Rural Nebraska family winery’s cozy virtual wine tastings a hit with cabin-fevered connoisseurs and casual fans alike

The pandemic may have stopped many in their tracks, but the wine and beer continue to flow. Or at least that’s true of Mac’s Creek Winery and Brewery in Lexington, Nebraska. Faced with the challenge of their shuttered tasting room due to the COVID-19 global pandemic and subsequent lockdown, the family-owned winery and vineyard decided…

A Dutch-angled view of Mac's Creek's lauded vineyard
A Dutch-angled view of Mac's Creek's lauded vineyard

The pandemic may have stopped many in their tracks, but the wine and beer continue to flow. Or at least that’s true of Mac’s Creek Winery and Brewery in Lexington, Nebraska.

Faced with the challenge of their shuttered tasting room due to the COVID-19 global pandemic and subsequent lockdown, the family-owned winery and vineyard decided to showcase its products and expertise online.

Since March, Mac’s Creek has hosted several virtual wine tasting events via Facebook Live, garnering attention from over 4,000 viewers. 

Viewers who attend the virtual tastings are notified of the wines of interest beforehand so they can purchase and enjoy them together with the hosts, which rotate between family members. 

The unique approach to continuing operations was popular with viewers on social media and gained the south-central Nebraska business national attention. The vineyard was featured on lifestyle channel HGTV’s website and won a Nebraska Tourism Industry award in September for best virtual event.

“We were thrilled,” said Barry McFarland, co-owner and business manager. “We were just trying to see how it would go, and if we could get 50 people to watch us that would be great, that’s how we were looking at it. And then it totally snowballed.”

What’s a virtual tasting like? Relaxed, informative, experiential—and socially distanced.

A recent livestream featured Theresa and Max McFarland lounging at their dining room table with a skillet of paella and several bottles of Mac’s Creek wine, which can be purchased online and at grocery stores across the state. The couple’s son, co-owner and vineyard manager Seth MacFarland, read aloud the names of loyal customers, while Theresa discussed Mac’s Creek’s Manzanas Dulces, a fruit wine made with apples from the local Arbor Day Farms in Nebraska City. 

Attendees may come for the drinks, but they stay for the experience, according to Barry.

“We quickly realized it was more about us, and the story of the winery and the wines, and not so much about the technical side of wine,” he said. “You could tell people really wanted to connect somehow during that time period because they were stuck at home.”

The Nebraska Tourism Awards committee appreciated the event for this same appeal.

“The videos are charming,” said Jenn Gjerde, marketing manager for the Nebraska Tourism Commission. “They tell more people about the family, and people really appreciate getting to know them, creating a personal level that these videos took the wine tasters on.”

Theresa and Max, whom the family fondly refers to as “Mother Theresa and The White Hair,” started Mac’s Creek with their adult children in 1999 after buying a plot of land in Lexington. Since then, the winery has expanded into a statewide operation, selling their products in stores across Nebraska. The business also has a tasting room at the vineyard, which boasts a lively community of regulars. 

When the vineyard was closed from March until June, the McFarlands were forced to furlough their regular staff of growers, administrators, and sales associates. Luckily, family members were able to keep operations afloat while the grapes were in season, with Theresa and Max hitting the road to visit supply locations across the state.

“The grapes are still growing, and there’s still wine in the tanks, and so on the production side nothing really stopped, because nothing really could stop at that point,” said Barry. 

Still, to keep the business afloat, the McFarlands needed to maintain the connection they had to customers. 

We just had to sit down and prioritize; what were our biggest pieces and then what we needed to do to fill in the gaps to keep the doors open and keep operating,” he said. 

Now open with limited capacity, the tasting room sprang back to life since some restrictions were lifted in June. But for those still stuck at home, the winery plans to continue its virtual tastings in the winter, suggest smart holiday pairings, and keep serving up glass after glass of expert wine advice.

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