In late May, Bel Lago Vineyard & Winery held a grand re-opening at which it showcased renovations to its tasting room.
COVID-19 slowed down the timeline for the renovations, but the project was eventually completed. Meanwhile, the winery took the opportunity to enhance its outdoor space so that it could continue to serve customers while its tasting room was still under repair.
VIntner Magazine caught up with Bel Lago Business Manager Christy Stapleton, who shared details about how Bel Lago determined the time was right for a new tasting room, what updates it made, why it made them, and how the new changes will work in concert with improvements to its outdoor space.
VINTNER: What updates were made to the tasting room, what was the process like for deciding what these changes would be, and how do you feel it will help staff better serve customers?
STAPLETON: We’ve expanded our tasting room and created a new bar that allows customers to face the beautiful view of Lake Leelanau while enjoying wines, ciders and pizzas. This larger bar and new setup allows for our staff to better serve customers in a more efficient manner, allowing for faster service during the busy season. The expanded tasting room allows for more customer seating both at the bar and at added tables to allow guests to soak in the experience at a more enjoyable pace. We also added eight cider taps that are now available in addition to our wine menu. Additionally, we’ve added a second bathroom, a pizza oven, and a cooler filled with to-go wines, ciders and snacks to better serve our guests.
VINTNER: What led leadership to decide the time was right for a new tasting room and other updates you mentioned, such as to the labels and your signage?
STAPLETON: Since the beginning, Bel Lago, under winemaker and owner Charlie Edson, has focused on making the highest quality wine possible. This means spending extra time in the vineyards making sure the vines are tended to and managed in a way that produces the most flavorful grapes. It also means allowing our wines more time in the barrels and taking special care to select only the best wines for bottling. Our belief was (and is) that the quality of our wines speak for themselves and admittedly we spent less time focusing on our marketing efforts. In 2019, Charlie sold Bel Lago but remains our senior winemaker and an important part of Bel Lago’s day-to-day operations. New owner John Heekin has a great appreciation for all Charlie has built and an energy and excitement for creating a broader recognition for the quality of Bel Lago wines. Part of the strategy for building our brand recognition and awareness required us to take a good look at how we could improve the customer experience in our tasting room and create a more cohesive look across all branded elements. To accomplish these things we decided we needed to refresh our tasting room and hire a designer to develop a concept we could apply to our labels, signage and merchandise.
VINTNER: When was the last time the tasting room was updated?
STAPLETON: About 3-4 years ago the tasting room was painted and redesigned, but nothing like what was recently completed.
VINTNER: What supply chain challenges did COVID-19 throw that got in the way of completing the project, and how did you overcome those? Also, did the pandemic lead you to make any changes to the original redesign idea, or did you stick to the plan?
STAPLETON: We had some setbacks when the stay at home went through and our construction crew had to pause work on the renovation. Fortunately, we were already planning on an expansion of the tasting room which allowed for proper social distancing. We also have a spacious patio that was crucial for Summer 2020 since we were not yet able to operate indoors.
VINTNER: Will the outdoor changes that were made during the pandemic stick around as permanent fixtures?
STAPLETON: The igloo that we added last winter will be a permanent fall/winter fixture here at Bel Lago after all of the positive feedback we received. It gave customers the chance to enjoy wine, cider and pizza in a private setting while still being able to enjoy the view of Lake Leelanau.
Photos courtesy of Bel Lago Vineyard & Winery