Contrary to what people might think about what winemakers are doing while the COVID-19 pandemic has stifled wine tasting activities in Temecula Wine Country, South Coast Winery’s master winemaker Jon McPherson is as busy as ever.
“We’ve got, I think I added up the other day about 40,000 gallons worth of wine that I’ve got to get bottled between now and the first of August,” McPherson said on a phone interview from his laboratory. “We’re working on it. Every week we got something that we do. But I’ve still got a little bit of May and all of June and July, and then for sure harvest will be here again.”
McPherson isn’t complaining, he said. He’s doing what he loves and is happy to still be working when many others are not. He also said he realizes that if he was not working, this pandemic could be a disaster for the winery.
“I know most of the other guys in the valley, they’re all in that same boat,” he said. “We didn’t plan on any of this beyond once it started happening and you realize real quick, Wow, I’ve still got bottling and I still got all these wines that I’ve got to take care of and barrel.’
“If we were physically not able to be at the winery, I mean, there’s potential for some loss there for sure,” he said.
While South Coast has remained closed, for the most part, with limited opening times for wine club pickups, they have seen quite an uptick in online sales.
“Our online store was, it was OK (before COVID-19),” McPherson said. “But it never did anything like what we would do out the front door. I could make up numbers, but we were probably 20 to one in respect to what we sold out the front door to what we were selling online.
“But now, all of that kind of flipped. It’s more like, you know, we’re selling 20 online to every one that we’re selling out the front door. We’ve had a great reception as far as people buying things online.”
The winery has been taking some of the proceeds from its online sales and putting it into a fund for furloughed and laid-off employees.
“Jeff Carter initiated that and part of the online sales proceeds are going to our employees in the form of food donations and things that we were buying to help them,” McPherson said. “I know that it helped us being able to pass food out to our employees.”
With the online marketplace ramping up, McPherson has been hosting some virtual wine tastings and videos, something the winery hasn’t done much in the past but is a way to reach out to customers.
“I like that it allows us to convey information,” he said. “When I do these little things, they’re always telling me, ‘Keep it simple. Don’t do more than three minutes, five minutes.’ I did one the other day; it was like 15 minutes. They don’t want you to oversaturate everybody with information and, as you know, I can talk about wine all day.”
But he thinks the virtual space is a good place to be because even when McPherson is waxing poetic on a varietal, the consumer can rewind and come back to finer points of his conversation.
“You probably can confuse people a lot with things that you say because they don’t understand,” McPherson said. “But they do have that ability to go back and watch it again or say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, what did he say? I didn’t catch that.’ People have the ability to go back and actually taste.”
South Coast’s program included creating packages of wine to coincide with the virtual tastings, so consumers could follow along.
But by having the videos accessible to everyone online, they can live a little longer, adding value to the consumer that may have questions that can’t e answered in an online transaction.
“If they have questions, they have the ability to ask,” McPherson said. “Sometimes people might buy something and they didn’t get a chance to try it, and they ask a question like, ‘I wonder if I put that in oak? I wonder what kind, was it French or American?’ When you have these online things, you have the ability to send in questions.”
McPherson knows South Coast Winery isn’t the only one doing this type of outreach.
“Marketing has realized, and they’re not alone in this, the data is out there from Silicon Valley Bank to Joe Blow, they’re all talking about the fact that everybody’s doing a bit more on social media and looking at their computers or phones a lot more because there’s not much else to do,” he said. “I think wineries kind of figured out real quick that posting virtual tastings or if you get the wines in front of people and talk about them, that the people are sitting there at home … and they’ll order that wine online.”
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.