Hopes that Napa Valley wineries and tasting rooms would be allowed to start reopening were dashed this week, at least temporarily, after California authorities refused to sanction the move for now.
California, which has recorded 3,334 deaths from Covid-19 so far, is among a number of US states and other countries that have been trialling a phased relaxation of lockdown rules.
As part of a regional approach, California governor Gavin Newsom said that restaurants across Napa County can welcome back diners if they abide by strict social distancing and hygiene rules.
Press restaurant, near to St Helena, was planning to reopen for sit-in diners with a limited service on Friday (22 May), before a wider reopening next week with an ‘abbreviated menu in addition to takeout’, a spokesperson told Decanter.com.
Normal capacity has been reduced, in-line with regulations, she said, adding that ‘ensuring diners’ safety is top of mind’.
In Sonoma County, winery tasting rooms also remained closed for the time being, although Jordan winery said this week that it was offering a modified version of its four-mile vineyard hikes across 486-hectare estate (1,200 acres).
‘We’ve reduced the number of guests to 10 total,’ said Lisa Mattson, director of marketing and communications at Jordan.
‘There is no picnic lunch buffet at the end like our vineyard hikes. Instead, the hikers get a curbside pickup of two bottles of wine (Jordan Chardonnay 2018 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2016) plus a charcuterie picnic for two.’ Social distancing must be maintained, she added.
Mattson said that Sonoma County officials had requested permission from state authorities for wineries and restaurants with outdoor dining space to be able to reopen. Jordan has no on-site tasting room, but it does have a commercial kitchen to provide sit-down meals for visitors.
‘We expect that by May 30, we will resume all of our seated food and wine pairing experiences by appointment,’ Mattson said, adding that these would only take place outdoors.
Further north, several Oregon wineries have started to reopen in several areas after the move was approved by authorities.
Kristen Reitzell, vice president of public relations for Jackson Family Wines, said, ‘We reopened our winery tasting rooms in Willamette Valley, which includes Gran Moraine, WillaKenzie Estate and Penner-Ash Wine Cellars this week.’
She said, ‘We did modifications at our tasting rooms to create more open and outdoor space. To limit the number of guests at any one time, we’ve implemented an appointment-only system at all wineries.’
However, there has been significant amount of planning and preparation to meet new health and safety requirements, including extra staff training. ‘Our staff is wearing facial coverings, conducting pre-shift health screenings, and thoroughly sanitising surfaces prior to and following all visits,’ said Reitzell.
‘As of Monday, we had around 50 confirmed bookings and over 100 inquiries across our three wineries.’
As for California, where Jackson Family Wines also owns properties, Reitzell said it was a fast-moving situation. ‘We’re tracking everything on an hour-by-hour basis,’ she said.
She said Freemark Abbey winery in Napa Valley could now be open to offer sit-down meals, under the new guidelines.
But, she added, ‘We remain optimistic that we can reopen soon and get back to hosting wine experiences at our properties. Obviously, we will only reopen if we can do so safely for our tasting room staff and guests.’