March 3, 2024

Come On, Get Happy (Hour) at Suttons Bay Wineries and Cidery

By Ross Boissoneau | July 14, 2018

In the Suttons Bay area, they’re taking the concept of Happy Hour to a whole new level — the hilltop level. Three wineries — Willow Vineyards, Ciccone Vineyard and Winery, and Chateau de Leelanau — and Suttons Bay Ciders are working together to promote Hilltop Happy Hour.

The idea came from Jo Crampton, who owns and runs Willow Vineyards with her husband, John. “We figured out last year we weren’t getting much business before 3pm. We didn’t know if people were starting on the other end [of the Leelanau Wine Trail] or what. So I thought, let’s start them here and get them before they go anywhere else.”

She proposed the idea of a cooperative happy hour to her friends nearby. Janell Preseau, the tasting room manager at Ciccone Vineyard, said yes, then they brought the others on board. After some brainstorming, they came up with the concept of a cooperative happy hour from noon til 2pm on weekdays.

The Hilltop Happy Hour differs slightly in detail among the four participants, but the theme is much the same: Prices for tastings or bottles (or growlers or howlers at the cidery) are slightly less than during the rest of the day, and they all offer some sort of snack to complement the wine, such as pretzels and popcorn. The goal is to generate more traffic during a slower time in hopes that patrons will return again later.

“It’s a way to try to drum up some business,” said Mark Korzon of Suttons Bay Ciders.

Though it’s actually been in effect for a couple months, he said the idea is just starting to get some traction. “Most people are not even aware of it.” He believes it will continue to build throughout the year. “We look at it as a long-term process,” Korzon said.

So, too, does Matt Gregory, the winemaker and managing partner at Chateau de Leelanau, though he believes the happy hour has already had an impact. “We’ve seen a fair amount of people that have mentioned it,” he said.

Preseau concurred with Gregory. “Our sales are up, the number of people is up. I attribute some of that to the happy hour,” she said.

For her part, Crampton is only too happy to let people know about it. She makes sure to promote the other nearby participants to all those who stop in at Willow Vineyards between noon and 2, whether they were aware of it or not. She said the ever-increasing number of wineries makes it even more important to work together, particularly with her neighbors.

And the idea has been embraced by all four. “It’s a cooperative effort. The four of us realized we’re so close in proximity that it makes a whole lot of sense to work together,” said Gregory.

Preseau said the idea is emblematic of the ways in which wineries work together. “It’s one of the many collaborations you see the wineries do. Everybody struggles with certain things. You can pick up the phone and call” when you have a question or a problem, she said. “We stress we’re only as good as the area and fellow wineries. It’s the sum of the whole.”

All four said they don’t worry overmuch about anyone over-indulging during the happy hour and then driving to the next stop. “Everybody is responsible. There’s usually a designated driver” who doesn’t have anything to drink or just has a taste, said Crampton.

As to where it goes from here, Gregory said they will discuss it later in the year. “When we get through the busy season, we’ll talk about and evaluate it.”

Crampton is hopeful it will continue or even expand next year. She suggests looking at concepts like a progressive poker game, where patrons collect cards at each venue, or other means to get people in the doors. There are so many wineries, we have to reinvent ways to bring in patrons, she said.

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