These small wine brands have found an opportunity in 2020, despite the setbacks

Amy Krahe and her husband Aaron Bryan currently sleep in their newly purchased cellar in El Dorado County, California. They own three small beverage brands: Conduit Wine, Divergent Vine, and Tag + Jug Cider Co. This life of a winery, well, it’s totally new to them.

Both self-proclaimed “city dwellers”, they had settled in San Francisco: urban winemaking, education of their young son, enjoying one of the most dynamic wine cultures in the country. In the spring of 2020, the couple applied for a loan to purchase a winery and vineyards in the Fair Play appellation, totaling 21 acres, six of which are planted with Viognier, Syrah, Tempranillo and Primitivo estate vineyards. Krahe says these are the highest plantations in the state: “mountain fruits, considered borderline continental climate,” shallow patches of soil bordered by outcrops of granite boulders.

The day San Francisco shut down due to COVID-19, they found out the good news. The loan has been approved. “It was not very encouraging because we didn’t know if we were going to lose our business, if we had to return to a day job or if we would be infected with COVID. So unknown, ”Krahe says. But they went ahead and closed the loan in late June, cementing a six-month process that Krahe said was filled with “submission and resubmission” of documents.

At the end of July, they made the decision to move, taking the “San Francisco crazy plunge to be landowners, water owners and winegrowers-farmers-slash”.

Krahe and Bryan organized the construction of a tiny house, working with a local builder who had lost his own place in Paradise in the campfire two years ago. In the meantime, they settled into a safari tent (at this point in the story Amy reminds me that this is all with a two year old son and that the building deal was done “on a handshake and in good faith – the country way “) until the August 2020 wildfires in Northern California broke out. Although sheltered from the fire, the air quality prompted the family to move in. in the cellar.

“Not ideal. We’re a little homeless right now, ”Krahe told me over the weekend. “The harvest begins tomorrow and it is our son’s second birthday.”

Despite all of this, Krahe and Bryan look to the future and plan to open their cellar to visitors after the harvest. “We will focus on light and bright wines, rosados, rosés and pét-nats as well as our ciders and cider-wine blends,” says Krahe. “It’s really stressful, but we hope we can get out of the other side of pandemic and fire season in one piece.”

PARRA wine company

Meanwhile, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Sam Parra, founder of PARRA Wine Co., publicizes the first release of his brand of wine. The range includes a “carbonic style” Tempranillo, a Tempranillo rosé, a single vineyard Syrah and a single vineyard Tempranillo.

Hailing from St. Helena, in Napa Valley, California, Parra says the Willamette Valley suited her perfectly. “It’s possible for many young winegrowers there,” Parra explains.

Earlier this year, Parra expressed her positive outlook and enthusiasm: “Although we are on the cusp of a pandemic, I certainly see an opportunity. “

Parra builds its brand on relationships, selling its wine exclusively through its mailing list. As spring 2020 unfolded in a summer season altered by a pandemic, Parra says he picked up the phone. “I’ve found that with COVID, some customers have more time and are happy to talk to someone new,” says Parra. “Some even sent me thank you cards for taking the time to hear them speak out if I caught them at a bad time.”

He also embraced the power of personal delivery service in the Willamette Valley and beyond: “I drove all the way to Grants Pass. I made deliveries along the coast. I have just delivered wine to Eugène’s customers for the first time.

Parra uses her brand’s social media footprint with a particularly personal touch, using Instagram Stories to connect with people through wine, music and food. He also hosted a Zoom tasting with a cooking seminar featuring tapas recipes he collected from his travels in Spain and Portugal.

Meanwhile, Parra is active in the local community, as co-chair of the Asociación Hispana de la Industria del Vino in Oregon y Comunidad (AHIVOY), an organization working to create “opportunities and empower Latin and Hispanic winegrowers in the Willamette Valley to overcome socio-economic challenges”.

Parra was also invited to participate in Celebrating Hispanic Roots, a union of several Oregon Hispanic vineyard owners and winemakers who come together for Hispanic Heritage Month. The group found ways to bond despite the pandemic, offering a virtual roundtable with participating winemakers on September 15, 2020.

There will be two events, one in Spanish and one in English. Hosted by Katherine Cole, Creator of James Beard Award-Winning The Four High Podcast, the panel will feature Parra and other wineries and vineyard owners to celebrate Oregon’s Spanish speaking community. The event is free and open to the public, register here.

Spencer Wine

Shaunna Cooper and Shayla Smith are two sisters behind Wine Spencer, the company they founded to help more people appreciate their shared passion: wine. Their mission is to “redefine what wine means and give it modern meaning, especially among minority communities, various ethnicities and cultures that have traditionally not been supported by the wine industry“.

Wine Spencer started out by offering in-person tasting experiences, private events for groups of colleagues, families or friends. But when the pandemic put an end to this style of gathering, Cooper and Smith revamped their business into a mostly virtual offering.

Many wineries have discovered the benefit of virtual tastings for connecting with customers and selling wine to people who can’t make it to the tasting room. Jason Lede, hospitality manager at Lede Family Wines, says wineries like his see the value of virtual events. “Digital is extremely important,” says Lede. “Consumers use social for everything. “

But for the virtual party to continue, brands must evolve their offer beyond the pandemic. Cooper and Smith got that and shaped their offering to include a set of bespoke online experiences, led by the duo for any group with a screen and internet connection.

Current courses include Wine 101, Rosé All Day, Let’s Get Bubbly, South African Wine Tour, and Black-owned Winerys. Each has an educational aspect and is fully customizable for the public.

Wine Spencer will offer a set of two to four wines that each group can easily purchase locally, to encourage access. “Our goal is to provide recommendations so that guests can taste the same wine together,” says Smith.

Experiences typically last 90 minutes to an hour, and throughout the event, guests enjoy anecdotes and quizzes and practical tips, like how to read the characteristics of a wine label. And the sisters insist on an environment where everyone feels they can participate: “It’s a safe space for people to ask questions,” says Cooper.

To book a time with Wine Spencer, contact us through their website. A portion of the proceeds goes to the BET Saving Our Selves relief effort with United Way. Wine Spencer is also available to organize bespoke tasting events for wineries or other organizations.


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Jean H. Vannatta

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