With their tasting rooms closed until at least mid-April, Michigan wineries have been shifting their focus to alternative revenue streams — such as online shipping orders — to weather the COVID-19 storm.
Governmental regulations for direct wine shipments and the supply chain itself have not been disrupted by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order, says Spencer Nevins, president of the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association.
“As far as Michigan’s laws, I don’t believe they have been impacted for the purposes of direct shipment,” he says. “The supply chain, including the supply chain for beer and wine and spirits, is also essential and is allowed to continue to operate. So, because those are the two critical pieces, I don’t think that the executive order changed how that currently operates.”
That doesn’t mean that common carriers (UPS, FedEx and the like) that transport wine can’t tweak their own rules, though. UPS, for example, is “no longer doing multiple drop-offs to closed businesses,” says Emily Goodell, a viticulturist at Lake Leelanau-based Amoritas Vineyards, which uses UPS to ship wine to customers.
“Usually, you get three attempts to get your wine if you weren’t there to sign for it,” she says. “It just means that people need to be more aware of where their wine is being shipped than normal.”
Amoritas is currently offering a few shipping specials, including penny shipping for six or more bottles with the code “penny.” While Goodell hasn’t observed an uptick in the number of customers ordering online, she has noticed that individual orders have gotten bigger.
“What we did see was a lot of wine club members adding on to their wine club order,” she says. “So, instead of getting four bottles, they got a case.”
While shipping is normally a secondary function for many Michigan wineries, some small producers, such as Charlevoix Moon Wines in the Tip of the Mitt AVA, already rely heavily on shipping for revenue. Tom Jaenicke, winemaker and proprietor of Charlevoix Moon, doesn’t have a tasting room, so he sells his wine online and at farmers markets. The one winter market he attends has shut down due to COVID-19, and if social distancing guidelines persist, Jaenicke may have to function with his usual season — May through October, five days a week — being cut short.
“I know (this situation is) very painful for the wine industry, particularly for those wineries that have large tasting room operations and so forth,” he says. “I feel for my brothers and sisters out there, and it’s probably affected me less than them, but if this continues much longer, I’ll be in a world of hurt as well.”
Until May 1, Jaenicke is offering $1 shipping on four or more bottles of wine. Offering dramatically discounted shipping has been “tough to absorb, especially on a small order,” he says, but like Goodell, he has noticed order sizes increase and says the promotion has been working well.
“If anything, I was getting two- and three- and four-bottle orders in the past, and now I’m getting six- or eight- or 12-bottle orders,” he says. “If people are staying home and following all the guidelines and laws, maybe they’re thinking, ‘If I’m going to be stuck here, I’m going to have some wine in stock.’
“I don’t discourage hoarding when it comes to wine,” he laughs.
As Michigan wineries face an uncertain future, now is the time to support them through online orders, Goodell says.
“If you have the ability to support your local wine industry and you can have wine shipped to you, now is a great time to do it because we don’t know how things are going to change from week to week,” she says.
To learn more about specials and promotions being offered by Michigan wineries during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit michiganwinecountry.com.