How You Can Help Local Wineries Survive The COVID-19 Pandemic

Photo by Lindsay Morris

“We really have no idea how long we will be closed. We are in uncharted territory. It all depends how long this goes on, how much people are willing to spend during this time, how much help we get from the government.” 

That’s what winemaker Kareem Massoud, whose family owns Palmer Vineyards and Paumanok Vineyards, told me earlier this week when I asked how long his business could survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

He’s not alone in the unknown. 

As of a few days ago, local tasting rooms are closed—at least as we know them. Those afternoons spent visiting a few of them, tasting through flights of wines, and lingering over a glass or two vineyard side? That’s canceled. For now anyway. 

That’s a problem for most wineries. They make most of their money through tasting room operations. You can—and should—still buy wine (more on that below) but like many small businesses right now, local wineries are worried.

Most wineries have a lot of overhead: loans from purchasing expensive equipment, mortgages on land and buildings, teams of employees in the vineyard, in the winery, in the office and in the tasting room. 

Some of those can be scaled back during situations like the one they find themselves in now. Some part-time tasting room staff are already being put to work doing other things. Others have been told to stay home because wineries can’t afford to keep paying them to staff empty tasting rooms.

“This is very difficult. The reality is sinking in that we will not be financially sustainable without making some difficult decisions,” said Massoud. “We have already made some adjustments to how many staff are coming in to work in a given week.” 

The unknown nature of the current situation compounds the problem. Wineries could have to stay afloat like this for weeks. It could also be months.

“[It is] very tough to tell,” said Gabriella Macari of Macari Vineyards. “We’re taking the news day by day and following regulations from New York State. We are working our best to not have to make staff reductions. We created a long list of marketing, office, and cellar projects for our team. Online orders and deliveries have been keeping everyone busy this week so far.” 

Local wineries need help and we as consumers can be a big part of that. Here are five things you can do today to help the Long Island wine community during this tough time.

Stay Home

“The most important thing our customers can do is to stay home. We’ll ship the wines to you!” said Suellen Tunney, general manager of McCall Wines

She’s right. Staying home is the best way to stop the spread of this virus and—hopefully—enable a return to some normalcy. The faster we get through this pandemic, the sooner your favorite local wineries can reopen their tasting rooms.

Keep Buying Wine

It may seem obvious, but Michael Falcetta, general manager of Sparkling Pointe told me in an email, “Folks continuing to buy wine from the local wineries will be the best way for them to support us in this most difficult time.” 

If you buy wine, the wineries make money and can continue to pay their bills. Besides, I think we all need wine to get through this. Best of all, just about every local winery is offering discounts, free local shipping and curbside pickup right now. Visit their individual websites and social media accounts for details. 

I’m also compiling an ever-growing list of East Coast wineries offering deals on my website.

Stay in or Join Wine Clubs

As we’ve covered, wineries are facing a lot of unknowns right now. Some are seeing a surge of online purchases this week, which is great but may not be sustainable for weeks or months. Wine clubs are a stable source of predictable income, and many wineries rely on them for liquidity, particularly at this time of year. 

By joining or staying in your wine clubs, you’re letting wineries know that you’re going to keep buying wine and that they can count on at least some money coming in.

Buy Gift Cards

Another great way to help your favorite Long Island winery is to buy a gift card today to use when the tasting room reopens. 

The same is true for your favorite local restaurants, by the way, which are being hit just as hard during this pandemic. Support them too by buying gift cards and ordering takeout.

Talk to your representatives

Wineries, like many small businesses, are going to need local, state and federal governments to help too. That means new legislation will need to be passed—and quickly.

You can help make that happen by contacting your local, state and federal representatives on the wineries’ behalf. 

“It would be extremely helpful to have their voices heard as customers and supporters as opposed to people from within the industry,” said Massoud. “Time is of the essence.”

This is a serious situation for our local wine community. Help if you can.

But, I don’t want to end this column on too solemn a note, so I’ll include this message from winemaker and co-owner Robin Epperson-McCarthy of Chronicle Wines and Peconic Cellar Door: “Sales are shifting from in-store to online, so as long as we continue to connect with our customers in a meaningful way and create delicious wines people want to drink, we’ll continue to operate. We’re strong as a team and industry, and we’ll weather the storm together.”