West Coast tasting rooms have been closed for more than a month now, and Napa wineries are looking for new ways to keep revenue flowing. Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), a nonprofit trade association with 550 winemaking members and also the organizer behind the recently canceled Auction Napa Valley, has created a promotion to help struggling wineries. For Napa wine fans and collectors, it's an opportunity to grab some great collectible wines.
"Open the Cellar" is an effort to provide wine enthusiasts with special bottles that cannot typically be found in their home markets. NVV has put together two offerings since tasting rooms closed on March 16—from March 30 to 31 and from April 13 to 14. Turnbull, Stag's Leap, Paul Hobbs, Silver Oak and Mayacamas were among some of the participating wineries. The promotions have been well-received, encouraging member wineries to keep their cellars open for business. NVV says future offerings are in the works.
Visitors are crucial to Napa’s small, family-owned wineries. According to Visit Napa Valley, the local tourism organization, the county hosted 3.8 million visitors who generated $2.23 billion in direct spending in 2018. The single largest component of that spending was on retail, including winery tasting rooms, which accounted for 33.5 percent of all spending, or $747 million. According to 2019 data from WineDirect, a consulting firm that helps with direct-to-consumer sales, only 11 percent of sales in Napa Valley came through e-commerce that year. Most NVV members make less than 5,000 cases of wine per year and rely on tasting rooms filled with visitors to sell it.
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While tasting rooms may be shuttered, wineries have reported great success with the "Open the Cellar" initiative. The latest offering consisted of more than 350 wines ranging from $25 to more than $600, spanning 20 grape varieties and more than 20 vintages, including Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Martha's Vineyard 2009, Pahlmeyer 2011, Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard 2016 and even a 1991 Zinfandel from Frog's Leap.
"I can report that, based on a recent member survey, 50 percent of respondents reported an increase in direct-to-consumer sales since the shelter-at-home order began," Teresa Wall, senior director of marketing for NVV, told Wine Spectator.
Success was also measured by brand exposure, which is especially important for small wineries. According to Wall, NVV received positive feedback from its members, who benefited from the regional promotion and received referral traffic to their websites.
As California awaits reopening orders, NVV is working on other creative strategies to help support its members, while keeping its "Open the Cellar" program in place, including “Open that Bottle” virtual tastings highlighting specific members. There are more than 50 virtual tastings coming up this month alone.