EFFINGHAM — Last year, Erin Hartke, general manager of Tuscan Hills Winery in Effingham, had everything planned out for a fun, relatively safe event despite COVID-19 restrictions. Winery Winterland was going to be an all-outdoor event, taking advantage of the space heaters installed at the facility’s patios.
However, just a week before the event, with cases rising to their highest levels of the pandemic, Hartke made the difficult decision to cancel the event.
She still had the idea in her back pocket for 2021, and with vaccines available and restrictions largely gone, she was finally able to make the event possible Friday afternoon.
“Because we already had the invested idea, we wanted to give it another shot,” Hartke said.
The event is similar to the original idea she had for last year with holiday-themed activities for the whole family. People could rent a pair of ice skates and slide across an 83-linear-foot rink in front of the main building. Afterward, they could take a look at some fresh Christmas trees from Dave’s Trees, a local distributor of real Fraser and Canaan firs.
Children also enjoyed a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, along with his reindeer. Friday’s events were mainly for adults, while younger people had their day on Saturday.
“(Friday’s) a little bit more of the adult party with live music, bringing your tree home and doing some Christmas drinks,” Hartke said. “(Saturday) is really geared towards children, Santa, reindeer, ice skating (and) hot cocoa. It’s really geared for children.”
Providing the real trees outside was Dave’s Trees, a venture started by Dave Burrow, a local lawn care specialist, who needed a side project to do when the weather got cooler and the grass stopped growing. When a local tree supplier stopped selling Christmas trees last year, Burrow decided to step into the role and provide fresh trees for anyone who wants them.
“We wanted to continue to sell trees in the Effingham area and make sure there’s a good source of quality Christmas trees,” Burrow said.
Burrow had more trees a year ago and more time to sell them. He only had this past weekend at Tuscan Hills this year, in large part because the large demand for real Christmas trees last year sapped much of the supply slated for this year.
“During the pandemic, a lot of people wanted to go out and get a Christmas tree,” Burrow said. “People were inside, pent up and they wanted to get out and do something. The demand for Christmas trees was so high that they were pulling from the larger inventory reserved from previous years, selling them from a shorter height. This year, there’s also a large demand for the trees.”
While the event is a good way for Hartke and Tuscan Hills to expand their customer base, they still get plenty of demand for their core product — fermented beverages made from grapes and other fruits. Hartke took the time to promote the winery’s two holiday wines — Effing Naughty, a red wine made with a hint of cranberry, and Effing Nice, a white wine made completely out of apples.
“Lots of people have come in to do a wine tasting and take some bottles home,” Hartke said.
Plenty of planning and some patience went into pulling off the event.
“If all goes the way that we think it will, it definitely has the potential to be an annual event,” Hartke said.