Virtually in the Vineyards
Social media gives fans an inside look at Michigan wineries
Photo by Caryn Chachulski
Cellar Master Dawie Conradie processing the last of the
fruit from the harvest — Cabernet Franc — at 2 Lads.
This year's harvest was a spectacular one for Michigan wineries, and I got to be there for it all.
I was there as the winemakers admired the healthy, abundant grapes, beaming with pride and relief after two brutally sparse seasons.
I was there as they began plucking the grapes from their vines, by machine or by hand. I was there as they carted the grapes to their winery facilities to begin the process of turning them into wine.
I was there as the trees surrounding the vineyards turned red and gold and burnt orange, and the leaves began falling to the ground.
Well, OK — I wasn't really there. But I felt like I was, even while remaining physically in metro Detroit, with not a grapevine in sight. That's because now, more than ever before, Michigan wineries are chronicling their stories — in particular, their harvest stories — on social media.
On 2 Lads' Facebook and Instagram accounts, fans were treated to a near-daily show of fall splendor surrounding the Old Mission Peninsula winery, interspersed with behind the scenes images of pre-, mid-, and post-harvest operations. The eye-popping photos are the work of Caryn Chachulski, who wears a variety of hats at 2 Lads: director of social media, direct-to-consumer manager, and wine educator.
By now, photography has become part of her daily routine.
"I try to get at least a quick photo in every day," she says. "Sometimes I'm able to set up a small photo shoot and get a few photos I can use over the course of a few weeks."
Plenty of Raw Material
It isn't hard to find fodder.
"We live in such a beautiful area that any scenery makes for a great photo, although I try to tie the winery or wine to it somehow," Chachulski says. "I like to take photos of what I call #behindthescenes — some of the day-to-day winemaking operations that you don't get to see from the tasting room to give people some insight on all that goes into making a bottle of wine."
Recent examples include winemaker Cornel Olivier filling barrels with what will eventually be the winery's Cabernet Franc Reserve; the last of the season's grapes being crushed and destemmed; and workers handpicking riesling from the vine. Using the hashtag #ViewFromThe2, Chachulski also snaps the winery's iconic vista — overlooking Grand Traverse Bay — from various angles and during different seasons.
Photo by Elizabeth Weddle
Rainbow over the fall vineyard at Chateau Grand Traverse.
At neighboring Chateau Grand Traverse, Marketing Coordinator Elizabeth Weddle's photography duties can range from a quick shot once a week to an entire day spent behind the camera. She recalls an afternoon this fall when she immersed herself in the vineyards for hours to capture photos of crews handpicking CGT's Gamay Noir.
"We're afforded only one opportunity a year to harvest and make wine," she says, "and those small moments are really priceless."
Weddle — who regularly posts CGT content to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Pinterest — agrees that CGT's social media coverage of this year's harvest in particular seemed to pique the interest of their followers. It's not surprising that the stellar crop has been a hot topic, considering the back-to-back seasons of polar vortex-triggered scarcity that preceded it.
"The consistent documentation of our harvest season definitely sparked excitement in our fans," says Weddle. "We received many comments from folks that couldn't wait to get 'up' here, see the radiant colors, and taste the wines for themselves. The scenes that capture and evoke emotion are usually met with the most excitement — and likes! Sunsets over the vineyard, sun-kissed grapes ready to be harvested, and of course, pictures of our winery dog are the biggest hits."
Photo by Caryn Chachulski
Harvesting of Cabernet Franc, the final grapes left
on the vine, at 2 Lads.
While Sitka the winery dog often serves as the star of the show at CGT, downstate at Berrien Springs-based Domaine Berrien Cellars, winemaker/co-owner Wally Maurer has become the primary scene stealer.
Emily Coffman — DBC's retail/hospitality sales manager and event coordinator who also manages their social media — says Facebook videos featuring the down-to-earth Maurer explaining goings-on at the winery seem to elicit the best response.
"It's a dual-pronged thing," she says. "They like the educational factor of learning something, and Wally has a certain amount of 'celebrity' here and they like seeing him and feeling important" by hearing directly from him.
In one recent video, Maurer speaks directly to the camera, explaining how and why Traminette is handled differently than other white grapes for crushing and destemming and walking the viewer to various parts of the machinery to demonstrate how it works. A follow-up clip shows the grapes being pumped to the press for separating skins and seeds as Maurer narrates.
The ability to both connect with existing customers and attract new ones, says Coffman, is what drives DBC's social media presence.
"For the customers who have liked you on social media because they've already been to your establishment/are already a loyal customer, it keeps you at the forefront of their mind," she says. "It allows engagement outside of the physical tasting room in a way that can help them to feel special and informed. Simply put, it reminds them that we're here. There is also the opportunity to reach new customers and a new customer base through social media, and that's very exciting."
Photo by Elizabeth Weddle
Gamay picking in the Chateau Grand Traverse vineyards.
Chachulski believes her photos generate memories of adventures past — and those still to come.
"Many of our customers are here on vacation, and who doesn't love to be reminded of vacation?" she says. "If one of my photos of the view or the wines comes across their feed and reminds them of a fun vacation, that's a good thing!"
When winery staffers make an effort to view their breathtaking surroundings through the eyes of a visitor, it shines through on social media, says Weddle.
"When you live and work in the middle of wine country, it's easy to take your incredibly scenic surroundings for granted," she says. "If you don't let that happen, people will be grateful to share a bit of paradise with you."
Chachulski hopes her posts help give fans a deeper understanding and appreciation of the love and effort that goes into creating each bottle of wine they take home.
Photo by Caryn Chachulski
"These are all Pinot Grigio, taken with no filter.
The color spectrum of the grapes changes pretty
drastically with different lighting. The top, reddish
color is under florescence lights, the middle
purple color is natural sunlight and most true to
color, and the bottom bluer color is shaded sunlight.
And from all of this, we get white wine!”
"Wine isn't made in an afternoon," she says. "The vintage starts with bud break in the vineyard in the spring, and carries through to bottling over the winter for most of the white wines, and red wines have an even longer timeframe.
“In between, there are so many things that happen that influence the wine, from seasonal temperatures and weather to pruning and weeding in the vineyard. Then there is the cleaning of the tanks and barrels, racking and returning wines, fining and filtering, all before bottling. It tells a wonderful story when done in pictures.”
In contrast to traditional marketing, Weddle and Chachulski say they appreciate the two-way interaction with fans that social media provides.
"I'd love more conversations," says Chachulski. "There really is a person behind the posts, and I am here to help and answer questions, too!"
"You can be educational or entertaining, serious or funny, and start meaningful conversations about the passion behind your product," adds Weddle. "It's personal."
Which are your favorite Michigan wineries to follow on social media? Comment below!
Cortney Casey is a certified sommelier and co-founder of MichiganByTheBottle.com, a website and online community that promotes the entire Michigan wine industry. She’s also co-owner of Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room, tasting rooms operated in partnership with multiple Michigan wineries, located in Shelby Township, Royal Oak, and Auburn Hills. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.