WILLCOX — For those looking forward to the annual Fall Willcox Wine Country Festival last weekend, organizers of the festival had a different plan on Saturday and Sunday.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Cochise Graham Wine Council, Inc., who organizes not only the fall festival, but it’s spring equivalent as well, came up with a brand-new never done before plan.

As opposed to the traditional wine festival of years past, at this year’s wine festival alternative, attendees were invited to a free small gathering at Railroad Park, aptly named “Festival in the Park.”

The gathering “featured craft, artisan and specialty vendors,” and while no wineries were present at Railroad Park this year, an alternative poker run promotional event was held to get those who bought a separate ticket called a passport out to the various vineyards within the surrounding area of Willcox. As well as a junior member of Willcox Wine Country (WWC), Copper Horse Vineyards.

According to Willcox Wine Country’s website, there were four destinations for participants to get playing cards, each participant got five cards, whoever had the best hand at the end of the promotion won prizes.

As of Tuesday, the winner is still being determined by Willcox Wine Country according to their Facebook page as “some hands are coming in,” but they did release a preliminary list of the best hands from the weekend in a posting from Oct. 18.

According to their website, Copper Horse Vineyards “is a beautiful boutique vineyard located in South East Arizona, at the foothills of the Chiricahuas Mountains. We grow grapes at an altitude of 4,500 feet and can be found just 50 miles from the Mexican border.”

The Herald/Review reached out to Copper Horse Vineyards regarding their participation and thoughts on what it is like when the Wine Country Festival itself isn’t being run in the traditional manner of years past.

“We were glad to be part of the promotion. It was a busy weekend but not overwhelming,” said Eric Desfachelles, owner of Copper Horse Vineyards. “We reached capacity only a couple of times and had to ask people to wait or come back later. It was not as busy nor lucrative as a regular wine festival, but considering COVID, it was more than OK.”

Overall he said the event was a success.

“Lots of visitors, not all part of the promotion, but we had a lot of tastings with positive feedback and we sold a lot of wine,” he added. “Overall it went smoothly and I think everybody had a good (and safe) time.”

Sam Pillsbury, founder and owner of Pillsbury Wines, a vineyard that has been around for twenty years, chimed in with his thoughts on the Poker Run promotion.

“If we had done the festival we would have made maybe five times more money, because we’re fifteen miles away, obviously we didn’t get a hell of a lot of people. We were pretty busy all day Saturday. It was real crowded on Sunday,” Pillsbury said.

“I do think it worked, it just was hard to tell how spectacular it was, except for the fact that people seemed to love doing it. The first thing they did when they came was ask what our code was and then we would see them punching it in on their phones.”

Pillsbury said this year’s alternative event differed from the traditional festival, an event he and Rod Keeling helped found eleven years ago, alongside their initial founding of Willcox Wine Country.

“You can’t compare it. I’ve been involved from day one like this one. It doesn’t compare, because the two are so different. Comparing the two wouldn’t make any sense,” Pillsbury said.