After a whirlwind year that saw an explosion in virtual wine-tasting sales, a Sacramento winemaker is putting the focus back on in-person tastings.
Kevin Luther, who makes and sells wine under the labels Lucid Wine and Voluptuary Wine, plans on launching two tasting rooms before the end of the year, including one on Sacramento’s R Street.
Pending some tenant improvement work and state liquor board approval, Luther said he plans on being able to move into the new tasting room space at 1015 R St. in November.
The space shares a building with Fox & Goose Public House.
“It’s just an absolutely gorgeous historical building,” Luther said.
The nearly 5,000-square-foot space is much bigger than what Luther was originally looking for, but he said it was too good to pass up, plus the owner of the building is on board with his vision for the tasting room and is giving him a good rate.
“This R Street location is a dream location,” Luther said.
His plan for the tasting room will embrace the building’s high ceilings and exposed brick walls.
“It’s just really going to be a welcoming, warm, comfortable space where you can come taste wine with your friends,” he said.
Food will be available from Fox & Goose Public House next door, which will offer a limited menu at the tasting room.
Luther said he plans to slowly roll out new activities at the tasting room, like live music and dance nights.
Meanwhile, the winery is expanding production and launching tastings at its site off Power Inn Road.
In 2019, the winery opened in a 1,000-square-foot space at 8161 Belvedere Ave. in Sacramento. Now production has moved to the adjacent 4,000-square foot building at 8160 14th Ave.
Near the end of the month, Luther said he plans to roll out tasting hours where the public can come in and taste wine right from the barrel or tank.
“It’s going to be a much more cool, but also in some ways a down-to-earth tasting experience,” he said.
The 14th Avenue tasting room will also serve some other beverages made at the winery. The first release is a series of what Luther calls sparkling session wines. The wines are a spinoff of a piquette, an ancient drink made from the leftover grape skins and pulp that are typically discarded as part of the winemaking process. The resulting drink is lighter, fizzy and lower in alcohol than wine.
It will be available by the glass at the tasting room, as “part of the more casual microbrewery vibe,” Luther said.
The pandemic shut down Luther’s original plan to open a tasting room last March, just four months after the winery opened its own production facility in Sacramento. At the time, it was just him and his brother, who he hired to help with logistics.
They began offering virtual tastings — where customers can have a series of mini-bottles of wine shipped to them, and Luther walks them through the tasting via video conference. The product exploded in popularity, especially among corporate clients, who were looking for virtual team-building activities for their employees, and to provide their salespeople a fun virtual activity to woo top clients. Sales during the holidays were especially intense. Luther said they were shipping out 1,000 kits a day, and risked running out of wine.
During the 2019 harvest, the winery produced 1,300 cases of wine. In 2020, that more than doubled to 3,000. Now for the 2021 vintage, Luther is planning on making 12,000 cases of wine.
The winery has also expanded to 17 employees.
Now, as things have opened up, the virtual tasting sales are slowing down. Luther said the virtual tasting program is profitable, and bookings are still coming in for fall.
“The corporate feedback that we’re getting is that virtual tasting is here to stay,” Luther said.
Now that things have slowed down, however, at least for summer, the winery has a chance to diversify its sales stream with in-person tasting rooms.
“We’ve successfully pivoted once, and the challenge now as market conditions continue to shift is to keep pivoting,” Luther said.