Coronavirus (COVID-19): Relief options and Additional Resources

Woman-Owned Winery Pushes Through Peak Season with Disaster Relief Assistance from SBA

When Gail Warner Miller had the idea to convert a portion of her family’s farmland into a vineyard with a tasting room, she wasn’t sure where to start. Miller is a 5th generation descendent of Nathaniel Warner, a shipbuilder and soldier in the War of 1812, who first settled on that same farmland off Lake Ontario in 1838. Adding a winery to her family’s land was another way for Miller to share Chaumont, New York’s history with visitors. She turned to her local Small Business Development Center for help.

At the Watertown SBDC, Miller was counseled by advisor Sarah O’Connell. They began working together in 2012 by developing an organizational plan and a three-year budget. Miller worked hard to bring her dream to life, aided by O’Connell’s financial and operational assistance. In 2016, White Caps Winery, LLC opened their doors to guests for the first time.

“It was such a fun journey to take with Gail,” O’Connell comments. “From 2012 when we were looking at initial costs to produce and market a bottle of wine, to 2016 when she opened the warm and welcoming establishment that is White Caps Winery today.”

As a rural farming operation, White Caps Winery has had its fair share of struggles. In 2017, they survived their first flood. In 2018, a drought took out half of Miller’s vineyard. In 2019, the business experienced another flood. And in 2020, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic threatened to ruin the winery’s peak season.

With a hopeful outlook as businesses began to reopen in the early summer months, Miller decided to apply for an SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan only a few days before the program’s June 31, 2020 deadline. By that point, the lender whom White Caps Winery had an established relationship with, was no longer accepting PPP applications. Miller once again turned to Sarah O’Connell at the Watertown SBDC for assistance.

O’Connell was able to quickly connect Miller with Northern Credit Union, a lender based in Jefferson County that the SBDC had worked with successfully in the past. Northern Credit Union worked overtime the night that Miller called to submit her application. “They went out of their way; they were just amazing,” she says.

Miller’s Paycheck Protection Program application was submitted and approved within two hours, providing White Caps Winery with the funds needed to support payroll through part of the peak summer season. “One of the things that hits wineries is the vineyard must be cared for,” she states. Whether or not you’re open, it’s a farming operation so it’s going to take manpower.”

The Paycheck Protection Program is a federal funding program that is designed to assist businesses in keeping their employees on payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic. White Caps Winery, a smaller operation, has two employees on their team: one working the tasting room and one farming the vineyard. “The money has primarily assisted us in paying our guy to rebuild the vineyard which had to be done. His work is critical to our long-term success,” Miller says.

She also says that the winery normally has at least one other person working at the bar and that they’re in the process of hiring someone else.

“This is going to cover a lot of my salaries. It won’t take me all the way through the peak period, but it will take me through much of it. So that’s going to help us and frankly, I don’t know where we would have gone without it.” She adds, “There’s an emotional component because I’m trying to save a farm.”

Since receiving the Paycheck Protection Program funds, White Caps Winery has been able to reopen with more hours than other wineries in the area. “We’re quite proud of that,” Miller states.


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Small Business Development Center (SBDC)

The New York State Small Business Development Center (New York SBDC) - the premier business assistance organization in New York State - provides expert management and technical assistance to start-up and existing businesses across the state. The New York SBDC is administered by State University of New York and funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the State of New York, and host campuses.

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Paycheck Protection Program

The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. SBA will forgive loans if all employee retention criteria are met, and the funds are used for eligible expenses.

The Paycheck Protection Program resumed accepting applications July 6, 2020, at 9:00 AM EDT in response to President signing the program's extension legislation. The new deadline to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan is August 8, 2020. 

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White Caps Winery, LLC