No industry has been left untouched by the impact of the coronavirus and the subsequent stay-at-home orders issued around the country. While we’ve documented the impacts on the music and touring industries, the affects on the travel, tourism and wine industries have been just as great. Along with bars and restaurants, tasting rooms are also considered non-essential business, leaving most wineries in in the North Bay and East Bay shuttered to visitors. Grape growers and winemakers have been tested before—you only have to look as far back as last fall’s fire season—and now they’re taking steps to adapt during the shutdown.
Sonoma County Vintners Executive Director Michael Haney knew his organization would have to move quickly to continue to support the industry. Soon after California’s shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 16, the organization unveiled its “Sip At Home” campaign. Initially, the idea was simple: Rather than visiting a tasting room, people were encouraged to support their favorite wineries in different ways.
The campaign quickly blossomed as wineries found new ways to connect with their customers via technology while still providing a unique wine experience. As the “virtual happy hour” became a trend online, wineries and winemakers began to develop virtual tastings, chef demonstrations, provided access with streaming interviews and other innovative ways to deliver content. What might once be doing in a tasting room setting is now being done over Zoom meetings, Instagram Live, and Facebook video streams.
A recent report said that alcohol sales were up 24 percent during the shelter-in-place, but that doesn’t tell the entire story for small family wineries working to get by. While many wineries saw retail sales bumps, the other portions of their business have seem dramatic drop-offs. Haney says the industry is resilient and will get through the latest crisis as it has in the past, whether it’s fire, flood, PG&E power cutoffs—or coronavirus.
Haney believes the industry will bounce back quickly once quarantine orders are eventually lifted and people are allowed to venture out in groups again. The hope is that all the digital connections made during this time will only connect wine customers with their favorite brands better and give them more reason to visit the wineries. The vintners organization also plans to make charitable donations to local organizations working to support the response throughout the crisis.
Listen to the full podcast episode with hosts Mike DeWald and Carina “Coco” Sterzenbach.