Southwest Michigan wineries adapt to continued mandates

BERRIEN COUNTY – Escaping a little further north to experience a wine tasting with a group of friends over the weekend is a popular way to take a mini staycation for many throughout the southwest Michigan region.

To keep the staycations going throughout the year, business owners tend to work on making their indoor dining and tasting areas cozy and inviting during the winter. With indoor dining a no-go for business owners since mid-November, winery owners have also had to adapt their offerings.

Hickory Creek Winery in Buchanan has adapted to the mandates and colder weather by placing a large tent outdoors, with picnic tables and firepit seating where visitors can enjoy a glass or a tasting out of the wind. The winery has also revamped its “virtual happy hours,” with owner Adam McBride leading a detailed tasting on Facebook Live, allowing customers to enjoy the wines and education from the comfort of their own homes.

Around the corner in Buchanan, Tabor Hill Restaurant and Winery has been quieter than usual.

While Tabor Hill Restaurant and Winery has been completely closed since November, Round Barn Estate is connected by a trail in neighboring Baroda, said Jenn Wozniak, social media and public relations specialist for the Moersch Hospitality Group.

Moersch Hospitality Group owns Round Barn Estate, in Baroda, Tabor Hill Restaurant and Winery, in Buchanan, and Free Run Cellars, in Berrien Springs.

“Even though Round Barn and Tabor Hill are literally right next door, Tabor Hill’s offerings are more indoor this time of year,” Wozniak said. “It’s easier for us to navigate [the mandates] at Round Barn.”

Due to not having indoor dining, Wozniak said Round Barn has adapted to hosting guests in reserved “igloo” type tents, and offers the fire pits at the location as first come, first served basis.

The igloos seat small groups, and food can be delivered from Round Barn Brewery and Public House, further providing a closer-knit connection between the businesses for the time being, Wozniak said.

The winery has trails surrounding the estate, and Wozniak has seen many come to the winery to grab a glass of wine and then proceed to hike or snowshoe their way around, in a both active and social distanced way to enjoy wine and winter.

As a side effect of the pandemic, one of the hallmarks of a winery visit, wine tastings, have been regulated to one day a week. Instead, Round Barn is offering a small taste for guests unsure about ordering more of a wine.

The change in wine tastings is just one example of the many ways wineries have had to pivot their approach week to week to adapt to a COVID-19 world.

“[The marketing team] worked each weekend to see what was working and what wasn’t working,” she said. “We implemented those changes. The servers and bartenders were constantly pivoting and changing. Some people coming to the estate would understand how much we had to change and some wouldn’t understand at all. The servers got the brunt of it. There were some stressful times.”

Luckily, Wozniak said, most customers have been understanding of the changes.

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