Like restaurants, winery, brewery, and distillery tasting rooms reopen with restrictions
Before wineries, breweries and distilleries were slated to be part of the third phase of reopening June 12 along with the region’s restaurants, Finger Lakes wineries were finding inventive ways to sell their wines and stay in touch with customers virtually — including curbside pickup, takeout wine slushies, delivery offers, expanded shipping, online tastings, virtual cooking competitions, etc.
Now they have turned that same innovative thinking to their plans to provide a safe experience for customers and a safe workplace for employees. Many are referring to protocols developed by the Wine Institute in California.
“We all knew that the culture of wine was evolving fast, with clear transitions in consumer preferences, and then COVID-19 pushed the industry over the cliff into new territory,” says Sam Filler, Executive Director of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. “We agree it is exciting that tasting rooms across the state are beginning to reopen and that wine tourism can resume this summer. We should take time to remember the valuable lessons learned about creative ways to change our business models. Consumer comfort level – and sometime preference for – exploring wine regions, engaging in wine tasting experiences, and ordering online will endure and likely increase over time.”
Some of the changes you may experience include:
• You will need to wear a mask: While tasting wines would be impossible with a mask on, you will likely need to wear a mask covering your nose and mouth until you get to your designated tasting area.
• Group sizes will be reduced: Hold off on planning those big bachelorette parties. Wineries will likely be limiting groups to six people, but groups of twos and fours will be encouraged.
• Tasting bars will be spaced out: Standing shoulder to shoulder at tasting bars will become a thing of the past. Some are exploring using Plexiglas dividers between groups.
• Seated tastings will replace tasting bars: Some wineries plan to move to seated tastings. Rather than chatting with tasting room staff, visitors will be given a printed tasting sheet that will not be reused.
• You will likely be outdoors: A major asset of most wineries in the region is an abundance of outdoor space, and wineries plan to use that to their full advantage.
• Reservations: will be required at many wineries
• Proofing for age may take on another purpose: Some wineries plan to scan and capture visitors’ information so that when contact tracing is in place, the winery will be able to determine whether someone visited the winery.
• Wineries may be spruced up: Several are wineries have taken advantage of the down time to make cosmetic improvements.
Fox Run Vineyards on Rte. 14 in Benton has put a lot of time into their reopening procedures. Tastings will be by reservation only for groups of no more than six people, and set at 30-minute intervals to allow for sanitation in between groups. Walk-ins are accommodated only when space is available.
All employees and customers will be required to wear masks except while tasting or eating. A host at the entrance manages the flow of the tasting room, leading visitors to their reserved places. Customers must maintain a 6 ft. distance from other groups at all times, and spaces at the tasting bar will also be 6 ft. apart.
“We’re working with Dan Mitchell to create visually appealing tasting bar spacers using barrel staves, as an alternative to stanchions and plexiglass dividers,” says Samantha Dreverman, Fox Run’s Marketing Manager.
At the café, all food is served in to-go containers as diners are encouraged to enjoy a glass of wine or a cheeseboard to do so outside.
Employees have a wellness evaluation every morning before their shift, including a temperature check. Those working behind the tasting bar are provided with an apron fully stocked with sanitizer, gloves, their own corkscrew, and anything else they may need to safely provide a contactless tasting.
“While we know this is going to look and feel strange to customers that have been visiting Fox Run for years, we want them to know that it’s still us,” says Dreverman. “We want to make sure their experience is as enjoyable and familiar as possible.”
Overlooking Keuka Lake, Domaine LeSeurre Winery on Rte. 54, has looked at COVID-19 as an opportunity; “An opportunity to provide you and your loved ones an exemplary tasting experience through our heightened organization, cleaning standards and awareness of the spread of the virus,” say Céline & Sébastien Leseurre.
• They have changed the layout of the tasting rooms, retail space, and outdoor seating areas to reflect social distancing guidelines.
• Tastings will be personal, at individual bars, and spaced accordingly, with the health of your group and our staff being our first priority. Patrons have the choice of tasting indoors or outdoors under a new covered tasting space or on the terrace
• Reservations are required, and outdoor tables are limited to six people total, weather permitting.
“We understand that everyone may not be too keen on doing a tasting right away. For this reason, we have elected to keep our curbside pick-up and ordering in the parking lot of the winery for those who want to purchase our wines in a completely contactless way,” say the Leseurres
The N.Y. State craft beer community is excited as local breweries like Abandon Brewing Co. above Keuka Lake on Merritt Hill Road south of Penn Yan, and Climbing Bines Craft Ale Co. on Hansen Point Road south of Dresden on Seneca Lake, begin to welcome customers back to their taprooms for the first time in almost three months.
“As breweries begin to reopen, it’s important for customers to understand that they are under strict rules that they must abide by in order to stay open. That includes face coverings, physical distancing requirements and sanitation efforts,” said Paul Leone, executive director of the New York State Brewers Association (NYSBA). “It’s important for everyone to understand and obey the rules set by the brewery so they can continue to operate. We ask everyone to please be patient and please be kind to the employees and owners. They are doing all they can to make your visit a good one.”
In accordance with the N.Y. State Department of Health “Interim Guidance for Outdoor and Take-Out/Deliver Food Services During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.” Breweries are permitted to open outdoor spaces with seating for on-premise consumption under the same guidance as wineries and restaurants.
The New York State Brewers Association (NYSBA) is encouraging consumers to do their part in making the reopening of breweries a success by taking the New York State Craft Beer Pledge. The pledge reinforces safety and sanitation guidelines and asks consumers to be patient and understanding as brewery owners and staff adapt to the new operating procedures.
Includes reporting by Tracy Schuhmacher