Baby boomers will likely remember the white-uniformed milkman leaving a crate of milk bottles on the back porch or perhaps the Helms Bakery truck driving through California neighborhoods, drawing families outside to buy breads and pastries from the driver.
With tasting room and restaurant shutdowns stalling Sonoma wineries in their sales efforts, some are now doing good old-fashioned doorstep deliveries and curbside pick-ups to keep the flow of vino going to sheltered-at-home consumers. These are slow ways to move wines — low-tech, time-intensive and certainly not efficient. Yet the personal touch, from a safe 6-foot distance, seems to be resonating with deliverers and recipients alike.
Zina Bower, partner with winemaker Nikolai Stez at Woodenhead Vintners near Forestville, oversees marketing, the tasting room and the wine club. “It’s been tough without our tasting room,” she said. “We’re a boutique producer, making about 3,000 cases of wine a year. We’re mostly direct-to-consumer, tasting room and wine club (sales), and our shipper (in Windsor) is backed up in getting orders out.”
So she arranges for curbside pickups at the tasting room and makes free deliveries of Woodenhead’s pinot noirs, zinfandels, sparklers and other wines to the hunkered-down, typically within a 15-mile radius of Santa Rosa.
“I love it and people love it,” Bower said.
Brian Gearinger is one of the customers enjoying the new in-person service. The Santa Rosa trial attorney, a Woodenhead wine club member, ordered a case of wine and was thrilled when Bower delivered it to his driveway.
“We’ve known Zina for more than 10 years and have taken out-of-town visitors to Woodenhead,” Gearinger said. “It was great that she came to our house.”
Gearinger and his family bought the house after losing their Fountaingrove home in the 2017 Tubbs fire. The new home came with a 1-acre vineyard planted to zinfandel, so when Bower, a zin fanatic, dropped off the wine, she got something too, a tour of the vineyard from Gearinger, at a safe 6-foot distance.
Here are five Sonoma wineries making deliveries and friends along the way. Normally, state law prohibits wineries from providing free delivery and shipping as part of the sale of alcohol. But during the coronavirus crisis, the state is allowing complimentary delivery of wine, although this regulatory relief can be rescinded at any time. Order up now.
Blue Farm Wines
Proprietor Anne Moller-Racke and her daughter, Hannah Gropman, sell their remarkable pinot noirs and chardonnays to wine club members and during private visits in the Blue Farm Pump House, an intimate tasting room on Anne’s seven-acre ranch in Sonoma Carneros. Some wines are available in shops and restaurants, yet direct-to-consumer sales is their No. 1 path.
Moller-Racke, an accomplished viticulturist responsible for plantings decades ago for Buena Vista Winery, is now making personal deliveries of her Blue Farm wines in Sonoma Valley and as far away as Marin County.
“Hannah makes the connections and does the scheduling, and one of us drops off the wines on the porch,” she said. “We are finding some new customers, making new connections, while also supplying local businesses. Our wine club shipment went out before the shutdowns. We also sent wine to our employees, so we can virtually taste together, bond and stay connected. The spirits of the 2017 fires keeps our community alive.”
Those buying Blue Farm wines online also can pick up their orders in the Pump House, sans the customary table settings. “Waves are exchanged, 6 feet away or more,” Moller-Racke said about onsite pickups. “We’re social human beings. We miss contact most of all, so a wave is appreciated.”
Mayo Family Winery
Jeffrey Mayo built his business on the direct-to-consumer model, selling every bottle of his Sonoma Valley wines through two tasting rooms and a robust wine club. It was a business envied by many, because it eliminated the middle man — the distributor/wholesaler — and allowed him to sell wines on his own terms.
Now, Mayo’s tasting rooms in Glen Ellen and Kenwood are closed and he’s hitting the road, masked and sanitized, to deliver his bubblies, chardonnays, zinfandels and cabernet sauvignons to North Coast customers.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” Mayo said, “and sales have always been 100% direct. It’s (the shutdowns) been a big financial hit. But my deliveries get me out of the house, I don’t mind driving and they serve people that remember the experience.”
Mayo said he makes eight to 10 deliveries a day, ranging from Sonoma to Sacramento to Oakland. “One guy was practically in tears when I made a delivery and put up a sign that thanked me for it,” Mayo said. “Others have left signs reading, ‘put wine here.’ The response has been phenomenal. People really appreciate the service.”
Three Fat Guys Wines
Proprietor and winemaker Tony Moll became well known in Sonoma Valley long before he filled his first barrel. A fourth-generation Sonoman and sports standout at Sonoma Valley High and the University of Nevada, he went on to play in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers. As a 6-foot-5, 320-pound offensive lineman, he blocked for quarterbacks Brett Favre, Joe Flacco and Philip Rivers. Now he delivers wine on the Sonoma Valley block.
“If you don’t want to leave your home, we will come to you,” he said. “It’s nice just seeing happy people when we put our wine in their hands, be it local delivery, curbside pickup at the tasting room on Saturdays or shipped (for $3). I’m in the business to make people happy, so I like to make sure that happens.”
Most NFL offensive linemen claim they aren’t fat, they’re just well-muscled with plenty of padding. Two of his Packers teammates, Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz, are the other Fat Guys founders. While they’re in the background now, the brand name is based on the girth of the threesome during their playing days. They produce rosé, chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon from renowned vineyards in Sonoma and Napa Valley. Military members, first responders and school teachers receive a 50% discount on wines once they join the wine club.
Trione Vineyards & Winery
Jess Vallery, who directs this Geyserville winery’s marketing and direct-to-consumer programs, hit on an idea during the coronavirus clamp-down: to not only offer curbside pickups and delivery, but also to surprise some with unexpected wines, in a non-contact manner.
“It’s like the doorbell ditch, ring and run,” she said.
Vallery chooses two wine club members once or twice a week to receive two bottles each and makes the delivery. Her first two recipients were in San Francisco, and she and husband Tim Vallery packed the wines and their Aussie dog into their vehicle and headed to the city. One stop was at a condo complex, and as the tenant came down to the lobby to retrieve the wine, the Valleys watched the reaction from outside.
“The wife looked at the logo box and card, saw me and screamed. She was so happy,” Jess said. “Lots of air hugs from six feet apart.”
Jess Vallery and longtime Trione tasting room employee Reed Ackerman make the regular, non-gift deliveries, a service offered free to people living or working along the 101 corridor between Cloverdale and Petaluma (shipments are $5). Anyone can purchase the wines — sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and the red Henry’s Blend are the most popular — and have them arrive on their porch.
Pickup days are popular too, she said.
“We’re a small team and can work remotely and talk to our customers,” she said. “People are bored, they miss the winery. The drive-through pickups keep us connected, and the surprise gift deliveries are a fun way to share positive information about the winery and our people.”
Nikolai Stez and Zina Bower sell the vast majority of their wines in their tasting room near Forestville and to club members. Their pinot noirs, zinfandels and sparkling wines are solid, and they also offer out-of-the-ordinary varietals such as a charbono from Mendocino County and a racy, sophisticated Halfshell White Wes Cameron Ranch Russian River Valley French Colombard, which dismisses the notion that the grape, when grown in California, is destined for inexpensive jug wines.