The shelter-in-place order has been hard on wineries that rely on tasting room and on-premise sales as well as their front line allies, tasting room staff and waiters, who have been out of a job. But with a phased reopening in sight, vintners are pushing public officials to not waste any time to get ready.
In late April John Jordan, CEO Jordan Winery, launched the #SonomaSafe campaign asking businesses to pledge for a safe and successful reopening of Sonoma County and putting pressure on public officials to provide clear direction and lead time to implement them, so that doors can be opened as soon as it is safe, while recognizing that the timing is a public health decision.
“I am not a public health expert and do not pretend to be,” says Jordan. “What I do know is that this is going to be with us for quite a while and businesses need to be able to prepare.”
This week the Sonoma County Economic Development Board (EDB) started convening industry work groups to develop industry specific best practices for reopening, but the Sonoma County Vintners have already been actively working with county and state officials, and partner wine associations throughout the state to develop a Winery Tasting Room Reopening Framework and Best Practices, which was released Monday and sent to government officials for review.
“Sonoma County Vintners consulted with our county officials, the California Wine Institute, multiple regional wine associations across California and a number of our winery members to obtain their input and feedback,” says Michael Haney, Executive Director of Sonoma County Vintners.
The Sonoma County Vintners will be participating in the EDB’s reopening task force and hope to have these best practices adopted in Sonoma County as soon as possible.
“The health and safety of our wine community employees and their customers have always been the number one priority for our wineries and wine community,” says Haney. “We think it is time to create the framework and best practices for reopening and have those in place once the Governor and county officials approve reopening. We do believe that tasting rooms can reopen very soon with proper mitigation plans and practices that minimize challenges while creating a safe, enjoyable and fun experience for consumers.”
The framework would allow tasting rooms to partially reopen, provided they implement and activate a defined series of distancing and transmission mitigation measures, with social distancing guidelines like limiting the number of guests, marking and spacing of tasting stations, and appointment only tastings. Guidelines also include enhanced sanitation practices like providing hand sanitizer for guests, immediately washing used glassware, and sanitizing tasting stations after each tasting session.
The guidelines will require some changes to how business is conducted, but Haney is upbeat. “Our wine community is not only resilient but creative as well. While mitigation best practices will, of course, alter the previous types of tasting room experience to a point, I am confident our wineries will develop fantastic wine experiences for their consumers.
“I think you will see wineries use their beautiful outdoor spaces and also develop interesting educational experiences like vineyard walks and more,” continues Haney. “Also, we will see more wineries adopt by appointment tastings to monitor and control tasting group sizes.”
Jordan is also confident that wineries will be able to work and provide good experiences while staying safe. “Absolutely. It helps that our peak visitor season is a great time to enjoy Sonoma County weather. Social distancing is easier outside as with thoughtful seating can spread people out and are not constrained by four walls.”
In addition to not having been able to invite guests to the beautiful Alexander Valley estate, Jordan Winery also has felt the slowdown of their restaurant partners, but they have been able to channel shift. “We are fortunate that our fans have been able to find our products online and at stores. We very much hope that our restaurant partners will be back in business soon; and will do anything we can to help them but our sales have been unaffected.”
Jordan is earnest in his desire to help restaurant partners and the community through the crisis. The John Jordan Foundation made a $150,000 investment in Sonoma Family Meal’s Restaurant Disaster Relief Fund, an initiative to help restaurants remain open for disaster relief cooking by providing healthy, chef-made meals to those in desperate need of food.
By Kim Badenfort