During some of her travels to other wineries over the years, Megan Phillips fell in love with one particular outdoor seating option that she one day hoped to implement at Cave Ridge Vineyard and Winery.
Though it took a global pandemic to push her dream into reality, Phillips now has four igloos on site at the winery located at 1476 Conicville Road in Mount Jackson.
“We’ve been basically doing all of our business outside with patio heaters and fire pit tables, which definitely has helped,” said Phillips, who serves as the winery’s general manager. “Business has gone down quite a bit but the igloos already have been great. Last weekend, we were completely booked with every reservation. They seem to be pretty popular so far.”
The igloos came from Garden Igloos USA and sit with an 11-by-9-foot diameter. One igloo can comfortably seat about seven people, and Phillips has equipped them with fire pit tables and patio heaters.
According to the company, the igloo structure is made of non-corrosive, 100% recyclable PVC and PA6 materials. The transparent cover is made of non-toxic, soft, transparent, robust 300-micron, UV resisted, -4 degree Fahrenheit cold crack resisted and fire-retardant PVC.
They can withstand winds of up to 31 miles per hour and about 90 pounds of snow, according to the company.
Since COVID-19 hit in March, the winery has been operating on a reservation system. Now with the igloos in place, seatings are set at certain times throughout the day.
For example, a typical Saturday usually has guests seated at noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. There’s a 30-minute window in between the time that the previous party leaves and the next guests arrive to ventilate and sanitize the igloo’s seating area.
Though the igloos are able to be used in the summer months as well, Phillips said the current plan is to only use them from November through April.
The investment into the winery’s outdoor seating also includes the purchase of about 10 heaters and four fire pit tables. Phillips said she was lucky enough to get those ordered in the summertime before many companies ran out.
“It was a big investment,” she said, “but we felt that without being able to seat people indoors we didn't have many other options.”
Some services at the winery have changed during the pandemic to keep both patrons and employees safe while using outdoor seating.
The winery now uses a hostess stand, and guests are only allowed inside to use the restroom one at a time. Phillips also turned one of her front windows into a pick-up window.
The winery isn’t doing tastings like it used to, but customers can still order flights — which is a portion of various wines that still offers the feel of a tasting.
The igloos are a concierge service, so employees go up and take customers' order and deliver the wine to their igloo rather than the customers ordering from the pick-up window.
Phillips said that COVID-19 has put businesses like Cave Ridge in a trying situation.
“It was definitely very scary. You do have the income that decreases with COVID, with not being able to operate as usual, then having to make these investments,” she said. “It actually takes more staff to run things the way that we are. It spreads us out a little bit more than we’re used to.”
It’s helped, though, that the community has been supportive, even through the winter months.
“It’s wonderful. We’re so, so grateful. They’ve been so supportive during this time,” she said. “When we couldn't even have seating outside, people were doing pick-up orders and online orders, and it was a huge relief. I think having all of the other wineries around us is beneficial — pre-COVID, during COVID and post-COVID — because it does draw people to the area and helps tourism.”
Phillips said she has also seen more people coming in from Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and Maryland during the pandemic.
Cave Ridge Vineyard and Winery planted in the foothills of the Shenandoah Valley n 2001 and opened in 2005. It remains a family-run business. Phillips said her father, Randy Phillips, is the owner and winemaker.
For more information or to book a reservation, visit caveridge.com.