Let the Wine Flow: East End Wineries Adapt to a Changing World

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Rosé has certainly become ubiquitous with the East End in summer, but Long Island Wine Country has been raising its profile, and offerings, with each passing year, well beyond the perfectly pink libation. As the COVID-19 crisis continues as this summer begins, the local wine industry—which often relies on tasting rooms and on-site events—has had to adapt, and quickly. 

With an eye toward the future and a focus on the present, Wölffer Estate Vineyard, Shinn Estate Vineyards and Sparkling Pointe discuss their experiences during the quarantine, including how they’ve survived with closed tasting rooms, virtual tastings and more.

On adapting to the quarantine:

“Wölffer Estate Vineyard is currently operating under the New York statewide order for wineries to be pick-up only, and work-from-home has been instated for any nonessential employees. We are continuing to supply our Hamptons wines, ciders, and spirits for the collective hunker-down through online sales, wholesale distribution and local pick-up and delivery services.” —Wölffer Estate Vineyard General Manager Max Rohn

“We’ve had to close down our B&B, which is usually at full capacity heading into this time of year. We have a great staff who have been wearing a range of hats and have been instrumental in keeping our business afloat during this difficult time. We’ve shifted our business to e-commerce for the time being, which is typically a very small portion of our revenue. —Shinn Estate Vineyards General Manager Chelsea Frankel 

“The Tasting House has been the heart of Sparkling Pointe. We celebrated last fall our 10-year anniversary. Over those years we have grown a wine club that is over 1000 members and we have been a constant place for people to celebrate their special moments. After our vineyard and winemaking, the Tasting House operations are where our team spent the majority of their time and energy. We don’t do paid advertising, so our hospitality, service, and great wine must lead to word of mouth recommendations and repeat visitors. We have poured everything into this. So of course, being shut down during quarantine completely turned our world upside down.” —Sparkling Pointe Direct to Consumer Sales Manager Melissa Rockwell

On successes and challenges:

“Despite the closures, we are finding creative solutions that can help maintain the retail business, provide jobs, and get wines to our customers in a safe way. We opened the first “Handsfree Wine Drive-Thru” wine stand, where customers can pull up in their cars, select wines and swipe their cards as we load trunks without having to even get out of the car. 

While our event schedule at the estate is still unknown for the summer, we have turned to Instagram Live to share music with our fans! Every Friday, tune into @wolfferwine, sit back, enjoy the music, and sip on some fantastic wines and ciders!” —Max Rohn

“Our customers have been incredibly supportive during this time. We’re so grateful for their continued support. Closing down the B&B has probably been the most difficult challenge. An unexpected challenge has been flying through shipping material!” —Chelsea Frankel

“We have been pleasantly surprised and enormously humbled by the outpouring of support we have received since the shut down. Our team has pivoted quickly, and our tasting house, once filled with guests, has turned into a wine shipping center. We are filling online orders daily. We are so grateful that our wine club members and past visitors still want our wine during this difficult time. We have also been surprised that we are shipping so much wine outside of New York State. We currently ship to CA, CT, DC, FL, MA, MN, MO, NJ, NY, NC, PA, SC, TX, and we have seen so many wine orders from each and every one of these states.” —Melissa Rockwell

On how the wine industry has been touched by the pandemic:

“Closing tasting rooms, where profitability is strong, is a huge hit to our business, similarly to other producers as well. Luckily, though, our wine shops are exempt from shutting down and we will hopefully maintain strong wholesale sales. On-premise businesses, like restaurants being closed during this time, have also been a huge hit on the wine industry. We believe, for vineyards, the support of our local communities for their favorite wineries will help us continue to keep our business running and grapes growing until we are able to open again! Once we are able to reopen, first and foremost we are ensuring the safety of our employees and customers. It’s going to be a change in how we operate, but we are going to invest the time to ensure everyone has a safe experience.” —Max Rohn

“We’re in the business of hospitality. Not being able to interact with our customers and share our love for our craft is challenging.” —Chelsea Frankel

“Staying positive, we know the wine industry has always survived tough times. If you look throughout history, during every economic downturn there is still demand for wine. It is the ultimate farm to table beverage. Because it truly is a farm product, winemaking cannot stop during a quarantine because Mother Nature pushes on. It is extremely expensive to manage farmland, grape growing in particular, so losing our on-site tasting room revenue and the revenue from restaurants serving our wine, has certainly been the biggest challenge that the wine industry is facing right now. 

However, once we do open it will be imperative to do so safely. There are great protocols provided to us from Wine America and Cornell, vetted by the CDC, Johns Hopkins, NYSLA, and NYS DOH, that will guide the policies and procedures of our re-opening and operations. It will certainly be challenging to change our ways, but we are up to the task to ensure we open in a way that protects our staff and our guests. Wine Tasting is a social experience so we must find a way to make it welcoming and fun, amongst all the important safety measures.” —Melissa Rockwell

On how to enjoy local wine during the quarantine:

“We’ve established a new offering, Private Virtual Tastings. These private tastings will be the virtual experience of what our guests have enjoyed at Wölffer Estate Vineyard for many years. Led by one of our amazing wine experts, participants will follow along as we present the three main wine tasting components—observing the appearance, smelling the aromas and tasting characteristics of the palate. What makes Wölffer Estate Vineyard so unique is our connection to the vineyard and growing process. We’ll dive into the vintage, sharing details about each varietal and how the grapes went from vine to bottle!” —Max Rohn

“We’re offering a handful of case discounts with flash sales taking place weekly. We’re offering curbside pickup at the vineyard as well. Our most successful initiative has been: buy five, get one free. We’ll certainly be bringing that back in the near future!” —Chelsea Frankel

“Sparkling Pointe is open for curbside delivery daily from noon–4 p.m. Call and we will discuss the available wines, make recommendations based on your tastes, process your order, and bring it outside for contactless pick up. We are often working with local vendors to offer weekend curbside pairings. We have an upcoming Sparkling Wine and French Macaron box available this Memorial Day and next weekend May 30 and 31. Tickets for this pairing box can be found on our website.” —Melissa Rockwell

Wölffer Estate Vineyard, wine stand at 3312 Montauk Highway, Sagaponack

Shinn Estate Vineyards, 2000 Oregon Road, Mattituck

Sparkling Pointe Vineyards, 39750 County Road 48, Southold

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