When Brianna Day, the winemaker and owner of Day Wines in Oregon, closed her vineyard to visitors in mid-March, she feared what the future held for her and her staff. When the tasting rooms and restaurants were closed to prevent the coronavirus pandemic that struck the country, the task of an American winemaker changed overnight.
I have never seen a winery as small as mine and so dependent on the sale of the restaurant, said the day. Like many small producers who do not occupy as much sales space as large wineries with national distribution channels, Day has worked to develop their direct sales to consumers by offering free shipping for six or more bottles.
Today, almost eight months after the start of the pandemic, most wineries have found a new rhythm in the way they sell wine and conduct virtual or local tastings. Many say that survival would be impossible without one thing: their wine clubs.
Ours certainly helped keep the lights on in the early days of the pandemic, said Mike Benedus of Benedus Vineyards in Pittstown, New Jersey. The wine club members, he says, our best evangelists collect our wines and come to tell us about them.
Mike Beneduce Vineyards Wine Club describes our wine club members as our best evangelists. / The vineyards of Benedus are kindly made available /
On his way to Unionville Vineyards, General Manager John Sifelli worked tirelessly to build up a loyal wine club, which, as he said, paid a fantastic dividend when Covid struck. Without any advice from the winery, members of the Unionville Club seemed to support the company by buying more wine than their usual allocations.
With the spread of the pandemic and rising unemployment, some wineries have even recruited members faster than normal. We rarely leave the people in our wine club behind – usually just because I lost my job or died, says Randy Hester, winemaker/owner of Texas C.L. Butaud. So it was really cool to see the growth at a time when so much is going downhill.
This year our wine club is a life raft that will bring us ashore. – Martha Staumen, Martha Staumen Vines.
Just as the purchase of a CSA helps the farmer to prepare for the growing season, participation in the winery’s wine club allows a small producer to make new wines after aging. It also helps the winery to forecast the finances for the next quarter, which all companies are looking forward to in 2020.
This year our wine club is a life raft that will bring us ashore, says Californian winemaker Martha Stoumen Wines from her eponymous winery, which, in addition to the pandemic in 2020, has experienced an unprecedented season of forest fires. A wine club is incredibly important. As the rest of the variables, we can expect this income to come in twice a year.
Daytime Wines of Oregon has begun offering free shipping on selected purchases to create a direct trade for the consumer / Courtesy of Daytime Wines.
New wine club deliveries usually take place two or three times a year and most wineries offer free wine tastings, extra discounts on other purchases and invitations to parties and events organized for club members only.
If the extra benefits are good, most members stay ahead of what they find in the club.
When you join a wine club for a small producer you get the feeling that you are part of the community, says Thomas LaGambina from Chicago, member of Martha Stouman’s wine club, next to the other two. Everyone is friendly and equally passionate about wine production.
One of the biggest advantages of membership in a Winery Club is getting to know a winemaker, hearing the stories behind the decisions he has made for his wines and often for his family. – Christopher Miller, member of the Day Wines Club.
Christopher Miller of Corvallis, Oregon, is a member of the Day Wines Club, which also includes Oregon. In addition to the wine itself, one of the biggest advantages of being a member of a wine club is getting to know the winemaker and the stories behind the decisions he has made for his wines and often for his family, he says. This insight has enabled him to share these wines and stories with others.
We really enjoy our direct relationship with the winemakers and feel that our support goes directly to them, says Ian Enniss, member of the Martha Stoumen Wine Club in Durham, North Carolina. After Kovid’s coup this direct relationship became even more important because we knew that we were directly helping the winemakers and farmers who are so passionate about their work.
Small producers feel supported, and knowing that people drink and enjoy the wines they work so hard to produce is what supports them.
This is much more than just a financial ecosystem, said Staumen. The emotional aspect, especially this year, is no less important. I don’t know what I’d do if the wine club got dry.
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