Local Food Tourism’s Future

The Lempert Report
June 19, 2020

It might be just the right time for supermarkets to start their own virtual beer & wine tastings. 

California’s Central Coast had been one of the nation’s hot spots for food and wine vacations – but now, with Covid-19, livelihoods of many growers, winemakers, and vintners hang in the balance, another potential casualty in a global pandemic and recession that has already hobbled retail giants and award-winning restaurants in cities across the countryaccording to Eater.

Some growers, they report, fear a large-scale default on grape contracts as the region rolls into harvest season, which is just months away. Many producers, particularly smaller, independent labels, have struggled to adapt to a new sales ecosystem that no longer includes weekend tourism bumps, random drop-ins, and in-person tasting-room sessions — all vital ingredients for securing new customers willing to buy bottles online while cooped up at home.

Eater interviewed winemaker James Sparks, who said “It’s going to take time but people are going to want to come back here.” Sparks sees a post-pandemic renaissance for the area, with a population of 6,000, which before now had summertime tourism that nets some $200 million annually.  

The greater Santa Barbara area is a culinary destination all its own, and that was even before the beloved Julia Child made it her final home. The area is packed with local suppliers of produce and proteins and great restaurants.

Eater says some wineries have already gotten creative with their customer outreach, including Instagram ad buys and virtual tastings conducted over Zoom. “Online sales have gone up dramatically” for more than a few Central Coast wineries, says Wine Enthusiast writer Matt Kettmann, who lives in the area. “I’ve heard from some wineries that wouldn’t want to be named that they’ve actually had pretty good months.”