While California grapples with an alarming surge in COVID cases, it has not ordered mandatory quarantines for out-of-staters yet, nor is it talking, as of this writing, about reshuttering recently opened businesses and services. And that is good news for wine lovers.
Oenophiles have good reason to raise their glasses as of now and the sooner the better. In mid-June, wineries were given the green light by the state to reopen their tasting rooms to visitors in approved counties. And although the tasting is good (provided a taster has not unwittingly come down with the virus and lost all sense of smell) tasting room experiences will look a bit different this summer, no matter how exquisite the wine.
Visitors enjoy vineyard views, good weather and wine tasting outdoors, where tables are physically distanced and appointment-only tastings control the flow of guests.
Protecting the health and safety of their visitors and employees is a top priority for California vintners
. Wineries have implemented stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols as well as employee wellness screenings and the use of face coverings among other practices.
•Visitor flow will be monitored. Vintners are limiting the number of guests who are allowed to visit at any one time. This helps wineries maintain physical distancing and creates a more intimate atmosphere for guests. They are also limiting group sizes.
•Tables are spaced to meet the six-foot physical distancing requirements and give visitors plenty of room to relax and enjoy the experience.
•Tastings are moving outdoors. California wine country is known for its gorgeous vineyards and beautiful winery estates, so it's a great time to get outside and enjoy the views. Many wineries have moved tables outside to ensure proper spacing between tables or are offering outdoor-only tastings. Some are also featuring fresh-air activities such as private vineyard hikes and curated picnics. Check winery websites or call ahead for the latest offerings.
•Tours have gone private. Wineries are limiting tour groups to members of the same household, so different parties will not be mixed together. This results in a more personalized experience for participants.
•Masks are in fashion. Guests are asked to wear face coverings while checking in or when coming within six feet of winery staff and other guests. Masks are generally not required while seated or tasting.
•Reservations are highly encouraged. To help control the flow of visitors, wineries are asking guests to book tasting appointments. Calling ahead also gives visitors the opportunity to find out about any special tastings or experiences the winery is offering. Guests should also check with wineries in advance for county-specific requirements. Some wineries are waiting for further clarification of protocols, for instance regulations that require that food also be served with the wine at hand.
For those who can't hop a plane and head to the golden coastal foothills of California this summer, many wineries are also continuing to offer virtual tastings.