Winery toasts success of transforming to in-home experiences during COVID-19
When Brisbane’s only inner-city micro-winery faced the closure of its in-house customer experiences due to COVID-19 restrictions, its team moved all those experiences off site – with a phenomenal result.
City Winery Brisbane had built a strong reputation for its fine food, locally-produced wine and hands-on in-house customer experiences such as wine tastings, wine and food pairings, and wine-blending workshops.
Almost a year to the day since the winery’s opening, new COVID-19 restrictions meant that these gatherings could no longer happen on site. As many of its customers were confined to home, the winery changed all its experiences to ‘in home’.
This meant a clever mixture of delivering prepared food and wine to their customers’ front doors and supplying a blend of pre-recorded content and live video calls from the winemaker or staff to give the customers a virtual winery experience.
“I think the thing that stood out to us as a business was the need for consumers to feel ‘normal’, even if they couldn’t do the things they once did while being at home,” City Winery Brisbane co-founder Adam Penberthy said.
“We would often dial in to a Skype call for a Friday evening food and wine pairing experience delivered to the customers’ house and both guests would be there dressed to the nines as they were celebrating their anniversary or a birthday or another milestone event.
“People continued to celebrate birthdays, engagements or, in so many cases, what would have been their wedding day. We were thrilled they still enjoyed their special occasion with us even if we couldn’t see them face to face.”
Adam said the business wasn’t nervous about pivoting because the team felt they had to try something new and take a risk. No one foresaw what a phenomenal success it would become. While the winery was still affected financially, it saw significant growth in areas of its business.
The success of the move really became particularly apparent when City Winery developed a Saturday night deliverable degustation dinner paired with wine.
“The first time we did home degustation we sold three times more tickets to the home-delivered version than we would expect to do if we had the same dinner in the winery.
“This was the light bulb moment for us. Some Saturday nights we had well over 100 experiences being delivered across Brisbane and we ended up doing very similar revenue to what we would do if we had a venue full of people day and night - and we didn’t actually see a customer.
“It was through these experiences that we could keep the team together, something I’m most proud of. No one lost their job throughout this period,” Adam said.
Social media was the key marketing tool for raising awareness of, and demand for, the in-home experiences.
Naturally, there were early difficulties as the winery attempted to shoe-horn systems used for selling tourism experiences into systems for selling product, but kinks were ironed out.
Adam said it was amazing to see hidden talents from the team emerge through this period.
“Staff that once served tables all of a sudden became videographers or logistics managers, managing and coordinating the delivery of well over 100 meals at a time in some instances. They did this with gusto and without complaint. It was amazing to see. “
The delivery model is here to stay as City Winery develops a new website geared to online food and wine experiences with an online gift system in mind, which Adam likens to sending “a wine experience to someone as you would a bouquet of flowers”.
With the winery now re-open as restrictions lift, Adam said the spirit of ‘Team Brisbane’ really shone through during the COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’ve never seen it so strong - from customers deliberately driving out of their way to buy a bottle of wine from us rather than going to the big chain bottle shops, or the numerous unsolicited messages of encouragement we would receive from customers via email or in the comments field on an order. It was amazing to receive.”