Image: Traci Daberko

Sure, the pandemic altered how wineries conduct their tasting rooms. But some of those safety adjustments have yielded more opportunities for connection, for education, and (most definitely) for profit.

Newcomers and wine club members alike responded well to the slower, more focused interaction driven by Covid protocols, says Derrek Vipond, winemaker at Walla Walla Vintners. “I do not think we will be changing back anytime soon, if ever.”

He’s not alone. Here are four changes that may be here to stay.

Reservations

Pre-Covid, the state’s wineries rarely accepted—let alone required—reservations. But with the need to control customer flow, most embraced advance bookings, with walk-ins as space permitted. And wineries love it.

Karen Wade, owner of Fielding Hills Winery in Chelan, says reservations for October outings started showing up in the winery's online system as early as June. “We can staff better knowing what to expect,” she says. The change dampens visitors’ flexibility and spontaneity, but then again, you can show up assured of a spot rather than arrive to find the winery overrun by bachelorette parties.

Seated Tastings

Visitors at Kiona Vineyards and Winery (and elsewhere) used to belly up to the bar for a pour. Now, they take a seat, as they might for a restaurant dinner. Information once shared over the bar now happens tableside and might include visual aids like a two-sided map/menu that shows the block in the vineyard where each wine originates. “Think of it like a kid’s menu activity place mat but for adults,” says general manager JJ Williams. Some wineries even offer QR codes that link to videos and spec sheets.

This form of service—born of a need to space people out—is a radical change for all. One unintended result: Wineries see fewer visitors but spend more time with them. Customers aren’t the only ones who benefit. Kristine Bono, general manager at Tertulia Cellars, estimates their “spend per guest” went from $50 to $187.

Wine Flights

Repeated back-and-forths to pour each wine for those seated visitors also presented problems in a Covid world, since they increase contact with customers and other tables. So many wineries turned to flights, some in mini-carafes, others in individual glasses.

At Purple Star Wines in Benton City, owner Amy Johnson finds “customers actually like going at their own pace, and being able to go back and compare pours.”

Sips by Zoom

“I never thought that people would enjoy virtual wine tasting,” says Mari Womack, owner and winemaker at Damsel Cellars in Woodinville. But remote sessions let Damsel connect with wine drinkers who might not get to visit in person. This year, the ubiquitous platform we relied on for work, school, and the occasional doctor’s appointment became a hub for wineries’ release parties, club member events, and private and corporate tastings.

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