Keeping wine and spirits stores open during a public health crisis might seem like a punchline, but so far they have been deemed “essential.” People are stocking up to hunker down; they’re also turning to wine for its normalcy.
To share a glass is a most human endeavor, even when we’re sharing remotely. There’s some evidence, too, that people are buying more varied and adventurous bottles right now, perhaps learning more about wine—like baking bread, reading Tolstoy, and finally decluttering the home, things we’d always intended to do if we had more time.
The good news is that with just a little more effort (not buying wine at the grocery or big-box store), our purchases can help not just ourselves, but also our local small businesses and others in the wider trickle-down network. The following are some new, socially distanced ways to shop and share in this coronavirus era.
Order From Your Local Store for Delivery or Curbside Pickup.
The panic-buying of the last few weeks means that local wine stores have been slammed, even as they’ve been forced to shut for walk-in business. Many are rapidly upgrading their websites and online ordering capacities, and offering easy and convenient delivery or curbside pickup.
“We open the door; we step back; they step forward; we say hello from afar,” explains Mei Ying So, co-owner of Artisan Wine Shop in Beacon, New York, which also does deliveries to Beacon and three surrounding towns, and has a new web feature for cash-free tipping. Artisan has taken on staff (keeping locals employed), and its stock is mostly organic, biodynamic, and low-intervention wines, spirits, and ciders from “tiny, tiny” producers—those who most need the help.
Shops with small-batch specialities are everywhere; just call your local store and ask. But we also like Chambers Street Wines in Manhattan, Dandelion Wine in Brooklyn, and Oakland Yard Wine Shop in the Bay Area. If you don’t have an ongoing relationship with a local, now is an especially friendly and open time to start. Storefronts are closed, but employees are manning the phones, ready to help with orders and answer questions.
Order Directly From a Small Local Winery or Join Their Wine Club.
You may never have taken a trip to a winery tasting room, but in a way (albeit in a sad, pandemic-friendly way), it’s easier than ever. Small boutique wineries are very suddenly offering delivery, curbside pickup, enhanced wine clubs and discounts, and even some regional shipping—and are desperate for your help.
“Our business model has been shattered by the restrictions,” explains Mike Beneduce of Beneduce Vineyards in New Jersey. Beneduce and others like him make up to 90 percent of their money through tasting room sales—wine, food, events, swag, ancillary products—and tasting rooms are closed. These businesses are laying off part-time staff, fighting to save their grapes, and facing the reality that it may take them years to recover.
Their wine clubs, which offer monthly packages of bottles suited to various tastes, are a wonderful way to show ongoing support. As an emergency measure in the past few days, wine site The Cork Report has compiled this list of small wineries all up and down the East Coast and into parts of the Midwest with such offerings.
Visit Napa Valley has a similar list for the West Coast. Some highlights: Beneduce Vineyards makes food-friendly and highly regarded wine from aromatic varietals including Blaufränkisch, Cabernet Franc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, and Riesling; Old Westminster Winery & Vineyard, in Maryland, does sustainably produced wines and has an excellent new-wave sparkling wine program; Forge Cellars, in New York, is a Fingerlakes venture co-owned by a Rhone Valley winemaker whose family has been operating since the 1400s; and Left Foot Charley, housed in a former asylum in Michigan, makes crazy good Riesling, Blaufränkisch, and ciders.
Score a Restaurant Wine At Home.
This one takes some wine-nerdy know-how, but restaurants with good wine lists often have bottles not as available—or not available at all—in stores. Now they can be yours to buy and store (or just drink with dinner), since states are rapidly changing the rules to allow restaurants to make some extra badly needed revenue by selling wine to-go. Rules are in flux and vary state by state, but it’s worth asking.
Explore New Opportunities for Learning About Wine—and Pass It On.
The more you know, the easier it is to make thoughtful purchases and avoid mass-produced wines. And there are now some exciting new industry-insider opportunities available to the general public. Learning more about wine through these virtual avenues—and then sharing via the profusion of Zoom, Instagram, Facebook, and other platform-hosted happy hours and gatherings—is fun and will encourage your friends and loved ones to support small producers, too.
One opportunity is Wine O’Clock ("a wine social—from a distance”) on Instagram Live, run by Coravin, a wine-preservation-gadget company with a knowledgeable fan base. T. Edward, a craft wine importer and distributor of cult organic, biodynamic, and natural wines, has launched an expanded version of it’s T. Edward Morning Show, now daily on Instagram Live, offering virtual tours of its vineyards and wineries.
And tonight, March 28, is Open That Bottle of Local Wine Night, an outgrowth of an annual event called Open That Bottle Night. This virtual event is being promoted by a constellation of wine influencers to raise awareness, to instigate sales, and to toast the high-quality wines and incredible efforts of the thousands of boutique producers under duress during this difficult time.