Sarah Lathrop had always intended to create an online ordering system for Liberty Lake Wine Cellars, the winery and tasting room she co-owns with her husband Mark. But if she had her druthers, it would have been something that she rolled out at her own pace. Instead, COVID-19 forced her to accelerate those plans.
The same goes for flights, which are samples of multiple wines that customers sip back at their tables.
“We used to do tastings where you’d stand at the bar and we’d talk about each wine. But now we’re not allowed to stand at the bar, so we [have] flights rather than tastings,” she says.
Other area tasting rooms that have opted to remain open to the public are in a similar boat. What were once nice-to-have perks like touchless ordering, local delivery and even augmented food menus have now become crucial parts of doing business amid ever-evolving public health restrictions.
“We’ve had to learn quickly how to change our processes,” Lathrop says.
Fortunately, the wineries have been able to lean on one another for information and advice. Thanks to organizations like the Spokane Winery Association, many of them have been in regular communication with each other from the very beginning. That’s helped them keep up with shifting regulations and give their customers as much consistency and choice as possible.
Mutual support and regular communication are also helping to sustain the local craft beer community. Some of that has come from statewide advocacy groups like the Washington Brewers Guild, but it’s also taken the form of self-organized efforts.
“My email inbox has been flooded since this happened,” says Bellwether Brewing Co. owner Dave Musser. “The brewery community has always been really tight-knit, and that’s been really helpful for us. During this time, we’ve done collaborations together, which has helped drive traffic to all of us.”
One example of that is the Lester Cup Brew-off, a biannual brewing competition among several Spokane microbreweries. During COVID-19, they’ve kept the event going — only this year the beers are available in cans as a “mix-pack six-pack.” Along with making it easier for customers to do curbside pickup, that’s enabled breweries to participate that aren’t currently open to foot traffic.
“It’s given us a vision of needing to support local, especially during this time. Even just yesterday, people from four different breweries came into Bellwether and had a pint. All the brewery people I know are going out and they’re trying to support the different restaurants that they’re connected to. I like being a part of a community that does things like that.”
For customers who want to join them in showing their support, Musser says that the best thing to do is “whatever they feel safe with.” That could mean stopping in for a pint and taking advantage of an outdoor patio space, getting a quick growler refill or just placing an order for your favorite brew in cans.
Supporting your local winery is just as easy and individualized — even for folks who are new to wine tasting. If customers are at all apprehensive, most wineries are happy to offer custom recommendations over the phone and arrange delivery or curbside pickup.
“Whether it’s just buying a gift card for a friend or shipping a bottle of wine to a relative, every little bit helps,” Lathrop says. “Many of the wineries in Spokane are small businesses. It’s the customers keeping us going that we all really appreciate.”
Liberty Lake Wine Cellars is at 23110 E. Knox Ave. and is open Fridays noon-8 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays, noon-5 pm; Thursdays are for wine club members only and are open 4-8 pm. Due to restricted capacity, call ahead for a reservation at 255-9205 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for pickup or shipped orders.
Bellwether Brewing Co. is at 2019 N. Monroe St. and is open Tuesdays through Thursdays, 3-9 pm; Fridays 3-10 pm; Saturdays 1-10 pm; and Sundays 1-7 pm. Phone in your curbside pickup order at 328-0428.