It’s been three years since the 2020 shutdown, when our tasting room’s battered open flag seemed to reflect a warzone, and I just realized that I haven’t posted in our blog since. With some years to reflect (and a brand new open flag!), I’d like to review that year, the good and the bad (and maybe the ugly.)
The shutdown. It wasn’t so long ago that we Americans oriented our life events around the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Someone might have said, “We took that trip before 9/11.” Today, a new baseline marks our perspective: pre-Covid and post-Covid.
2020 was surreal. Families hunkered in houses with Netflix for company; storefronts that lined the ghostly quiet downtown streets taped “Temporarily Closed” signs to their windows, not understanding how long “temporary” was to be; masked grocery shoppers scurried into the Food Lion and hoped to strike gold by discovering toilet paper on the shelf; “Stay safe!” became the “so long” of choice.
But 2020 wasn’t all bad.
Families learned to slow down, and found they enjoyed life without soccer games. People took up hobbies, learned to play the guitar. Early in the shutdown, our family chose, for some reason, a chilly day to drive into the mountains and have a picnic. I ate in the luggage compartment to stay warm.
Many businesses discovered their employees could operate quite well remotely, establishing a new employer/employee model. In our Staunton tasting room, we had been accustomed to stories of retirees newly relocated to our charming town, but suddenly we began meeting just as many young couples choosing Staunton as homebase to work remotely for their Northern Virginia bosses.
At Ox-Eye Farm, our day-to-day life didn’t change much. Covid or no Covid, vines need to be pruned and hedged. Grapes need to be harvested when they’re ripe. Ox-Eye winery is entirely family run, so production never even experienced a slowdown due to worker shortage.
What did change was customer interaction and sales models. Because wine is (and this may surprise you) considered essential food, our tasting room never had to fully shut down. We couldn’t, however, invite customers into the tasting room. So we danced a funny dance: a customer would call in his order and we’d wait for him to knock on our window; then he’d back away while we set his purchase on the barrel next to the door; then we’d back away and he’d grab and go. Do-si-do!
We quickly realized this alone wasn’t satisfactory business. With restaurants closed a significant portion of our distributorship died. We began thinking outside of the box. First, we implemented home delivery for orders in the Staunton area. That was successful, but not sufficient. So we established the obvious: shipping inside Virginia.
Ox-Eye has shipped wines outside Virginia for almost a decade, but Virginia makes shipping alcohol within the state comparatively difficult and expensive. The shutdown forced us to reconsider, and I’m so glad we did! Shipments within Virginia are now a healthy segment of our business. Here’s the link to order online: https://www.oxeyevineyards.com/wine
But the most exciting addition to our business was still to come. Frequently loyal customers would inquire if Ox-Eye had a wine club. Being a business run by a family that enjoys its downtime by flopping around the pool, Ox-Eye regarded the idea of a wine club as a massive headache. The shutdown provided the kick-in-the-pants this family needed to rethink its surly attitude. After much debate, the cleverly named Ox-Eye Wine Club was born the summer of 2020. Contrary to our original concerns, the wine club has been a real joy.
Here's how our club works:
1. Join for free by signing up on our website. Here’s the link: https://www.oxeyevineyards.com/wine.
2. Club members agree to purchase three shipments (or pickups) of four bottles each during the year at regular price. The wines are selected by the winemaker (John) and often include a prerelease or a special release.
3. Club members enjoy 15% off all other bottle purchases, and 20% off case purchases, whether purchased from our website or in our tasting room.
4. Members receive half price tastings.
5. Best of all: Club members are invited to a yearly party on Ox-Eye farm, complete with music and food. We also offer two family picnic days at Ox-Eye farm.
The wine club has become a lovely way for us to better connect with our customers, and for our customers to better understand and feel part of our operation. What a pleasure to see our members relaxing around the winery with a glass of wine or strolling through the vineyards! We now look forward with great anticipation to our club events.
Today, of course, our tastings are back to normal. And by tastings, I do mean at the bar staff member pouring and describing wines to the customer, not staff pouring flights for the customer to taste elsewhere. We plan to keep this model because we love meeting our visitors and talking wine.
Stay tuned for another blog post about our newest wines, Chenin Blanc (dry white), Blanc de Blanc (dry sparkling), and Vallitage (a red blend including our newest grape, Saperavi.) I promise not to wait another three years before I post it.