WINERIES and the HOLIDAYS: Inseparable Partners in Making the Season Merry

By: Cheryl Gray

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With the holiday season comes infinite ways to celebrate the fruit of vineyards from coast-to-coast. Wineries and tasting rooms across the U.S. count the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s to be amongst their busiest and, in some cases, amongst their most profitable. Moreover, ancillary businesses, including hotels, inns, restaurants and special events venues, benefit from creative partnerships with local wineries during the holidays.

Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center

  The Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center stays open year-round and features Washington wines in its tasting room and during special events. The space was named for the man whose years of scientific research established Washington state as the second-largest premium wine producer in the country. According to the Center, Washington’s wine industry contributes approximately $14.9 billion to the U.S. economy and supports an estimated 27,000 jobs. Those numbers underscore why the holidays are an important component of marketing the state’s wine producers and grape growers.

  The Clore Center showcases Washington’s wine industry, as well as the science of enology, through a combination of educational, experiential and entertainment activities. Its holiday events kick off just before Thanksgiving, featuring established and up-and-coming Yakima Valley wineries. On Saturdays throughout November and December, several Yakima Valley winemakers will be pouring at the Center’s “Meet the Makers” event with the pertinent theme, “Thanksgiving in Wine Country.” In December, the Center will feature sparkling wines from Washington’s Columbia Gorge. 

  The Center’s holiday events will also include classes every Saturday in November and the first two Saturdays in December, according to Deb Carter, the Clore Center’s Wine and Culinary Program Director. That might, for example, include a cooking class from a local master chef on how to pair local wines with farm-to-table meals using local produce.

  In addition to educational classes, the venue rents out space during the holidays for corporate gatherings, parties and other holiday-centered outings, many of which choose to feature local wines.

  Wineries, tasting rooms, restaurants and others vested in promoting Yakima Valley wine during the holidays are, at the same time, raising money for a charitable cause—fighting hunger. “Thanksgiving in Wine Country,” will benefit Northwest Harvest and kicks off during Thanksgiving weekend. The event also allows visitors to take advantage of deals on wines and related products.

Milbrandt Vineyards

  Other Yakima Valley December events include Prosser, Washington-based Milbrandt Vineyards’ “Holiday Flights and Bites,” featuring holiday wines and food pairings with live entertainment.

  “The holidays are key for us because customers tend to purchase more of our higher tier wines like our Reserves, especially if they are buying wine as gifts,” says Milbrandt Vineyard’s Tasting Room Manager, Karen Ballew. “This holiday season is particularly special because we will be releasing our ‘Bottle Your Charity’ Sparkling Rosé with the winning charity’s mission featured on the back of the bottle. Direct donations from wine sales go to the charity.”

  One of Millbrandt’s holiday marketing strategies, says Ballew, is a play on words derived from a holiday favorite, Twelve Days of Christmas. “We will be bringing back our 12 Days of Deals, an online campaign we ran during the holidays that was incredibly successful the last couple of years. We will also be launching our Cyber Monday campaign where customers can get up to 40% off certain cases of wine.”

  As for partnering with local businesses, Ballew says Millbrandt favors specialty food shops, whose treats pair well with Milbrandt wines. “We partner with a few local business, most notably Jade’s British Girl Treats,” she says. “Jade’s is a local bakery/chocolate/sandwich shop in Prosser. They just opened a few months ago in downtown. They handle catering for our events and also cater our small plate menu that we offer in the tasting room daily.

  We also feature for sale a small selection of Chukar Cherries that are specifically paired with some of our wines. Another partnership is with Wine Country RV Park. We pour at their evening tastings about once a month during their peak season. They promote our events on their emails and on the TV in their retail shop.”

Tourism on the 45th Parallel

  Hotels and inns tied to wineries have a unique focus on the holidays. In Northern Michigan, wineries and tasting rooms dot the landscape along the same 45th parallel as Washington’s wine region. Among them is the internationally renowned Black Star Farms, a family-owned enterprise known for, among other products, its signature ‘Pear in a Bottle’ wine. 

  Black Star Farms provides a backdrop for holiday-inspired events, such as snowshoeing on its vast grounds and cooking classes that teach guests how to pair wines with various cuisines. Its most notable event, however, is the annual New Year’s Eve Wine Dinner, a formal occasion featuring a multi-course meal paired with wines produced by Black Star Farms. The event is popular enough that tickets go on sale beginning in early fall. Sherri Campbell Fenton, whose parents, Kerm and Sallie Campbell, established Black Star Farms in 1998, is managing proprietor. She told The Grapevine Magazine that the holidays are, indeed, big business. 

  “The holidays are a key time for Black Star Farms, for both holiday wine sales and the hospitality side of our business,” says Campbell Fenton. “Obviously, wine sales are strong for gifting and parties. We have a luxurious 10 room inn on our 160-acre property, which is a favorite for guests as a quiet, romantic escape, especially during the winter when blanketed in snow. We also host holiday corporate wine paired dinners as well as private or family gatherings. Holidays are a strong time for these. Many times, gift certificates are purchased for wine sales or inn stays during the holidays, as a gift of Black Star Farms is a very special one for anybody.”  

  At Washington’s end of the 45th parallel, there’s the Hotel Maison, a landmark in downtown Yakima, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel’s holiday offerings include a package featuring Yakima’s annual “Sip, Stroll & Stay.” This promotional event features a downtown stroll with food, entertainment, and, at the end of the evening, an opportunity to overnight at the historic Maison, built in 1911 by Yakima Freemasons. Guests receive their choice of a bottle of wine, cider or beer delivered to their room. In addition to hosting wine tastings with local sommeliers, Hotel Maison does its part to promote wineries during Yakima Valley’s ‘Thanksgiving in Wine Country.’ They feature an overnight package that includes a bottle of Yakima Valley wine and a gourmet cheese board delivered to guests.   

  A quieter holiday respite can be found at Washington’s Cozy Rose Inn, an acclaimed bed and breakfast owned by husband and wife Mark and Jennie Jackson in Yakima Valley’s Grandview area. The Jacksons have relied upon friendships with local wineries over the past 27 years, which keeps guest referrals coming in both directions. Having a great location, Mark Jackson says, goes a long way. “Guests come to the Valley for the sunshine and wine. We’re just in a prime location, being in the middle of Yakima Valley. They taste on their way down the Valley, stay here, eat dinner, and the next morning, they’re off to Red Mountain and Prosser Wineries.”

  In addition to its chef-inspired gourmet breakfast, during the holidays the Cozy Rose Inn offers guests staying at least two nights a candlelit dinner for two, which includes a bottle from one of the region’s wineries.

Holiday Food Pairing

  Foodies looking for a Southwestern flavor to pair with Washington wines during the holidays turn to Los Hernandez Tamales, another family-owned business in Yakima Valley. They tout an authentic family recipe, combining it with local, Washington state ingredients, including the state’s bountiful asparagus crop. Rachel Wilburn, whose father, Felipe Hernandez, started the business in 1990, says the holidays are tremendously hectic for the Hernandez clan.  

  “Tamales are traditionally a holiday season food. Christmas, in particular, is the busiest time for them. We open early, and everyone gets tamales with or without an order. We usually have 400 to 600 dozen in pre-orders, but we sell 1,000 dozens (12,000 single tamales) by the end of the day, all made by hand.” Wilburn says that Los Hernandez Tamales is also called upon all over Washington to participate in events that pair their famous tamales with regional wines.

  Gingerbread co-stars with wines at Desert Wind Winery, which supports a local charity through its annual “Gingerbread Build Off.” This holiday-themed event, held in November, draws professional bakers from throughout the Yakima Valley region.  Wine barrels serve as the background for gingerbread creations large and small in a winery whose Southwestern style architecture belies its Washington state location. 

  It’s not difficult to see how the holidays bring out the best in wineries and related industries across the United States. From charitable giving to savvy marketing, synergy builds between businesses that understand the value of partnerships during the holiday season.

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