Monday, July 27, 2020

Cellar Angels Does Pandemic Pivot To Aid Wineries, Charities

DTC wine company quickly adjusts to new realities, aids small producers and charities.

Martin Cody, left, in a vineyard conversation

The Virus Crescendo

When the coronavirus first started assaulting American shores in February, Cellar Angels co-founder Martin Cody saw Washington State hit hard and then the virus crescendo across the country. Cellar Angels is a direct-to-consumer digital wine business with a focus on Napa and Sonoma.

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“We cater to the more discerning wine customer,” said Cody during a recent Vino-Sphere interview. “The focus is on limited-production, high-end wines.”

The pandemic has caused online wine sales to boom but has dealt a major blow to small wineries – just like those featured on Cellar Angels. “The small producer is basically shut out of the three-tier system,” said Cody, referring to the distribution system that requires most wineries to sell their wares through a middle-man distributor. It’s tough for smaller producers to navigate the varied state rules that regulate direct to consumer sales.

The Cellar Angel team is mostly local, so Cody set up a virtual war room in February. “We knew quickly there had to be a way to help wineries,” said Cody. “We are virtual to begin with, so we focused on creating a method or event to bring people together virtually.”

Telling The Story Of Wine

Cellar Angels developed the SIP (Shelter In Place) tastings held every Friday night. The virtual tastings feature a winemaker or winery owner. Cellar Angels offers a wine tasting kit with six wines from featured wineries. Viewers can sip along while Martin interviews winemakers or owners over Zoom and Facebook live.

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“This really tells the story of the wines,” said Cody. “People can stay safe and sit on the patio and watch.” The series is booked up through October.

Small producers face difficulties during the pandemicSmall producers are getting a needed boost from the SIP series, but Cody also recognized that fundraising for charitable groups was also being decimated because of the cancellation of wine galas. “What’s missing during a pandemic is physical contact,” he said. “Even though we are physically distant, we don’t have to be social distant.”

To respond to this need, Cellar Angels works with their charitable partners and creates a custom landing page and a curated wine kit of three to eight bottles which is sent to the home of the fundraiser participants. When the supporters tune in, they get a high-level overview of the wines with details. The tasting also features video clips of the wineries and even a Google Earth fly-over of the specific vineyard.

Tough Times Ahead For Wine Country

No one knows when the world will see some form of normalcy. Cody says California wine country may experience similar conditions to the financial collapse of 2008 when wineries were acquired for pennies on the dollar. He terms that prospect “soul-crushing.”

The 2020 vintage is expected to be a good one, according to Cody, but adds that it will also bring big challenges. “The grapes don’t know that there is a virus,” Cody said. “They still need to be brought in.” Revenues for many small producers are shrinking while winery operational expenses are ongoing. Wineries are trying to cope through belt-tightening and staff reductions.

There are downstream casualties too, with the travel industry, restaurants, and hotels all suffering. The average consumer also has seen a drop in spending capability.

The good news, says Cody, is that despite the pandemic people can still share superb wine and help others from the comfort from their own home through events such as SIP tastings and virtual fundraisers. Through creativity and savvy marketing, Cellar Angels is providing a boost to wineries, charities and wine lovers alike.

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