Photo by Michael Alberty
Oregon wineries were recently given the green light by Governor Kate Brown to pour wines on-premise for the first time in nearly two months, due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Phase 1 openings began on Friday, with 31 counties leading the way.
Oregon winery tasting rooms have been closed for on-premise tasting and consumption since March 23 to comply with Brown’s “Stay Home, Save Lives” Executive Order designed to slow the spread of COVID-19. Wineries located in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties continued to operate under the governor’s stay-home order.
Winery tasting rooms that open their doors to the public will need to adhere to the same social distancing guidelines as restaurants. These will include determining maximum occupancy to maintain physical distancing requirements, spacing tables at least six feet apart, and limiting parties to 10 people or fewer. Visitors will be encouraged to wear masks.
Wineries also will end all on-site consumption of food and drinks, including alcoholic beverages by 10 p.m.
A task force comprised of wineries throughout the state developed recommended guidelines for tasting room staff training and visitor safety that, according to an Oregon Wine Board press release, “go above and beyond the governor’s re-opening requirements.”
Some wineries are more eager than others to clear their tasting room cobwebs and entertain customers.
“We’re excited,” says Dai Crisp, owner of Lumos Wine Co. in Philomath. “We depend a lot on direct-to-consumer sales at the winery and selling wholesale to restaurants in Corvallis. Needless to say, our sales went off a cliff when the coronavirus shut everything down.”
When Lumos Wine Co. reopens after Memorial Day for tastings, Crisp says he plans to utilize the decks and picnic tables outside his tasting room to organize outdoor tasting areas like restaurant sections.
“The lowest risk of coronavirus transmission possible is outdoors, so we plan to be out there as much as possible,” Crisp said in a telephone interview.
Clare Carver at Big Table Farm in Gaston has a different perspective.
“They are asking us to wear masks, gloves and become like frontline workers. We’re not anxious to jump back in at the moment,” Carver says.
Before the shutdown, Carver and her winemaker husband Brian Marcy hosted appointment only wine tastings at her art studio in Carlton.
“We’re fortunate because we are small, with few employees to worry about. There’s less pressure on us to start hosting tastings at the moment, Carver says, noting that they have been getting by on wine sales generated by their website.
“We have been doing a lot of shipping. If someone calls next week to set up a tasting appointment, I’d probably tell them ‘no, we’re not ready yet.’”
Brianne Day of Day Wines in Dundee is like many winery owners in that she plans to re-open with seated wine tastings where tables set up six feet apart. Like Crisp, she is headed outdoors.
“Our indoor tasting room is just too small to guarantee safe spacing between customers, and we want to avoid face-to-face tastings at our wine bar,” Day says. This means Day will have to wait until the weather is more cooperative.
“We plan to set up all our outdoor tables and lounge chairs to open on May 30, when hopefully it is sunnier and warmer,” Day said.
Simple Machine in Talent also plans on heading outdoors, but with a twist: they will not be pouring wine just yet. Owners Brian Denner and Clea Arthur will be setting up shop outside their Rogue Valley winery and tasting room on May 20 to sell wine by the bottle.
Denner and Arthur will sell their wines from an outdoor table equipped with a plexiglass shield to separate them from their customers. They will be wearing masks while encouraging customers to do the same. Customers will also be asked to remain six feet apart while waiting in line. Credit card machines, pens and all surfaces will be sanitized between sales.
At some point Denner and Arthur will resume wine tastings inside their facility, but only by appointment for groups of six or less.
Whatever their individual game-plan, there is one thing all winery owners agree on: customers should call a winery for further information and details before visiting.
— Michael Alberty writes about wine for The Oregonian/OregonLive. He can be reached at email@example.com. To read more of his coverage, go to oregonlive.com/wine.