The Covid-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on the wine, food, and hospitality industries and as most businesses remain closed until further notice, these industries are finding creative ways to work together in an effort to generate revenue and stay afloat. Wine brands are partnering up with restaurants, retailers, purveyors, and hotels to offer consumers unique experiences and deals they can enjoy at home and in the future.
“I think that it is so important for us all to come together during this time to support each other,” said Katy Wilson, owner and winemaker of LaRue Wines in Sonoma, Calif. “Wineries, restaurants, and the whole hospitality industry are all connected. I want to do everything I can to help because I know that every little bit matters.”
Many wineries are looking no further than their backyards to find partners within their local communities. Round Pond Estate in Rutherford, Calif., for example, worked with the Bodega Bay Oyster Company to create a BBQ Oyster Kit for Memorial Day Weekend, which included wine pairings and a virtual cooking class. In partnership with local farms and purveyors in the Seattle area, Matthews Winery in Woodinville, Wash., has been curating weekly Family Meal boxes for its customers. Each box comes with a bottle of wine and ingredients for an at-home dinner. Bryan Otis, proprietor of Matthews, said that they’re averaging 120 to 160 meals a week.
The MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa in Sonoma partnered up with 10 local boutique wine brands for a Sip Now, Stay Later promotion. For every case purchased through one of the wineries, MacArthur will provide a complimentary night stay (on a two-night minimum booking). Three Sticks Winery reported selling more than 20 cases since the promotion launched the second week of May. “It’s a win-win for all sides,” said MacArthur Place general manager Ruben Cambero, who added that he expects the promotion to drive several hundred thousands of dollars overall. “This incremental revenue — roughly $350 to $800 per case — helps to offset the lack of tasting-room revenue during the wineries’ closures. For MacArthur Place, this partnership spurs future hotel bookings to balance an otherwise lean reservation book.”
On May 12, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced reopening guidelines under which wineries would only be allowed to serve wine in Stage 2 if they offer sit-down meals, though this is subject to approval in each individual county. As of now, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, and El Dorado wineries are allowed to welcome guests if they serve these sit-down meals outdoors. Those that don’t have an in-house culinary team are seeking assistance from local restaurants or catering companies, like Three Fat Guys Wines in Sonoma, which has hired the local Picazo Food Truck. Sbragia Family Vineyards in Geyserville, Calif., has partnered with Sonoma’s famed restaurant, The Girl & The Fig, to provide a selection of lunches for two on its expansive outdoor terrace. “John Toulze [executive chef and managing partner of The Girl & The Fig] has been speculating that wineries, especially those with expansive outdoor spaces, would be the new restaurant space, that folks would be more interested in eating outdoors than indoors, and they have the ability to socially distance tables,” said Steven Cousins, CEO of Sbragia. “We were planning on launching The Girl & The Fig at Sbragia by next weekend, but little did we know that we would be required to provide a meal as part of wine tasting per the orders coming from the county health department.”
Reinventing an Old Concept
While events and experiences cannot be held in-person, wine brands are finding ways to recreate their offerings for the home. For years, DeLille Cellars in Woodinville, Wash., has offered DeLille Date Nights, consisting of a wine dinner at its tasting room. It has since pivoted to a takeout menu with its catering partner but, seeking a way to reach its fans in the city, it also teamed up with Metropolitan Grill in Seattle. The Metropolitan sold more than 140 takeout dinners (which included a bottle of DeLille wine) over the first weekend and it was so successful, it recently did a second promotion.
Another popular tactic is going virtual. Gran Moraine in Yamhill, Ore., got creative with a national account partner to host a three-course virtual wine dinner on National Chardonnay Day. The promotion was offered at 10 restaurant locations and approximately 50 households tuned in to a live Zoom discussion about the food and wine. Malibu Beach Inn in Malibu, Calif., offered a four-course Virtual Winemaker’s Brunch in partnership with Champagne Henriot, broadcasting live from Burgundy.
Supporting a Good Cause
The most rewarding partnerships are those that drive revenue, but also support a charitable cause. Noah Dorrance of Reeve Wines in Healdsburg, Calif., recently kicked off a grassroots effort called Drink Cali 4 Good that encourages wineries to partner with restaurants for one-day, online promotions, and then pledge a portion of wine sales to their respective employee relief funds. Dorrance tagged several other vintners on Instagram to join in, including Wilson of LaRue Wines. Wilson teamed up with New York City’s Anton’s, a new cafe and wine bar that opened its doors a mere six months ago and had just picked up LaRue Wines for its list. Thirty percent of proceeds were donated to Anton’s employee relief fund and Wilson added some extra incentive to the promotion by offering 1-cent shipping and entering any order of three bottles or more into a raffle to win a magnum of Pinot Noir. A total of eight cases of wine were sold, resulting in a $2,000 donation to assist Anton’s employees.
In a similar vein, Press Restaurant in St. Helena, Calif., created a Wine Thru as part of its takeout program, which offers 5-ounce samples of new releases from local winery partners. Priced at $5 per sample, proceeds go toward Press’s Employee Fund for furloughed employees (the restaurant is selling between 40 and 125 samples a week). Press is also buying full bottles to sell through the Wine Thru; a total of 330 have been sold six weeks into the promotion. “The Wine Thru has allowed us to support both the sales efforts of wineries in a small way, but, most importantly, guests can taste new-release wines in a way that isn’t being done anywhere else right now,” said Samantha Rudd, owner of Press.
Aperture Cellars in Healdsburg was nearing its grand opening when the pandemic hit and so winemaker Jesse Katz decided to turn the food and wine pairing experiences he was busy curating with local chefs into at-home offerings, including chefs’ recipes and cooking classes. Proceeds from these experiences are donated to a variety of local charities and Aperture has been able to distribute over $30,000 in donations thus far. “We are lucky to be in the era of the conscious consumer,” said Katz. “People want to put their money toward a product or experience that they can feel good about.”