Which makes this Mother’s Day an opportune moment to circle back with them, for two reasons in particular. First, each of the women already had at least one child at home, and I was curious to see what might be different for them this time around. And second, to gauge their opinions around new motherhood while working in wine during this era of COVID-19.
Here are three takeaways on these questions from two winemakers and one entrepreneur in wine marketing: Nicole Bertotti Pope, winemaker at Stolo Family Vineyards in Cambria, California; Virginia Mitchell, winemaker and winery manager at Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania; and Erica Nonni, Managing Director at Nonni Strategic Marketing in New York City.
Short Term Silver Linings, Long Term Uncertainty
The timing of her baby’s birth, coinciding with the timing of the economic slow-down related to COVID-19, has yielded some short-term silver linings for Nonni and her family. She was already planning a three-month maternity leave as of April 1, so she’s been able to slightly reduce her maternity cover expenses. In addition, her husband is currently working from home because of the virus and he is able to help with the kids.
Business is already slower, however, and uncertainty is clearly on the horizon. Nonni’s questions for the near future range from the personal (will she be able to find new, safe childcare by July, when she’s based in New Jersey where the level of caution is high?) to the professional, which include:
- How will their wine clients look at marketing budgets next year after the devastation of this year?
- How much should they recommend their client brands shift marketing investment to ecommerce and retail to meet current — but for how long? — consumption patterns, especially if their businesses weren’t active in these areas before?
- Should she try to shift her business more toward specialty food or, instead, double down on strategic programs for the wine industry in the post-COVID era?
“Lucky” Timing and the New, Exhausting Normal
As a winemaker in California’s Central Coast, the timing of a new baby and the COVID closures has been, for Pope, similarly fortuitous and unsettling. Since they are not in harvest and she is between bottlings, the wines are currently aging in barrel; there is very little critical cellar work that needs to be done right now, she said, besides topping barrels and tasting to make sure the wines are aging properly.
In addition, since there are currently no visitors at the winery, Pope said that it has become “another safe place outside of our home where my kids can run around, bike, and play outside.” Though it’s nearly impossible to get any physical winemaking work done with all three kids in tow, she is able to “check in on the barrels and walk the vineyards, while also getting that much-needed sunshine and coastal fresh air with them.” The serious cellar work gets done when her husband is home from work and she goes to the winery on her own in the evening; as a vineyard manager, his work has continued since farming is considered “essential business” and the vineyards are in the peak of their growing season. The juggle right now feels very similar to how the couple manages during harvest.
In addition to the new baby, the Popes have two older children, ages five and seven. School is cancelled and there are no childcare options, which means extra time at home with the kids and the general life slow-down. There are lovely benefits to that, Pope said, “but the endless cycle of home-schooling, cleaning, and cooking is definitely exhausting. Now that we are a couple months into this I can’t believe I am actually saying that is does feel like a new normal and for the most part we are trying to make the best of it.”
“Some days are better than others”
Mitchell’s situation as a winemaker in southeastern Pennsylvania is similar in many ways to Pope’s in central California, in that her husband is also an essential agricultural worker and she stays mainly at home with the new baby and the couple’s four year old child. Mitchell does most of her planning and working from home, and takes the children with her to the winery when necessary.
Friday was her first day back at the winery “getting her hands dirty” bottling Grüner Veltliner. Otherwise, Mitchell said that her team is “trying to use our time wisely right now with bottling, excessive cleaning, and projects around the winery that we never have time to do.” As the winery’s General Manager, she’s also had to build out their online presence (webinars, ecommerce and social media) to accommodate the new reality of wine sales during COVID.
Mitchell recognizes the value of her support network both at home and at the winery, while also not sugar-coating the experience. “Some days are better than others while being at home with a four year old and a three month old,” she said. “Sometimes it seems like an extended maternity leave. Other days, I can’t wait for my husband to get home so I can pour myself a glass of wine.”