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How Covid affected America’s winemakers: Sin Banderas, Washington State

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03/03/2021 2020 was tough for restaurateurs and bar owners - but how was it for winemakers? We spoke to Jacki Evans of Sin Banderas to find out more

“We usually rely on wine events, where people can buy our wine on the spot - and those events didn't happen at all last year"

- Jacki Evans

America’s winemakers are varied and diverse, from tiny operations to huge multinational corporations. Sin Banderas, run by a group of winemaking friends in Washington’s Yakima Valley, is much closer to the former model. Jacki Evans, for example, works as a winemaker at Owen Roe (what she calls her ‘real job’), with Sin Banderas a side-project.

Nonetheless, the winery - where Evans works with Nacho Licea, Elyse Woda and Francois Deneepen - has built up a reputation. Last year, their 2019 Rose won 97 points at the Sommeliers Choice Awards, winning the Rose Wine of the Year award at the same time. But while it was a good year on the award front, the Pandemic made it difficult in other ways. We caught up with Evans to see how they rode out the storm.

2020 was a very difficult time in hospitality. For you, as a wine-maker, and for Sin Banderas, how did it go? 

“It's been very quiet. We didn't really have any problems as far as wine-making goes, since wineries are still essential. But selling wine is a totally different story. Since we don't have a tasting room, we usually rely on wine events, and places where we can pour wine for people, and they can buy it on the spot. And that hasn't happened at all last year.”


So did you find another way of selling wine, or was it just that you sold much less wine?

“We are trying to bump up our online plans, and we also met up with this group called The Crafty Cask. They're an online proprietor: they promote craft alcohols, they host virtual tastings and stuff, plus private and corporate events. They've been really supportive in helping us get out there, and we’ve done a few online tastings. We have been certainly learning a lot about cyber marketing and sales strategies.

“Because we were limited in how we could connect with people, it required us to really focus on what we COULD DO to reach people. There has been renewed interest in small businesses really working together and pulling for each other. We are always trying to make more connections.”

Sin Banderas Wines

Sin Banderas Wines, Image Credit: Jacki Evans

So in terms of volume of wine, was it much as it has been in previous years?

“We actually made just a little bit more - maybe 80 cases more. We bumped up the Red blend to 175 cases, Riesling is similar to last year (60 cases) and the Rose increased to 200 cases. One new exciting project is our barrel of port! It’s also a blend of Syrah and Mourvedre. We aren’t really sure how long it will stay in barrel, but it’s already tasting pretty great!”

As a small winemaker, you don’t own any vineyards - was it hard last year to source the grapes that you needed?

“No, not for us. We're so small - we only buy a few tons. It wasn't a problem. I imagine some vineyard crews that maybe had an outbreak [of Covid-19] or something, they probably struggled to harvest sometimes. But, fortunately, we didn't have any problems. We are a very small team, and this is a passion project for us. We all have ‘real jobs’ that we go to every day.”

Strolling through a vineyard

Strolling through a vineyard, Image Credit: Jacki Evans

Have hospitality’s problems had a big impact on you?

“It has, especially since everything closed. We're in a handful of restaurants around Yakima, and a couple in Seattle, but [of those] some closed down permanently, some closed down for six or nine months or whatever. It's great that things are starting to open back up, and it’s made it all the more important to be able to sell more online.”

Will 2020 have a knock-on effect for you?

“For Sin Banderas, I don't think so. It might have slowed us down a little bit, but we were just kind of gaining momentum anyway. Will it change what we do? Well, we always want to grow and learn, and do things better.”

And how about for the Yakima Valley in general?

“Yeah - for my real job, for Owen Roe, things are very different. We’ve obviously been keeping social distancing, and trying to not get sick; we’ve all been concerned about losing our sense of taste and smell. We couldn't hire - usually we hire international help for harvest - and weren't able to do that this year. And there were some days where I would work from home, as much as I could, and I'd come into the winery around 4pm, after the crew was gone, to screen some things for quality control. 

“But I think, as far as quality goes, I think Washington wineries are in a good position for 2020, because there were so many wildfires last year, in Oregon and California. We didn't really have any issues up here in 2020.”

Do you feel optimistic about the future for Sin Banderas?

“Yes, I am! We have been getting some good recognition, which of course makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. I’m sure people will be itching for events as things return to normal. We bottled our new Riesling and Rose yesterday, and we are very happy with them. We are seriously ready for spring!”

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