It has been two months since the Governors placed “Shelter in Place” orders across the states due to COVID, which resulted in the closings of wineries, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms. The shutdown led many wineries and tasting rooms to rethink their business model as most of their income stemmed from on-site wine consumption and vineyard tours. With these services closed to dine-in patrons, how would wine enthusiasts be able to get their hands on their favorite wine?
Wineries and tasting rooms had to act fast and get creative by implementing new ways to increase revenue. To “keep the wine flowing”, wineries quickly pivoted to online ordering, drive-thru pickups, wine clubs, curbside pickup, and even offered “to-go” flights. Wine enthusiasts have also been able to support their favorite wineries by attending virtual tastings, which has resulted in wineries not only having the ability to connect with their existing customers but they’ve also gained new fans of their beloved wines. Due to the increase in wine sales by the implementation of their new business model, wineries created what is now known as the COVID- 19 Wine Boom.
Now that quarantine restrictions are lifting and businesses are slowly starting to re-open, when can we revisit our beloved wine tasting rooms? Wine tastings are intimate, communal events where you sit very close to one another by sharing space and conversation. Will we ever get back to that point? If so, when will that be?
Here at TriWine, we hear your concerns as we too are in anticipation of enjoying a glass of wine at our favorite wineries, so let’s take a look at our “new normal” and delve into what the future holds for our beloved wine countries.
“When will California wineries be re-opening?”
On May 15, wineries received Stage 2.5 approval for limited opening in Sonoma County, Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, and Temecula County with many others. Phase 2.5 pertains to wineries having the ability to serve wine with food from their in-house kitchen or have food serviced by an outside vendor. Guests are also restricted to consume both food and wine outdoors. Wineries also have to comply with local guidance for health and safety protocols and are restricted to have no more than 25 percent capacity with group sizes up to 10.
On-site wine consumption is the lifeblood for many wineries, which is why vintners are implementing guidelines and policies in every state to ensure the protection of not only their employees but also their guests. Big events such as wine festivals and winery events are also on pause until further notice.
As fortunate as this may seem, these limited capacity openings do not pertain to all wineries, especially Napa Valley and smaller regional wineries that do not offer dine-in service, which has started a “war between wineries and state”, to put it mildly!
“What does that mean for Napa Valley and smaller wine regions?”
Wine tasting rooms in the valley have to remain closed until Stage 3 which starts on June 12. Napa Valley wineries were not included in Stage 2.5 limited re-opening phase because Napa county doesn’t allow wine tasting rooms to offer full meal service. This delay has angered many Napa Valley wineries as they believe it’s unfair that wineries serving food can re-open while those that don’t offer dine-in have to remain closed.
Smaller regional wineries in Napa Valley have also filed suit as most of them don’t have a license to serve food or have access to food vendors due to lack of wide distribution. They believe that California state is favoring bigger wineries that were already offering dine-in service or had business relationships with restaurant vendors before COVID. Smaller wineries are also experiencing a huge loss from delayed openings as a majority of their revenue stems from wine festivals, winery events, and on-site wine consumption because they don’t retail products in wine or grocery stores.
Veteran Napa Valley winery owner Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards, believes that Napa Valley is being treated unfairly, so he’s filed a lawsuit against the California governor and the public health officer. Chuck states the ordinance provides no explanation as to why Napa Valley wine tasting rooms who don’t offer full meal service has to remain closed.
“The orders permit the reopening of winery tasting rooms if, and only if, they also provide ‘sit-down, dine-in meals. The orders provide no explanation for this requirement. Any winery that does not—or, under local ordinances, cannot—provide such meals may not reopen. Napa Valley is being treated differently than other parts of the state.”
~ Chuck Wagner, Caymus Vineyards
Napa Valley has plans to re-open within the next 2 weeks and are in the process of revamping their spaces to adhere to the new safety requirements and social distancing protocols. While this order limits wine enthusiasts from visiting their favorite Napa Valley winery, there are numerous ways you can still support them by attending virtual tastings or placing orders online through their SIP (Sip-In-Place) website.
“What are the new protocols for wine tasting rooms in the Finger Lakes and when can they re-open?”
Wineries on the Seneca Lake Wine trail are part of phase 3 which means they can begin reopening starting June 12 for on-site wine consumption, but that could change. Many of the protocols that some of the Finger Lakes wineries will be administering come from the Wine Institute in California and will include:
- Wearing a mask until you reach your designated area
- Group sizes reduced to 6 people, with encouragement for groups of two and four
- Spaced out tasting bars with possible Plexiglass dividers
- Seated tastings will be replacing tasting bars
- Outdoor seating only spaced 8 feet apart with hand sanitizing stations
- RSVP only
- Proof of age for future contact tracing apps
- Festivals and themed wine trail events are delayed until further notice
In the meantime, many wineries along the trail like Three Brothers Wineries and Estates will continue to offer direct-to-consumer components of curbside pickup, online ordering, virtual tastings, and delivery so wine lovers can still support and drink their favorites!
FUTURE OF WINERIES AFTER COVID
Wineries and tasting rooms are going to look a lot different in the days after COVID. For now, gone are the days of large crowds and gatherings but that doesn’t mean the experience isn’t going to be exciting. Guests can expect smaller, socially distant crowds and a more intimate setting upon re-opening along with some facade changes and building upgrades. It will take a while for customers, especially out of towners to return to their favorite wineries so many of the wineries will be keeping their curbside pickup, virtual weekly themed tastings, and online ordering components for guests.
Many winemakers and vintners are optimistic about the future of wine tasting and are excited to welcome back many of their loyal fans who’ve supported them during these tough times as well as embracing their new fans! Which winery are you excited to kick back with a glass of wine and put your feet up?
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