Papa Moon Vineyards and Winery near Scottsbluff, Neb., began with the planting of grapevines in 2007. Ryan Massey, owner and cider maker at the vineyard, says that they hoped to start a new hobby and further a love of gardening and plant cultivation.
“What began as a side project turned into an obsession, and in 2012, our passion realized itself as a serious business,” Massey says. “We settled on the name ‘Papa Moon’ because it was how our grandson affectionately referred to Grandpa, when he was taken out to see the full moon in the vineyards.”
The winery produces a variety of cold hardy and grape wines and hard ciders. The vineyard includes 10 acres of grapes, a wine production facility, a tasting room, a cider garden with yard games, a wine cellar, and bridal and wedding facilities.
“Our clientele is small in our local area, but we have a large following in the eastern side of the state, in Colorado and in the Dakotas,” Massey explains. “Lots of travelers stop by.”
Meeting people is one of the joys of owning a vineyard and winery, Massey says. “Meeting people and hearing about their lives, travels and stories is what we look forward to,” he adds. “Connecting with people always helps us feel closer, and especially after this tumultuous year, we’re looking forward to interacting with visitors and regaining some semblance of normalcy. We enjoy providing our guests the escape they have needed this last year, and knowing they can do that here is special.”
COVID-19 was rough on hospitality businesses, including Nebraska vineyards. One of the hosting platforms that has helped Papa Moon through these difficult times is Harvest Hosts. This platform is a yearly membership that connects domestic travelers — particularly RVers — to more than 2,000 unique farms, wineries, museums and other destinations across the U.S., such as Papa Moon.
“We love welcoming newcomers to the vineyard, sharing with them our passion for creating the best wine and formulas for our ciders,” Massey says. “Harvest Hosts helped us create a new way to monetize, spread the word organically, and make it easier for people to discover us through the platform.” He notes that it brings people from outside the Scottsbluff area, and that is their biggest following.
Joel Holland purchased Harvest Hosts in 2018 and has since helped the platform grow in terms of memberships and host locations. “To find new farms and wineries to join the Harvest Hosts network, we take referrals in additional to an internal team that is focused on sourcing locations,” he says. “It’s completely free to the hosts. Before adding a new host into the platform, we do verify if there is space for RVs to park and if there is a scenic view, so members are not just looking at a parking lot.”
The platform helps RVers find new locations such as Papa Moon. “It’s simply extra optics and ways for people to learn about a farm or attraction, and drive tourism to the location,” Holland explains. “From there, we encourage the RVers to make a small purchase to help support the farm. Members on average spend $50 per visit. The best part is that the business can stick to business as usual — what they do is why travelers want to visit.”
Hosts are expected to provide safe, ample room to park RVs and other domestic travel vehicles in a clean and accessible area. “They can be anywhere on their property. For example, sometimes RVers like to park in the parking lot, and other times they like to park in between the vines deep in a vast vineyard,” Holland says. “It’s all up to what the host allows and also specific to their land. Our members stay only for 24 hours, and always make a purchase to support the hosts they visit.”
There is no cost for the RVers to stay at a host location, so Harvest Hosts asks that they support the business in some other way — maybe purchasing a bottle of wine from a vineyard or visiting a gift shop.
“Last year, we were able to funnel an additional average of around $13,000 to each host location, with some reaching upwards of $40,000 to $50,000 in income earned from Harvest Hosts visitors,” Holland says.
Massey says that Harvest Hosts provides attractions such as Papa Moon with a booking system for taking reservations. Papa Moon also allows visitors to call to set up a time for a stay.
“We take our guests into the vineyards to get an up-close view of each step of the process,” Massey adds. “We offer exceptional scenery, along with award-winning wines and ciders. The entire property is kid- and pet-friendly, and we have hiking trails, farm animals and plenty of privacy as well.”
Holland says that there are never any fees or long-term contracts required of host locations. “The pandemic changed travel greatly,” he says. “We conducted a survey with over 10,000 Americans on their feelings and attitudes toward travel at the beginning of the year, and the results were clear. This is the year of RV travel, with 76% of RVers planning to travel more this year than last.”