Wineries are starting to reopen throughout California. However, that does not mean you should hop in your car or book your flight to wine country right away. What is open varies from region to region and it is important to do your research and plan before you head out.
Which California Wineries Can Open Now
On March 15, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom called for wineries to close, along with bars, brewpubs, and nightclubs. Over the past three months, most wineries have rethought their business models. Many small wineries were already following a primarily direct-to-consumer model. Others had to shift their models as restaurants closed, closing that channel of sales. Many wineries started offering virtual tastings and increased the shipping of wines, as well as offered curbside pick-up.
On May 12, 2020, Governor Newsom issued guidelines for reopening and many counties were allowed to advance to Stage 2. In Stage 2, wineries were to remain closed unless they offer sit-down, dine-in meals. That meant that wineries that have restaurants on-site could reopen. In addition, some wineries contracted with a food vendor, as long as the food and wine were sold in the same transaction. And wineries that did not offer sit-down, dine-in meals could only continue curbside sales.
While the state has set out regulations about reopening, each county has the veto power over the state IF they establish regulations that are stricter than what the state proposed. Because of this, not every wine region is in the same position. It continues to be a fluid process and most wineries are still only offering curbside pick-up as of today.
Should You Travel To Wine Country
The number one priority of every winery is the safety of the guests, as well as the safety of the staff. Traveling to a wine region is still not strongly encouraged as we are supposed to stay within our own counties. And, if you live in a county that is still sheltering in place, then traveling is not recommended.
If you are planning to head to a wine region for the day, or a weekend, you will have to plan ahead. Reservations are required so that wineries can control how many people are at the winery at one time and make sure that there is adequate six-foot distancing between parties. This is especially important for larger wineries that are usually packed with tourists. But either way, call ahead to guarantee you can get in.
Wineries are closely observing recommended safety protocols. They are implementing new policies that include increased outdoor seating, daily health screenings for all employees, providing face coverings for employees and customers, and increasing cleaning and sanitation. It is important that you, the guest, do the same. Wear your masks, wash your hands, and social distance. If these things are not done, there is the risk of another shutdown. Here are some tips on how you can lower your risk while wine tasting.
Sonoma Wineries That Are Open
Sonoma County established SonomaSafe.org where Sonoma County workers, business owners, and voters signed the pledge to keep #SonomaSafe. Sonoma County wineries were allowed to reopen for outdoor service in late May, as long as they served food with their wines. But wineries are not all offering the same experiences.
Jordan Winery, who has always offered food as part of their experiences, was one of the first to reopen. On May 23rd, they began with Nature Hikes on the privately-owned hiking trails. Guests could book for 2 people. They would arrive at the winery, go for the hike, and when finished, head to the car where a host brought two bottles of wine and a charcuterie picnic to take home. Jordan Winery has since resumed their Vineyard Hikes and Chateau Block Vineyard Tastings which both end with picnic lunches that can be enjoyed on the property. Jordan Winery has removed its communal tables but has plenty of outdoor space for people to relax and enjoy.
Jordan Winery has also created Paris on the Terrace, a new outdoor food and wine pairing experience. Guests relax at individual bistro tables on the terrace and enjoy a Parisian brasserie-inspired menu with a California twist, including a crudité from Jordan’s garden, house-marinated olives, cornichons, homemade spiced nuts, a Jordan Garden salad, a charcuterie platter, and an artisanal cheese plate with Jordan Estate Honey and mostarda. Wine pairings include the Jordan Cuvée by Champagne AR Lenoble, 2018 Jordan Chardonnay, 2016 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, and a special library vintage of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the 2019 Jordan Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Visit Jordan Winery (https://www.jordanwinery.com/visit/tours-and-tastings) for a complete list of options for visiting.
Dutton Estate is offering guests the opportunity to enjoy a garden picnic. After booking a pre-paid reservation, guests will receive a springtime boxed meal with disposable plates and flatware to enjoy with a tasting of five Russian River Valley estate wines.
Three times per day, La Crema at Saralee’s Vineyard has created a customized outdoor experience with a walking tour of the vineyard followed by a pre-packed cheese and charcuterie picnic box with an estate wine to enjoy on the property or to take home.
Boutique, family-owned Papapietro Perry Winery, located in Dry Creek Valley, is welcoming visitors to their large, covered “outdoor room”. Appropriate for all types of weather, guests can enjoy vineyard views while enjoying a gourmet boxed lunch from Sally Tomatoes with a wine tasting.
Inman Family Wines does not serve food with their tastings, however, they have a lovely patio that is open by appointment only. Reservations are required and they are limiting visits to two small groups or one large group (max 10) at a time. With safety as their top priority, groups will have their own dedicated bathroom assigned to them.
And, Acorn Winery, another small, family-owned winery in Healdsburg is offering guests who pick-up wine to stay and picnic on their property.
Which Napa Wineries Are Open
Napa County gave their wineries the green light to open their tasting rooms to the public as of Friday, June 5th. Napa wineries were not allowed to open at the end of May, as they did in Sonoma, because Napa wineries are barred from serving food. The Napa Valley Vintners, which represents 550 wineries, was instrumental in putting together guidelines and safety protocols. Wineries can now open at their discretion, but they must post the California Department of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control, and Napa County Guideline’s checklist and prepare social distancing protocol. In addition to employees taking their temperatures, signing waivers that they do not have symptoms, and are washing their hands frequently, tasting areas and equipment and high-traffic areas will be sanitized frequently. Glassware will be sanitized, and all menus and placemats will be disposable.
Julie Johnson of Tres Sabores expressed that "our priority is safety first. We are all trained in responsible beverage service and adding this additional piece of security and prevention comes easy.” To make it easy for guests, Tres Sabores has sanitizer machines in the winery and is giving every guest a “COVID Precaution Kit” which includes a complimentary tasting glass, water glass, alcohol wipes and a bag for your mask for all tastings.
Pam Starr of Crocker & Starr added that “we are very happy to get this as correct as possible the first time. There is no hurry to rush the moment.” As Crocker & Starr reopened on June 6th, they took every precaution, emailing out the list of guidelines that they will adhere to. In addition, guests are expected to sign a waiver confirming they do not display symptoms or had close contact with someone who has been diagnosed and must wear a mask at all times except when at their designated tasting area. Crocker & Starr is offering guests a keepsake ‘bento’ box, featuring a built-in bamboo cutting board and filled with a bountiful array of curated cheeses and charcuterie for two. Exclusive estate wines will be enjoyed with logo glasses that can be taken home.
Here is a handy list of Napa wineries that are open.
Paso Robles and Santa Barbara County Wineries That Are Open
Both Paso Robles and Santa Barbara County have remained relatively closed based on “shelter-in-place” rules. Only wineries that serve food opened in Paso Robles which includes Cass, JUSTIN, Niner, DAOU, Vina Robles, Barton Family, Broken Earth, and Ancient Peaks. Other wineries that do not typically serve food partnered with local food trucks and caterers in order to open this past weekend.
In Santa Barbara County, while food is not offered on a regular basis at wineries, many wineries in the area began offering food by partnering with local purveyors for this past weekend. Stolpman and Liquid Farm offered food from the Doggy Door, a food cart associated with Community Craft, wine, and beer tasting room, which is also open for wine tasting. Solminer and Coquelicot offered food from First and Oak, a restaurant located in Solvang that is owned by Coquelicot. Melville offered food from Full of Life Flatbread; Andrew Murry Vineyards offered food from The Baker's Table; Babcock, Imagine, and others in the area offered food from Industrial Eats and a few other wineries offered food from High on the Hog Catering. Wineries were not offering tastings but rather you could order a glass or a bottle of wine, as well as the food while remaining socially distanced from others.
Governor Newsom gave the approval to move into Stage 3 starting no earlier than June 12th across the state, with confirmation within each county. Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles wineries are expected to be able to open their tasting rooms up without any food service. But just because tasting rooms can resume business does not mean that they will all open immediately.
Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines explained that he is “excited about reopening but will take social distancing and mask requirements seriously.” In addition, he is “not 'requiring' the wonderful folks who work for me to come back until they feel absolutely comfortable in doing so.” While Larry will not be offering food service, he will provide hand sanitizer at the door and require guests to wear masks. He will have cocktail tables for small parties to sit at, both inside and outside. He will be wiping down all tables after each use and washing glasses at least twice after use. He may be the only one working for a while but Larry expressed that he is “excited to see friendly faces again and have the plentitude of conversations I normally have - but with me wearing my mask, of course.”
The best advice I can give if you are planning to go wine tasting is to plan ahead, make reservations, keep your group small, pack your masks, and remain patient and respectful of the rules. Cheers!
About the author:
Allison Levine is the owner of Please The Palate, a boutique marketing, and event-planning agency. Allison is Level 3 WSET Certified from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and is certified as an Italian Wine Specialist from the North American Sommelier Association. She also has a Master's Degree in International Communications with a focus on cross-cultural training from the American University School of International Service. As a freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications, including California Winery Advisor and the Napa Valley Register, while eating and drinking her way around the world. She is also the host of the Wine Soundtrack podcast. You can find additional content on her blog at Please The Palate; Twitter and Instagram @plsthepalate; Facebook: Please The Palate