In the not so distant past, COVID-19 could have been the name of a contemporary winery overlooking a sprawling vineyard, or the name on the label of some bold new release.
Alas, today we know all too well the dread that name represents. The virus has worked its way into every corner of our daily existence, depriving so many of us of life’s joys, large and small.
From the start of the quarantine, Idaho winemakers began tinkering with their business models with the same industriousness normally reserved for their products. It was the classic either-or scenario: keep the wine flowing or wither on the vine.
Wineries are like dine-in restaurants, places where people can gather, laugh and linger over a smooth drink or two and good food. But with tasting rooms across the state having to shut down, most local wineries’ appeared more like grocery stores — with new services such as delivery and curbside pickup.
The speed and convenience of these services were popular. All you needed was a phone or computer and voilà, your wine was ready to be picked up or dropped off. Then came the online specials, which offered wine lovers generous discounts.
But this was just the low-hanging fruit. Winemakers are creative people. And soon even more out-of-the-bottle thinking bubbled up to the surface.
Wineries began building “shipping bundles,” which packaged like-minded wines into mini-collections — imagine a set of sparkling wines or a sampler of wines for the summer — that sometimes came with pairings of chocolates, cheeses and other temptations.
Suddenly, wine club memberships, an important source of income for wineries, came with even more incentives to join: a regular supply of rare and interesting wines, sneak previews of new bottles and exclusive discounts. For Idaho wine aficionados, it was a two-way street. Membership was an easy way to support your favorite winemaker too.
It should come as no surprise, people in the wine industry are social beings. So, a pivot toward social media to stay connected with customers seemed to happen organically. Wineries across the state started hosting virtual tastings and demonstrations with winemakers over Facebook Live, exclusive events for wine club members on Zoom, or just posted more to keep customers engaged and entertained.
Forging new connections didn’t just happen online either. One quality that’s always existed within the tight-knit Idaho wine community is a collaborative spirit they all share. The virus has only strengthened those bonds. Even now, Idaho wineries (and cideries) are forging new partnerships in an attempt to keep everyone’s doors open across the state.
But one thing is certain, we cannot afford to let the industry fail. Idaho wines brought an additional $209.6 million in wine sales and tourism dollars in 2017. More important, they’re also engines of employment. In Idaho, wine generates more than 2,300 jobs, from the farmhand to the cellar master, with steady year-over-year growth since 2011.
Each of those numbers represents someone’s livelihood. If there is to be a future for the industry, the creativity and resiliency of the winemakers is only one half of the solution. The other half will be the continued support and dollars of Idaho wine lovers in and out of the state.
Now, more than ever is the right time for a generous pour and a hearty, “Cheers! To your health.”
Moya Dolsby is the executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission. Trained in communication from the University of Washington, Dolsby started her wine journey as the event manager for the Washington Wine Commission, where she focused on developing and executing local and national events. In her role with the Idaho Wine Commission, she is tasked with marketing and promoting all Idaho wineries and winegrowers.