Arizona Grit: Bruzzi Vineyard’s journey through the pandemic


YOUNG — Bruzzi Vineyard is a family owned and operated vineyard in Gila County’s historic town of Young. They are known for their beautiful estate featuring a farm stand with local offerings and their resident four-legged team members consisting of two llamas and two adorable baby doll sheep.

While 2020 has been a challenge for all of us, the remote location and current events of the year have tested the grit and ingenuity of Bruzzi Vineyard owner, James Bruzzi.

Given the remote location, limited healthcare resources, and vulnerable population of Young, Bruzzi Vineyard has been a champion of pandemic protection for the area.

Let’s take a look at the challenges they have faced…

“WE ARE THE LAST ONES”

Bruzzi Vineyard was the last wine tasting room open in the American West. This was a unique challenge of independent research while following governmental guidelines.

Knowing of the reality and severity of the threat, Bruzzi Vineyard instituted safety and sanitation protocols, even before formal guidelines were released. 

“LET’S CHANGE THE MODEL”

After the shutdown order, James quickly committed that although the future was uncertain, keeping the staff employed was non-negotiable.

Bruzzi Vineyard pivoted to a take-out only menu and began offering wine sales with complimentary contact-free deliveries, anywhere in the state.

Even though this model added expense and considerably more labor, the move made it possible to keep the team working and keep the business afloat. Delivery also made it possible for Arizona residents to enjoy their favorite wines without leaving the safety of their homes.   

“WE NEED TO MITIGATE”

As businesses were allowed to reopen, Bruzzi Vineyard took a conservative approach to keep the town of Young COVID-free. This included investing in property modifications to keep people distant, only allowing limited patio seating, serving all guests with disposable dishware, and turning away large groups.

While this decision had a sizeable impact on profits, it was the right decision to keep everyone healthy.

“BE HOME BY 8PM”

With the protests raging around the country, the government enacted an 8PM curfew. Located nearly 3 hours from the valley, this eliminated a substantial population of both dinner and wine guests, further burdening the already reduced visitor counts.

“IT’S BURNING”

In June, the Arizona Bush Fire covered over 160,000 acres. The smoke from the fire was so intense, that it would blot out the legendary sunsets of Young. This fire coincided with the Bruzzi Vineyard Summer Solstice event.

Originally, the event was planned to be outside to keep guests safe and physically distant, but the smoke created a new hazard.

To make sure the guests would not be disappointed with a cancellation, the Bruzzi Vineyard team moved quickly to modify their indoor tasting room to keep the guests distant and safe from the smoke outside.

Keeping the event going provided the Bruzzi Vineyard guests a much-needed physiological reprieve from the stresses of the Spring months.

“I WILL NOT COMPLY”

We have all seen many videos going viral of customers refusing to comply with state and local guidelines. The little town of Young has not been immune to this during the pandemic. Several guests have taken to social media complaining about Bruzzi Vineyard’s adherence to the mask guidelines, limiting number of guests, and the use of disposable dishware. Others have elected to stage their protest on the staff.

To work with these guests, Bruzzi Vineyard has endeavored to make all expectations as clear as possible and permitting on estate picnics to accommodate larger groups.

“SECOND TIME IS THE CHARM”

As Arizona became the fastest growing state for COVID-19, the second shutdown began restricting all bars. This was another example of the communication issues coming from state and local authorities. Is a vineyard a bar, restaurant, or farm? 

Unclear expectations and governmental orders created a environment where Bruzzi Vineyard had to do independent research to be a sure they are following the law as expected.

“DO NOT ENTER”

The pandemic has coincided with a number of closures that have impacted the usual flow of outdoor enthusiasts in the area.

The forest and its attractions were shutdown to reduce the risk of fire from campers.

Forest Road 512, also known as the Young Road, was shutdown with a very intimidating sign. “Road Closed”, “Stop No Entry”, “ALL Activities Prohibited”, and other statements on the barricade turned guests around who had already driven most of the way to the vineyard.

Local, State, and Federal authorities have had a communications breakdown by not informing residents of the actual function of the closures. 

With all of the challenges that 2020 has thrown at Bruzzi Vineyard, they have pivoted, strategized, and toiled to stay open serving the community and visitors from around the globe. These challenges have also raised the need for authorities to work with small businesses. Strategy and grit can only go so far when there are literal barricades blocking guests from visiting.

In our new normal, we need to make responsible leadership decisions to keep both our people and businesses well. In our new normal, clarity of communication and mutual efforts will make all of the difference.

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