One For The Road

Tasting rooms are closed, but wineries, breweries, and cideries across the state are open for pickup.

Sure, there’s more to visiting a winery or brewery than raising a glass. A good local tap- or tasting room helps you meet the personalities and learn the perspectives behind your favorite craft beverages, as well as offering events, food, service, and atmosphere you can’t get anywhere else. But while we’re missing those experiences right now, we shouldn’t be missing out on great craft beverages: wineries, breweries, and cideries are still open for takeout and delivery! It’s perfectly legal to get one for the road.

            While beverage makers have always offered cans, bottles, and growlers for sale, new rules are allowing them to offer curbside pickup and delivery by staff or other companies (GrubHub and the like), and the process for getting a shipping license has been expedited. The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) has also approved the use of novel containers—plastic bottles, jars, and other less labor-intensive, less expensive alternatives to the usual cans, bottles, and growlers.

            “Curbside pick-up, delivery, and shipping options have provided the best opportunity for Virginia wineries to get revenue during the pandemic. While we have always enjoyed the ability to ship, the utilization of curbside and delivery have been a direct response to COVID,” says George Hodson, the CEO of Veritas Vineyard & Winery in Afton and president of the Virginia Wineries Association. “The governor’s office, Secretary of Agriculture Bettina Ring, and Travis Hill at Virginia ABC have done everything within their power to provide Virginia wineries and Virginia craft beverage the ability to sell their products. VABC expedited the issuance of delivery licenses, which allowed us to deliver product ourselves. They have allowed breweries to send products to consumers, distilleries can send product directly to customers, and now Gov. Northam has permitted ‘to-go’ cocktails. While these examples don’t seem earth-shaking, they are undoubtedly huge developments in the craft beverage world!”

            Given the opportunity, says Hodson, the craft beverage industry is “doing what it does best. We are innovating, we are creating, and we are collaborating! Exclusive releases, discounted products, product bundles for virtual tastings. There are so many ideas out there! To be sure, this will be something that changes the craft beverage industry for years to come, but necessity is the mother of invention, and craft beverage will emerge from this crisis with many new ways to deliver our great products to the people who love them.”

            Ian Ginger, the executive director of the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild, also has effusive praise for the VABC’s quick regulatory changes, as well as for breweries across the Commonwealth who have, he says, “made an impressive shift from sales in their taprooms to delivery and pickup in basically one week. … They’ve done an incredible job modifying their business models almost overnight, as well as designing unique social media campaigns to promote new releases, delivery and pickup, virtual tastings, merchandise, and more. We’re seeing lots of creativity in the way breweries are marketing their products; it’s been remarkable.”

            To help consumers keep track of hours and sales options, the guild has partnered with Virginia Tourism to build The Virginia Craft Beer Run. The online beer finder lists breweries by region and city/county, and provides sales hours, pickup, delivery, and shipping information, and a direct website and Facebook links. The pandemic and resulting shutdowns, he says, are having “a very significant negative impact on breweries. … Folks are getting by, but it pales in comparison to normal taproom sales, especially on weekends.” Because many breweries are small operations without grocery store distribution, direct sales are critical. “Folks really identify with their local brewery,” says Ginger, “so we want to make it as easy as possible for them get the product and support the brewery.”

            The guild is working on a different type of beer run, as well. Themed around a traditional road race, the virtual beer run will be open from April 24 through June 10. Runners will register for a 5K or 10K run, but instead of gathering to race, participants will connect via social media. Don’t run? No problem: A virtual tip jar will be available. “One hundred percent of the proceeds from the virtual tip jar will go to brewers across the state,” says Ginger. More details are coming soon.

            Ginger also reports that he’s been working to connect member breweries who have out of code beer with distilleries who are making sanitizer. “Most breweries don’t have the facilities to make sanitizer,” says Ginger, “but they may be able to provide ingredients. We’re working with stakeholders to get a sense of our capacity to provide ingredients and to produce.”

            Like their wine and beer brethren, cideries have been finding new ways to run their businesses. According to Anne Shelton, the general manager of Albemarle CiderWorks in North Garden and president of the Virginia Association of Cider Makers, “Part of operating a small business is the ability to quickly adapt to changes, and the Virginia cideries have not shied away from the challenge. Cidery owners have had to adjust business models and construct creative ways to connect with their customers while following CDC guidelines.”

            In addition to curbside pickup, local delivery, and shipping specials, cideries are getting creative with their marketing. “Social media events, including virtual tastings, cider cocktail demonstrations, and take-home pairing dinners, have replaced onsite events,” says Shelton.

            “Even as we struggle to maintain staff and keep the lights on, it’s times like these that make us realize how strong our communities are,” she adds. “The industry has been amazed and grateful for the support of those who have ordered cider and connected online. This continued support is what all small businesses will need to sustain operations over the next couple of months. We look forward to seeing you when our doors reopen.”

Click here for a list of wineries and cideries open for pickup. Click here for a list that includes online shipping options, discounts, and local delivery. Click here for a list of breweries open for pickup.

Updated 4/21/20 to correctly identify the beneficiaries of the Virtual Beer Run.

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