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The Short Version: The Niagara Wine Trail has long served as a go-to directory and event calendar for wine connoisseurs who want to support local, family-owned businesses in Niagara County. The company’s expert recommendations have helped countless couples enjoy wine tastings, pairing events, dinners, and other special occasions. In the wake of the 2020 pandemic, the Niagara Wine Trail team has been busier than ever, and it continues to bring wine lovers together by promoting virtual meetups, planning social distancing events, and sharing updates from local winemakers.
Summers in Niagara County usually mark the start of the busy season for winemakers and wineries. It’s a popular time for day trips, weekend getaways, and vacations, and that typically means a lot of friend groups, couples, and families looking forward to clinking their wine glasses together.
The summer crowd is usually full of people from all over — some visitors drive in from New York or Canada, while others fly in from other states and countries. Around this time of year, local wineries are usually busy planning social events and hosting weddings, engagements, or anniversary dinners. But, of course, 2020 is not a usual year.
This year, the Niagara Wine Trail has had to adapt to help New York’s wineries and wine lovers stay connected during the pandemic. The region’s wineries were limited to wine pickups and deliveries for months and have only recently been allowed to open their outdoor tables and serve wine by the glass.
“Our summers tend to be packed with live music with events happening all the time,” said Elizabeth Rose Maute, the Media Director for the Niagara Wine Trail. “We’ve really had to scale that back, which is unfortunate, but we’re figuring out ways to still serve everybody and make sure we all stay safe.”
Now, as Niagara County enters Phase Three of its reopening, local wineries are switching gears to offer small tasting events and services that follow social distancing guidelines. It may not be the same as a typical summer in New York’s wine country, but the wineries can offer a nice ambiance for couples looking for a romantic date activity.
Instead of battling crowds, couples can enjoy a more intimate and quiet experience where they can focus on the wine, the scenery, and each other.
In the spring of 2020, New York’s coronavirus count surged past that of other states, and strict statewide lockdown measures were used to stop the spread of the virus. Niagara County was fortunate in that it had far fewer confirmed coronavirus cases than more urban areas did, but its small businesses faced major challenges as they adapted to a fast-changing world.
The State of New York designated wineries as essential businesses, so Niagara Wine Trail’s members were able to stay open for pickup and delivery only. Some required a minimum purchase for a delivery, and others restricted delivery within a certain ZIP code or mile radius.
These policies varied widely and changed frequently, so Niagara Wine Trail became an important information source for wine lovers wondering how they could enjoy a wine tasting at home.
Elizabeth told us that some local wineries hosted virtual happy hours for their fans, while others created instructional videos about wine flavors and pairings. One winemaker created a series called Quarantine Cuisine where she would share dinner recipes with wine pairing suggestions.
Most local wineries were operating with little to no staff during this time, so the owners had to be creative to manage their vineyards and keep the wine flowing. Wine slushies were among the most popular curbside pickup options to come out of the quarantine. Many wineries began offering the slushies as a weekend treat, and many couples ordered them to add some flavor to their date nights at home.
The Niagara Wine Trail has done its part to direct attention to local businesses on social media by sharing videos, sweepstakes, quizzes, and news. The NWT Facebook page hosted an Open That Bottle of Local Wine Night to encourage couples, friends, and families to savor their favorite bottles together.
“We wanted Niagara’s wineries to stay top of mind with people,” Elizabeth told us. “It was great to see winery owners and staff continue to connect and show everybody what they were doing — and drinking!”
From sharing safety guidelines to livestreaming happy hours, the Niagara Wine Trail has acted as a bridge between local wineries and wine lovers during the lockdown, and its social media channels have kept the public up to date about what was going on in the community.
The company has also partnered with leaders in the community to make sure the wine and food industry stays strong even in uncertain times.
Niagara County is in Phase Three of its reopening now, so wineries can sell wine by the glass, allow people in the tasting room, and invite guests to sit at outdoor tables that have been spaced six feet apart. Each winery has its own setup and standards, so the Niagara Wine Trail has created an informational webpage describing how each tasting room is handling this new normal.
The Niagara Wine Trail has shifted away from big events and festivals for the time being and started brainstorming ways to host smaller wine tastings, wine pairings, and other wine-related events. Its summer and fall calendar will likely include more outdoor events and intimate gatherings than usual, and couples may find unique opportunities to explore the local wineries and vineyards.
Though the tasting experience may change in the months ahead, wine lovers can use Niagara Wine Trail’s resources to find new ways to explore different vintages and show support for the family-run vineyards in Niagara County.
Looking to the future, Niagara Wine Trail intends to continue educating, entertaining, and connecting the local wine community through both in-person and virtual events.
“It was definitely stressful and a big change for us at first,” Elizabeth said. “But I think we’re all just rolling with it now. Everybody is learning, and we’re all working hard to build each other up.”
The summer of 2020 is far from typical, but Niagara Wine Trail is working hard to help the region’s wineries thrive and come up with innovative ways to feature their flavorful wines. As social distancing measures relax, the wine experts are seeing more and more people coming out of the woodwork to support local businesses, enjoy the sunshine, and share some laughs over a bottle of wine.
Whether couples are planning a date night or a special celebration, they can still rely on the Niagara Wine Trail to provide the best possible recommendations, passes, and invitations.
“We are constantly trying to keep up with everything,” Elizabeth said. “Follow us on social media for all the latest happenings.”