Wineries Diversify with Culinary Programs

By Annelise Kelly

Fragrant blossoming orchards, the first tender wildflowers, the hum of insects over dazzling green hillsides: Spring in the Willamette Valley is a ritual of renewal, often celebrated by venturing to tasting rooms and sampling our celebrated wines.

This year is different. Tasting rooms are dry, as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. Wineries can sell bottles, but they can’t pour. Restaurants are reduced to take-out or closed entirely. Community-minded wine makers, while feeling the pinch, are launching new culinary programs to maintain connection with their customers, members, and neighbors, while helping other local purveyors weather the storm.

“As the crisis hit, we saw this would affect our community in a lot of different ways,” says Anthony Van Nice, President of Soléna Estate in Yamhill. “Some will be impacted directly by the COVID virus, others by the economic crisis. Some don’t feel comfortable leaving their homes. We wanted to think of a way we could help.” After discussing this with Hyland Estates in Dundee and Carlton Farms in Carlton, the two wineries crafted a no-contact home delivery service, bringing fine wine and Carlton Farm’s premium pork and beef to Yamhill county residents. This program also donates 10 percent of proceeds to the Oregon Food Bank (OFB) and the wineries are inviting customers to redirect their 25 percent case discount on wine to the OFB. 

Seufert Winery in Dayton has partnered with a variety of wine country purveyors for their Local Kitchen Experience, a weekly food and wine pack offered by delivery or curbside pickup. Each week, they provide a recipe, one or more key ingredients, and a hand-picked bottle to match. Partners have included Northwest Fresh Seafood Company in Newberg, providing salmon; Eola Crest Cattle in McMinnville supplying beef; and Our Table in Sherwood offering root vegetables and herbs.

“There are two agendas. One is to create a celebratory moment for our guests,” explains Michelle Wasner, General Manager. “The second confronts the ironic fact that Dayton and the surrounding region is a food desert, so connecting locals with food resources has always been something I wanted to do. We’re supporting local purveyors who are having a large part of their business cut due to restaurant closures.”

Soter Vineyards in Carlton is part of a vast biodynamic farm called Mineral Springs Ranch. In keeping with biodynamic principals of biodiversity and soil health, the property’s 40 acres of vineyards are complemented with vegetable, fruit and berry farming along with flocks of animals such as Highland cattle, chickens, turkeys, goats, and heritage breed pigs. They have converted their tasting room into the MSR Marketplace. On offer: Fully prepared family meals; an assortment of DIY kits, such as a cornbread kit with house-grown and ground cornmeal; foods prepared in-house like Beef Bolognese and pickles; and their own Scottish Highland beef, available ground. 

“Our motivations were twofold,” says Julia Bandy, Director of Consumer Sales and Marketing. “We want to keep as many staff employed as we can. We did have to lay off many team members, this was one way to get creative and keep our culinary team busy. Secondly, food is part of everything we do here at MSR. It’s been an incredible hit, we’ve been so busy that we hope we can bring back some staff members soon. And it feels really good to be busy, and have a creative outlet.”

The Willamette Valley agricultural community has always been tightly knit and mutually supportive. By launching these programs, wineries are capitalizing on the inherent simpatico between local food and wine while investing in the region’s long-term economic resilience. Even as COVID-19 delivers sobering lessons on the degree to which everything is connected, the farms and wineries are strengthening ties in a delicious expression of collective economic and moral support.