Passionate and Determined, Willamette Valley Wineries Promote Online Sales to Counter Shutdowns

By Annelise Kelly

The Willamette Valley wine industry has always been up for a challenge. The passionate, determined people attracted to the craft (and the notoriously finicky Pinot Noir grape) are not easily defeated. Labor shortages, international trade disputes and climate change hasn’t and won’t dampen the community’s passion for crafting fine wine. COVID-19 won’t either. Although the statewide shutdown of tasting rooms (along with restaurants and bars) is having a sobering impact on winemakers’ economic outlook, Willamette Valley winemakers have risen to the challenge.

The wine industry plays a vital economic role here. According to the Oregon Wine Board, in 2016, Oregon’s wine industry contributed $5.6 billion to the state’s economy, supporting around 30,000 jobs that paid around $1 billion in wages.

How Are Oregon Wine Makers Responding to the COVID-19 Shutdowns?

“We’re seeing a lot of promotions,” says Jerry Murray, founder of Project M Wines which he runs with his wife, Meg. “Some people are doing virtual tastings and we’re considering doing that as well.” Project M bundled a discounted Apocalypse Pack: Two each of their 2017 Riesling, 2018 sparkling rose, and 2017 Personify pinot noir. 

Other wineries provide discounts, shipping incentives, curbside pickup, local delivery, and even takeout food. Willamette Valley Vineyards has their kitchen open for curbside pickup, and makes a $3 donation to Meals on Wheels for every burger. Jory Restaurant at The Allison Inn and Spa has family-style main courses for pickup. 

In addition to the obvious challenge associated with interrupted sales, Murray observes that “the wines don’t stop, they need our attention through this process. If we have to start canceling bottling that could that could be problematic. Malolactic fermentations are finishing this time of year. It’s essential that we be there to monitor progress and stabilize them when complete, and that we continue maintaining wines that will be bottled later in the year.”

Murray recognizes a potential long-term upside, as the situation forces wineries to become more adept at digital marketing and digital fulfillment, and gets the public more accustomed to buying wine online. 

Supporting the Willamette Valley Wine Economy

The Willamette Valley Wineries Association has shifted marketing efforts to help its winery and hospitality members by launching #wvcommunity, a central hub for special direct-to-customer offerings says Morgen McLaughlin, the organization’s executive director. Dozens of deals from member wineries are consolidated on their website. “Getting wine shipped directly from the wineries to consumer has become critical to the survival of the region’s many small and medium sized family-owned businesses,” adds McLaughlin.

Laurine Apolloni, owner and general manager of Apolloni Vineyards reminds wine enthusiasts that many wineries, even small ones, sell to local grocery stores, and that lots of wineries are offering drive-by pick-ups. 

“They are being very careful about social distancing,” says Apolloni.  “Everyone is trying to do what’s best for the big picture for the health and safety of everyone, and really being as supportive as they can while still everyone is obviously struggling with the financial changes in the short term.”

All wineries urge patronizing local dining establishments – take-out only, of course. “Quite honestly, we’re going to need our restaurants to be healthy and able to sell our wines again,” says Murray. “Those businesses are important to our long-term success.”