Gabriella Macari couldn’t sleep. Like many of us in the fall of 2020 she was feeling unsettled. Her family’s winery, vineyard and farm had just reopened for patio and vine-side tastings in September and the fast turning seasons were threatening to cut their service short.
She’s the General Manager of Macari Vineyards, located in Long Island’s North Fork AVA. Originally a potato farm, the 500 acres of land was purchased in the 1960’s by Gabriella’s grandfather, Joseph T. Macari Sr. It wasn’t until 1995 that the family planted vineyards. Her father, Joseph Jr., was at the helm to solidify Macari’s commitment to sustainable farming from the first planting. The leap to wine as a family business was not a huge one for Joe Sr., who grew up helping his own father and grandfather make and sell wine in Queens, New York during the Great Depression.
Today, a small, winding grapevine lined road will bring you to a winery that somehow feels warm and inviting despite the size. Perhaps it’s the wood tones, lush greenery, and pockets of floral arrangements, each one more beautiful than the next. Or, maybe it’s the pizza nights that will hopefully return, best enjoyed on the patio and paired with a sunset. But more than likely, it’s the feeling Macari gives you–that life is meant to be celebrated with good food, friends and wine. It’s the Macari lifestyle.
2020 brought the new challenge of keeping a team of 35 both safe and employed. “We were closed from mid-March until Labor Day,” Gabriella remembers. “While we were technically allowed to open before then, we made the decision to remain closed for the wellbeing of our team.” Despite the difficult choice, the team did not slow down. Their efforts enabled all 35 employees to stay working throughout the pandemic.
“We put a lot of focus on local delivery and national shipping, which helped us immensely while our tasting room remained closed.” They began pounding the pavement with local deliveries around Long Island. Curbside pickups at the winery were also available via a “Walk-Thru Wine Window” on the wraparound deck. And for those further away, wine educators were available to host virtual tastings curated to the customer’s preference.
By Labor Day weekend, the Macari team finally felt ready to reopen. “We moved to a by-appointment-only system and hosted tastings exclusively on our outdoor patio and on our lawn,” says Gabriella of the initial changes the winery made for customer service. Overall, she says the reopening period was smooth but busy. North Fork tourism was at an all time high as travelers hit the road again.
“Everyone was excited to be back,” Gabriella says of both staff and customers alike. The winery reopened with a limited number of reservations and the response was both incredible and overwhelming, with waiting lists of up to 1,000 guests on some weekends. As the weather started to turn quickly, Gabriella and the team went back to the drawing board. “We knew we had to get inventive to give our guests something safe and fun during the winter, while prioritizing the health and comfort of our team.”
WINE BY THE VINES
It was three in the morning when Gabriella had a vision for a “vine-side hospitality experience” that later became known as the Bergen Road Bungalows. The winery partnered with local interior designer Jesse Elliott and boutique White Flower Farmhouse to turn each bungalow into a unique (and shoppable) experience.
Each booking included lunch by local Chef Lauren Lombardi paired with Macari wines. “The fact that we’re able to support some of our favorite North Fork creatives in the process only made it more exciting,” says Gabriella. Supporting the local community is a major part of the Macari ethos.
Gabriella and her team created an extremely special and safely distanced high-end brand moment that her customers adored. “They’ve been a huge hit! We’ve been proud to offer an experience that makes everyone feel safe, yet taken care of both on the customer and staff level.” With the bungalows limited to a single rental per day, customers were also able to slow down and enjoy. “The fact that there are so many different elements to bungalows beyond just wine means that guests can really spend a full afternoon enjoying them.”
REFOCUSED ON THE FUTURE
This summer, Macari finds themselves reinventing once again and the tasting experiences now include an option to enjoy a private tasting suite, or a cellar tour, tasting, and lunch between the vines. Gabriella and the team are especially excited about the return of the Macari Barrel Cellar Experience, which offers a flight of five newly released wines alongside cheese, charcuterie and locally made bread. The experience welcomes guests with a toast of “HORSES”, the 2020 Sparkling Cabernet Franc.
There’s hope that Macari will be able to bring back “more collaborations, guest chef dinners, and public-facing events in the months ahead,” says Gabriella. It’s also likely that the Bergen Road Bungalows will return as the season veers colder in the fall and winter months.
The Macari team hasn’t sacrificed quality in the face of redesign. If anything, the last year has made them stronger. “We’ve actually appreciated the opportunity that COVID has given us to take a step back and reevaluate our own vision,” Gabriella says as she thinks about the last year. “We’ve been given the chance to make the customer interaction special–even when it’s a socially distant one.”