Four Ways Thanksgiving in Wine Country Will Look Different in 2020

By Matt Wastradowski

Thanksgiving in Wine Country is one of the most beloved traditions in the Willamette Valley. Every autumn, wine fans from throughout the region bounce between wineries, enjoy rare tastings, save big on their favorite bottles, listen to live music, and more over Thanksgiving weekend.

And while COVID-19 has limited what’s possible in Wine Country this holiday season, there’s still plenty of festive cheer. So here’s a look at four ways Thanksgiving in Wine Country will look different in 2020.

Reservations (Mostly) Required

Woman wearing aa mask pouring a bottle of wine

Perhaps the biggest (and most important) change is that reservations are required at the vast majority of wineries and tasting rooms throughout the Willamette Valley—including at Elizabeth Chambers Cellar in McMinnville.

This change began in the spring and summer—and will continue for the foreseeable future—to limit crowd sizes, improve social distancing, and help wineries plan for the crowds.

In the past, visitors have bounced between several wineries per day as part of their Thanksgiving traditions. But with reservations now required and predetermined tasting times available at each winery, the change means you can plan ahead, slow down, savor the wines, chat with servers and winemakers, and enjoy the experience at a more leisurely pace.

(Photo by Joey Hamilton Photography)

In-person Events Slimmed Down—or Curtailed Altogether

Group of people having wine talking at a picnic table

Around the world, in-person events have largely been axed this year, and events that have taken place tend to look drastically different than in the past. (When was the last concert you attended, for instance?)

In some ways, this carries over to Thanksgiving traditions around the Willamette Valley. Fewer wineries are planning sweeping open-house events that enable visitors to cozy up in close quarters this year. Rather, smaller, more personal events are being held—with reservations generally required and social distancing strictly enforced. If a vertical tasting or food pairing event looks fun, be sure to book well in advance, since far fewer guests can be seated at tasting rooms this season.

Giving Season a Gift to Wineries and Visitors

This isn’t just a Thanksgiving in Wine Country change—but it certainly gives visitors much to be thankful for.

The Oregon Wine Board and Willamette Valley Wineries Association have teamed up for Oregon Wine Giving Season—where visitors can enjoy a variety of seasonal deals, discounts, experiences, and other goodies between now and December 31, 2020. 

Some wineries, like Adelsheim Vineyard, are offering taproom visitors discounts on online purchases; others, like Bethel Heights Vineyard and Honeywood Winery, are taking 20% off certain purchases (sometimes with a minimum purchase amount). Other wineries throw in gifts with certain purchases; Stoller Family Estate, for instance, is offering a heavy-duty, branded corkscrew with the purchase of three bottles. Yet others are getting creative with fun experiences; Coelho Winery is hosting a virtual tasting that includes three varieties of its 2017 Family Reserve Collection, while Cória Estates is promising a private vineyard tour with the purchase of a case of its 2017 Grey Label Pinot noir.

Food Bank Donations Go Virtual

One of the biggest changes to Thanksgiving in Wine Country—and the broader holiday season—is how wineries are taking part in their annual Willamette Cares Food Share. In the past, visitors could bring funds or food to participating wineries—and that would then get donated to the Oregon Food Bank Network.

But this season, those efforts will look wildly different.

First, visitors are asked not to bring food or cash donations to their favorite wineries—unless that winery is actively accepting donations (as noted on the Willamette Valley’s Giving Season webpage). This change is designed largely to cut down on common touch points and face-to-face interactions between wineries and food bank employees or volunteers.

Rather, wineries that participate Giving Season have collectively donated $7,000 to the Oregon Food Bank thus far—and visitors interested in helping the region’s less fortunate can make safe, secure online donations this season. Some wineries, like Soter Vineyards, are offering coupons and discounts with an in-person donation (which can be made on-site).