by Courtney Llewellyn

The landscape continues to change as the pandemic wears on. But someday – hopefully soon – that necessary adaptation will lessen. And that was what was discussed by a number of panelists during this year’s virtual Finger Lakes Craft Beverage Conference (FLX BevCon).

“Adapting Your Tasting Room for Post-Pandemic Visitors” featured Luke DeFisher and Meredith Pyke of Rootstock Ciderworks, Dave Ferguson of Iron Smoke Distillery and moderator Pilar McKay of Silver Lake Brewing Project. “A year ago, we were trying to figure out how to adapt our tasting rooms and survive. I’m very excited to think about the future,” McKay said.

Mid-pandemic visitors were welcomed into safe environments across the Finger Lakes, if they were comfortable enough to venture out. Rootstock Ciderworks cut on-premises sampling but kept their tasting room open as a shop. Pyke said they were fortunate to have a big outside area, “but we had to make sure everyone understood what being in compliance looked like.” McKay added that space made all the difference when they were able to open to the public.

“The big change was customers actually seeking out information instead of just showing up and being disappointed,” Ferguson said.

They also talked about which adaptations were unique to the beverage industry. McKay mentioned the curbside delivery of large, bulk packaging, which “wasn’t really on my radar before this. And it’s becoming even more popular.” Roostock set up two online shipping platforms, which opened up a new way to market the cidery. They also started a quarterly cider club. They found a way for people enjoy their products as much as they could at home – “the farther we can reach, the better,” DeFisher said.

“We have been trying to do some small, safe events since October using ticketing, and it’s been a wonderful, safe way to bring people in and put them in front of our products,” Pyke said. “The reception has been fantastic. We’re looking at July to really start outdoor events.”

Ferguson noted Iron Smoke also has music back onstage, and they already have events booked through next June. “It’s going to be a challenge but we’re working on it,” he said of hosting events going forward.

Looking ahead, DeFisher said that down the line, they’ll be looking at building a separate event space – since everyone has to think about space issues now.

Pyke, who joined the ciderworks in August 2020, noted they see a lot of new people stopping by, even now. “I think that will continue into this summer as well. People are ready to get outside and do some stuff,” she said. “We have the space and we have the product and we’re ready to host everybody.”

As of the mid-April Zoom session, no one on the panel was committing to requiring vaccinations for visits/events, even though McKay thinks they’ll all be seeing more people traveling from farther away to visit this year. But they will remain focused on drawing in more locals.

The New York State Tourism Industry Association has started a program called “Roam the Empire – New York for New Yorkers,” focused on keeping vacationer dollars in-state, and Brittany Gibson, executive director of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, noted they already have a large digital media campaign underway. Their audiences include Buffalo, Rochester, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, New York City and NYC Metro and Philadelphia as well as a “hyper-local” audience within a 100-mile radius of Seneca Lake.