in-between that much more fruitful.
While wineries need to sell wine to stay in business, wine tasting is about connections. Consumers want to connect with the person behind the brand and having access to the owner or winemaker is can have a tremendous impact. Whether face-to-face or via computer, that connection is still being made.