Uncertain times breed unusual moves for wineries, breweries

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Sharon Cannon stands ready to safely serve customers that come into Akash Winery and Vineyards to pick up bottles. The winery has developed partnerships with other local companies to create packages to encourage purchasing wine. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

If a bud break happens in Temecula Wine Country but the general public isn’t there to see it, did it really happen? Well, yes, of course.

That doesn’t mean those in wine country aren’t saddened by the loss of public participation in the grape-growing and winemaking process they love to share with their customers.

Since California Gov. Gavin Newsom called for all bars, wineries, nightclubs and brewpubs to close, March 15, a drive through the wine region is a little surreal. The only day of the year that the region is so quiet and still is Christmas Day.

Another of the area’s growing industries is the craft beer market, which will arguably be hit harder. The only saving grace for craft brewers is a slightly more familiar take-away sales market.

Still, both industries are trying to find ways to stay in business during a difficult time.

Wineries

“I think that, of course, sustaining cashflow is a challenge,” Akash Patel, owner of Akash Winery and Vineyards, said. “Our growth requires a large cashflow. With that being said, seeing this massive, massive hit to our cashflow, that’s the biggest challenge. There are so many things in the works and future plans and the biggest curve ball is how do you sustain that? And that’s why to me it is the biggest challenge.”

In a story by Wine Spectator, they cited data from a survey by Wine America on the effects mandated closures have had on employment, production, tourism and sales.

A sign on the front door of Craft Brewing Company in Old Town Temecula tells visitors that only their Lake Elsinore location is open during limited hours and try find their products at local stores and restaurants. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

According to the data collected from 1,000 wineries in 49 states, they reported nearly 5,000 layoffs and $40 million in total financial loss during the month of March. The Temecula Valley has certainly seen the majority of wineries laying off the majority of their service staff.

According to the report, the average winery reported a 63% decrease in sales.

To combat those damaging drops in sales, Akash Winery has turned toward partners to provide creative packages to its customers.

“We have collaborated with Tap’s Tacos, he usually does our Taco Tuesdays,” Patel said. “We’re still doing Mobile Taco Tuesday. They’ll deliver food with our wine. If you want to do a package deal, we have a couple different ways you could just do the taco kit or you could get a bottle of wine with a taco kit. With Nora’s Empenadas, we also have a deal with them, a dozen empanadas and a bottle of wine for a certain price point. Then we are doing to go orders from our winery and from both Naughty Pig Butcher shops.”

They also have partnerships with Pretty Paints and Grazing Theory – they are still looking for more.

“We can get products to people in a combination, and I’m trying to just partner up with as many people as I can,” he said.

Patel said they are also offering free delivery and shipping with and order of three bottles or more.

The Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association continues to promote the Sip From Home program offered by all member wineries. The public is invited to visit https://www.temeculawines.org/files/SFH_Winery%20Info%20for%20CV19_v6.pdf to learn more about which wineries are offering what.

Wiens Family Cellars has been doing virtual wine tastings on Facebook for guests and even Bottaia Winery, the by-appointment only winery in the area, is now doing delivery and curbside pickup.

In an effort to help employees, South Coast Winery Resort and Spa and Carter Estate Winery and Resort – both owned and operated by Carter Hospitality Group – are contributing 50% of online wine sales to provide food and other provisions to furloughed staff members.

According to a press release, the two winery resorts have seen a spike in online wine sales in the last two weeks and are tracking sales to begin assisting furloughed employees.

“South Coast Cares is the company’s grassroots volunteer outreach program formed and led by associates to support their community and team members,” according to the press release.

For more information, visit https://www.southcoastwinery.com.

An employee at Garage Brewing Co. fills up a growler. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Breweries

Black Market Brewing Co. has been limiting the Temecula and San Diego taprooms to take out food and beer purchases only. They offer Grubhub and DoorDash services as well as direct phone orders for both locations.

Wiens Brewing Company, Ironfire Brewing Company and Inland Wharf have also made adjustments to their hours and now offer only takeaway orders by phone and online.

Lou Kashmere is the owner of Garage Brewing Co. and was stopping in at his flash fire pizza restaurant and brewery recently.

“I don’t know, it’s devastating,” he said. “It’s like an out of body experience. But you know, I mean people are scared. I mean we’ve been fortunate in this area. We haven’t really seen the impact like the major cities have.”

Kashmere said some employees are unwilling to come into work because of the threat of being infected by the virus.

“I don’t make anybody work,” he said. “I’ve had numerous people stay home because I also have a production facility in Murrieta, and I give them the right to stay home. Some people have other people that have health issues, and they live in the same house.

“Other than that, it’s devastating. I don’t know what’s going to come back and how soon it’s going to come back, if it comes back,” he said. “There’s not much I can say other than God bless us.”

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.