ST HELENA (KPIX) — On Friday, Governor Newsom issued orders to allow wine tasting to resume in California but, as much as Napa Valley wineries have been looking forward to the news, it still caught a lot of them by surprise.
V Sattui winery in St. Helena is one of the few wineries allowed by law to sell food so they’ve been using their outdoor picnic area to attract business. When Friday’s directive was issued, they were able to mobilize about 30 staffers to the tasting room.
“We sell 100 percent of our wine either here at the winery or online,” V Sattui Winery president Tom Davies told KPIX. “So the ability of us to do tastings is critical for the success of our winery … we are just so happy.”
Tasting is by reservation only to keep numbers down. Plastic shields separate tasters from pourers. Inside and out are constantly sanitized.
The new protocols permit only about 20 percent of the visitors previously allowed inside a tasting area.
“We’re gonna have courtyard tastings, we’re getting a tent to do tastings. We’re going to be spreading out things the best we can but, for today, we had to stick with what we had…” Davies said.
The same is true at Chimney Rock winery north of Napa. The indoor tasting room is closed and appointment-only tastings are being held on the patio with guests at tables where glasses have already been filled. It’s just the first day but customers aren’t complaining.
“I can get used to this!” said wine taster Jeff Conforti with a laugh.
“I think the social distancing, the safety and sanitary protocols will be here to stay,” said Michelle Perry who manages direct-to-consumer sales at Chimney Rock “We are anticipating to crawl back to where we were — by no means run back.”
Napa’s wine merchants have actually done well during the lockdown, with online sales doubling and even tripling in the past three months but wine lovers also want the experience — especially as a way to decompress.
“It’s really important to have balance in life and not just watch TV all day and see the tragedy that’s happening in the world,” said David Clark who lives in San Mateo.
Wineries will be reopening on differing schedules and with differing protocols. The Vintner’s Association recommends customers visit a winery’s website before planning a tasting outing.