Exclusive Sonoma Valley wineries embrace discount pricing during COVID-19 pandemic

California grape growers are shifting their focus to online campaigns and supplying cheaper brands

The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting a 150-year-old supply chain in California's wine industry, forcing vineyards to alter their business models.

According to a new report in The Washington Post, Sonoma Valley grape growers are shifting their focus to online campaigns, supplying cheaper brands and lowering their prices.

Restaurants in the area that flaunted expansive (and expensive) wine lists – there are 60,000 acres of grapes and 400 wineries – now promote a takeout glass.


In addition to COVID-19, residents have had to worry about the massive wildfires blazing throughout the state – the worst yet.

In August, an evacuation warning was issued – in addition to a Purple Air Health Alert – as both the Walbridge fire of west Sonoma County and the LNU Lightning Complex fires of the Lake, Napa and Solano counties crept closer and closer.

The LNU Lightning Complex fire – which was sparked by a freak lightning storm and includes the Walbridge – is now listed as 97% contained after burning 363,220 acres in just a month.

Farmworkers keep their distance from each at the Heringer Estates Family Vineyards and Winery in Clarksburg, Calif., in March 2020. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

The "record-setting year" is "far from over," however, Cal Fire spokesperson Daniel Berlant warned on "America's Newsroom" Monday.

According to The Press Democrat, the Walbridge fire and 2,300-acre Meyers fire together destroyed 298 structures, including 158 homes.

Flames and heavy smoke ripped through the Sonoma Valley right at the time of an already reduced harvest. Vineyards, which had just started picking, were still struggling with the coronavirus, which they had described as the biggest challenge since three wildfires destroyed thousands of acres in the region in 2017.

Now, industry leaders are wondering about sustainability and what changes are necessary to stay afloat.

Sonoma Valley Custom Wine, which had been planning on a major expansion, extended its reach to cheaper wineries. The move yielded positive results, as research firm Nielsen reports online wine sales are up 4.7% with "value brands" seeing the biggest increase.

The wine tasting room at Corner 103 – which had relied on tourist foot traffic – was also forced online, holding dozens of virtual wine tastings and selling directly to members of its wine club. Online revenue has grown by 200%.

The tasting room's owner, Lloyd Davis, told the Post he saw a small boost as social justice campaigns in the summer encouraged people to buy from Black-owned businesses.

According to the Association of African American Vintners, less than 1% of U.S. wineries are Black-owned or have Black winemakers.


Three minutes away, the French restaurant the girl & the fig has reopened for online orders and now sells some of its house wine at a 20% discount.

The restaurant's wine list, including a $455 Sine Qua Non Ratsel from 2016, had long been a part of its attraction and customers had spent $30,000 on wine in the week before the restaurant closed in March.

Owner Sondra Bernstein is bracing for a harsh reality as tourist season comes to an end next month. She has almost exhausted the $1 million Paycheck Protection Program loan that was used to rehire most of her 100 full-time employees.