Sonoma Coast wineries find creative ways to connect with customers
It was a happy scene one Saturday this month for the 65 employees at Redwood Coast Medical Services.
Daniel and Marion Schoenfeld, husband-wife owners of Wild Hog Vineyard, a small mom-and-pop operation in Cazadero, approached the Gualala clinic with cases of their wine to distribute to the healthcare workers, free of charge. Seventy-two bottles total.
“It was just wonderful; their wines are absolutely delicious,” said Tom Bertollini, medical director and family physician who snagged a 2014 pinot noir from the mixed case. “Everybody drowned their sorrows a bit in wine.”
Wild Hog Winery is one of several Sonoma Coast wineries that has gotten creative to connect with wine lovers as sales to restaurants have plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to donations to frontline workers, Sonoma Coast wineries — indisputably an important producer of pinot noir in the U.S. — now offer virtual tastings, curbside pickup, delivery and Instagram photo updates about their gorgeous coastal vineyards.
Daniel Schoenfeld said day-to-day life at Wild Hog Vineyard isn’t too much different; there’s still plenty of work to do when making pinot noir, zinfandel and syrah in rural Sonoma County.
“Everything out here is extreme — the air, altitude, terrain. We’re really off the beaten path,” said Schoenfeld, a founder of the Fort Ross-Seaview American Viticultural Area.
It’s the bottom line that’s changed. Restaurant distributors are no longer buying wine, and Wild Hog now relies more on sales at local stores like The Wine Shop in Sea Ranch, Surf Market in Gualala, Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, Duncans Mills General Store and Cazadero General Store.
It’s easy enough for Schoenfeld to maintain social distancing on a vineyard, but over the past few months he thought about frontline workers risking their lives.
“Most of us are sitting on a fair amount of wine right now, and there are a lot of people in the health profession who are having a really rough time,” Schoenfeld said. “So we’ve been making a point to give them wine.” He also donated bottles to Adventist Health Ukiah Valley.
Bertollini, medical director at Redwood Coast Medical Services, where the first coronavirus case in Mendocino County was seen, said the wine donations cheered up the stressed-out, heroic staff. It was reminiscent of other stories he had heard in the community, like people donating $100 bills to grocery store workers.
“People in the community realize how hard the frontline people are working — whether they’re in an ambulance or a grocery store — and they appreciate it,” said Bertolli, a former winemaker.
Nearby Flowers Vineyards & Winery is donating 15% of its bottle sales this month to Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit dedicated to making childbirth safer for mothers everywhere.
“It supports frontline workers particularly as we’re going through COVID,” said Leslie Sullivan, Flowers marketing director.
Flowers has a $55 bottle of 2018 estate pinot noir that has “dark berry, cranberry, rhubarb flavors with black tea and forest floor notes,” Sullivan said.
Flowers Winery has estate vineyards along the ridge tops of the Sonoma Coast just north of Jenner. Virtual tastings are available on its website and curbside pickup is at its House of Flowers, a luxurious indoor and outdoor food and wine tasting room that opened last June in Healdsburg.