You can say a lot about the pandemic, and most of it wouldn’t be all that great.
On the plus side, however, it created new opportunities for regional winemakers to connect with consumers, says Bryan Ulbrich, owner/winemaker at Left Foot Charley in Traverse City.
“The pandemic has allowed us to think in new ways,” he says. “We have been able to project our enthusiasm through the power of social media and develop new relationships.”
One event along those lines that garnered a lot of enthusiasm in its inaugural 2020 year was #openlocalwine night, which returns in 2021 on April 10. Michigan Wine Collaborative Vice President Gina Shay, one of its organizers, describes #openlocalwine as “a national toast to family-owned and craft wineries to let them know that their fans were still here and to drive some business their way via social media.”
“Consumers were buying ‘factory wines’ at grocery stores like crazy, but local wineries were hurting because their most relied-upon method of connecting with their customers — the tasting room — disappeared into thin air (due to pandemic closures), and most small wineries have limited or no distribution,” Shay explains.
So she and wine writer/publisher and podcaster Lenn Thompson of The Cork Report Media decided to launch #openlocalwine night — first on March 28, 2020, and followed up by a second one in May as some COVID restrictions were being lifted and wineries were reopening.
“The first event was so successful that wineries asked us to do another one not long after,” Shay says. “(The second one) was a celebration of wineries opening their doors — or outside patios or limited indoor capacity, as it were — again to their fans.
“We decided to track revenue raised from the event in May to measure the impact on the industry, and with only 30 percent of participant wineries sharing their sales numbers with us, we had raised upwards of $40,000 that went directly into local wineries’ pockets.”
How does it work? Consumers purchase a bottle of wine that is local to them. On Saturday, April 10, they are to open the wine and share it with friends or family over a meal. Organizers ask that participants then post photos with the #openlocalwine hashtag on social media and tag the winery that produced the wine they’re drinking. They’re also asked to tag @corkreportmedia, @lennthompson and @ginashay1 so they can amplify the celebration.
Meanwhile, participating wineries have registered to offer special packs of two, three or four bottles at a bundled price that might include a built-in discount, free shipping or both.
“Those proved to be extremely popular with consumers in both of last year’s events,” Shay says.
The event is actually national, with wineries from other states participating as well. In Michigan, wineries registered to participate and offering #openlocalwine specials so far include Amoritas Vineyards, which is also hosting a Live Virtual tasting that evening; Bel Lago Vineyard & Winery; Black Star Farms; Brys Estate; Detroit Vineyards; Fenn Valley Vineyards; Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery; French Valley Vineyards; Lake Michigan Vintners; Lazy Ballerina Winery; Left Foot Charley; Lemon Creek Winery; Mari Vineyards; Modales Wines; St. Julian Winery & Distillery (dry pack and sweet pack); Tabone Vineyards; Twine Urban Winery by The Roche’ Collection; and Wyncroft Marland Wines. To check out what they have planned, click here.
Ulbrich is among the winemakers looking forward to this year’s #openlocalwine, which he said garnered “great response” last year including several people who signed up for the Left Foot Charley wine club.
“The benefit of the event is to bring regionalism into the conversation,” Ulbricht says. “Every state has its own vibrant wine scene. This diversity is what makes wine so interesting. Wine lovers can discover the flavors of their own climate and support their regional economies as well.”
Michigan wineries are signing up to participate on an ongoing basis. For the most up-to-date list of participating wineries, click here.