By Kelly MacConomy
As we embrace the new normal of life amid the COVID-19 pandemic many of us have been rallying to support and help sustain the local restaurants and bars whose businesses have been compromised by closures and drastic gathering restrictions. Virginia had limited bars and eateries to serving no more than ten persons at one time. Maryland and DC closed them entirely, as did Virginia, resulting in all establishments in the DMV providing food as well as alcohol sales only on a to-go basis. Thanks to the efforts of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, Governor Norhtham overturned the rescinding of the ABC exemption permitting mixed drinks to go. Virginia bars, restaurants and speakeasies can again serve wine, cocktails, beer, spirits and ciders to go as of Friday, April tenth.
Alexandria food and libation purveyors, scrambling to remain open, and hoping to avoid laying off employees, took advantage of the quick action of Mayor Wilson and City Council to enact by-right options for these struggling small-business owners to bypass the longtime Draconian restrictions handed down from a bygone General Assembly. Governor Northam was quick to follow suit statewide, permitting alcohol sales to go, including container-sale mixed drinks.
In Del Ray, Taqueria el Poblano had been selling their famous and extremely popular Margueritas in quart bottles for $30 until Virginia ABC rescinded that exception. Bill Butcher’s original city brewery, Port City, has been busy supplying Alexandria with its favorite home-town brews. Port City closed the popular Wheeler Avenue tasting room and outdoor space but has made curbside and online sales for delivery available, with continuing distribution to local markets, restaurants and retailers. Newcomer Lost Boy Cider has also closed its tasting room. You can order online, or choose a pickup date and time and take delivery curbside.
Hard hit by these new restrictions have been the countless wineries, breweries, and distilleries that rely upon their tasting room sales to sustain staffing payroll and production. The mild winter and early-spring warm up accelerated bud break for the wineries which had already been busy pruning and preparing the vines for the upcoming growing season. Unseasonably warm temps also mean an earlier kickoff to the agritourism season, when scores of DMV day trippers make the pilgrimage to points north, south, east, and west in order to imbibe alfresco amid spring awakening in the countryside.
There has been no limit to the creativity, generosity, and humor of the winemakers, brewmasters and distillers. General Manager Matt Reilly of Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville, Maryland, (started by former Breaux winemaker Dave Collins) came up with the smile-out-loud promotion of gifting a roll of toilet paper with the purchase of a bottle of wine. Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery in Middleburg, Virginia began making their own hand sanitizer in four different scents, which they give away with any purchase in their retail space in town.
At the Little Washington Winery in Washington, Virginia owners Donna and Carl Henrickson turned their perennially popular Wine Boot Camp class into a virtual experience. Aspiring oenophiles simply order the Wine Boot Camp Kit which includes five bottles of the class wine, pairing chocolates from their chocolate shop, “Wine Loves Chocolate”, four Wine-U placemats, a container of argon gas to preserve any leftover wine, and the recipe for the Food and Wine “Molecular Pairing” sandwich. The comprehensive online class with winemaker Carl lasts two hours, and includes a voucher for a free tasting at the winery once the all-clear has been sounded. For information about scheduling a time contact the winery at 540-987-8330 or go to the Virtual Boot Camp link on the homepage at littlewashingtonwinery.com
Before Governor Northam closed winery tasting rooms throughout the state, many of the nearby wineries in Fairfax and Loudoun County were open, maximizing social distancing by removing seating, spacing tables farther apart, and limiting indoor spaces to ten guests total. Now they are offering onsite pickup and online orders, most with volume discounts or case specials.
Sunset Hills, just voted Best Winery in Loudoun County by the Loudoun Times-Mirror, has been offering barnside pickup Thursday through Monday from 12 to 5 pm. in addition they are also offering free shipping and home delivery for three bottles or more and five- dollar delivery for fewer than three, as well as local date night delivery packages of wine paired with bread, meat, cheese, and chocolate along with a deck of cards. They have also partnered with Divine Wine Tours of Virginia to expand delivery of date-night packages including Alexandria and Arlington. Their sister winery 50 West in Middleburg is closed for the time being but their wines are available through Sunset Hills.
Nearby Paradise Springs in Clifton is open from 11 am to 7 pm for to-go purchases of wine and food, curbside pick-up, delivery within a 25 mile radius (which includes much of Alexandria), and online orders. Breaux Vineyards in Hillsboro, with it’s expansive grounds and multiple tasting areas indoors, had stayed open to visitors as long as possible but is now closed. Breaux is offering curbside pickup and free shipping on orders of four or more bottles, plus volume discounts.
The Wine Reserve at Waterford has already hosted two special events to help with staff payroll. Wine Aid was created by owners Cori and John Phillips to raise funds to help support staff while the winery tasting room and grounds are closed to visitors. Twenty percent of the Wine Aid sales go toward staff pay while the $5 “shout outs” donations go entirely to employees. Orders for Wine Aid are taken online for a specified pickup date at the winery. Check the Wine Reserve website for the upcoming third Wine Aid date and for intermittent wine pickups.
Narmada in Amissville has closed its tasting room but is offering online and phone orders and pickup while releasing club wines to all customers at these discounts. Other more local wineries such as Bull Run in Centreville, Doukenie in Hillsboro, and Cana in Middleburg are also closed for tastings but are open for bottle sales to go and will ship. Many wineries are also hosting oenology tutorials and virtual wine tastings.
New this year for the month of March, in honor of Women’s History Month, was the Women in Wine Vineyard Trail Passport. Vineyards with women pioneering authentic Virginia wine-making were spotlighted as a tribute to the advances women have contributed to the industry. Brigitte Smith, general manager of Sunset Hills and 50 West and Sydney Smith, their wine club manager, conceived of the women winemaking trail five years ago while they both worked at Greenhill Winery in Middleburg. The passport was sold at participating wineries for $17 which entitled the user to half-price wine tastings and 10% off purchases throughout the entire month.
Women winemakers in Virginia are absolutely crushing it! Corry Craighill, winemaker for Sunset Hills and 50 West, is the Loudoun County Winemaker of the Year. Corry is joined by Melanie Napoli of Cana Vineyards and Winery, Katie Henley of Casanel Vineyards and Winery, Lori Corcoran of Corcoran Vineyards and Cidery, Maggie Malick of Maggie Malick Wine Caves, Sudha Patel of Narmada Winery, Kate Giraud of Slater Run Vineyards, Theresa Robertson of Two Twisted Posts Winery, and Emily Hatch of Zephaniah Farm Vineyard. Let’s raise a glass to these women of Virginia winemaking!
At this time it remains uncertain how the Passport will work given the COVID-19 closures and restrictions on wine tastings. Some wineries may continue the passport program once they reopen for tastings. When they are back in business full throttle once again, explore the fine wines created by some of Virginia’s award-winning winemakers amid scenery comparable to the Piemonte of Italy, for which this area of Virginia (the Piedmont) is named.
Come for the women. Stay for the wine.