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Local wineries gear up for re-opening, call the idea 'complicated'

Posted at 3:36 PM, May 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-23 01:09:52-04

As California continues to re-open retail stores and restaurants, Central Coast wineries are getting ready to open their doors, some as early as Memorial Day Weekend, but the last two months, they've had to adapt, and in some cases, change their business model.

"The idea of opening and re-opening is complicated," said Sonja Magdevski, winemaker and owner of Casa Dumetz Wines in Los Alamos.

Like other winemakers across the region, she's preparing for a different wine tasting experience when she gets the green light to open her doors to customers again.

"We will be outside, we will have seated tastings, we have lots of space in between, tables will be grouped accordingly so everyone feels there's enough space," Magdevski said.

In a statement sent to KSBY Thursday from Wine Institute, the institute has sent the California Governor's Office comprehensive protocols for the future reopening of California winery tasting rooms.

The media specialist for the institute told KSBY, "We will make the protocol's public after the Governor’s Office has finished their review."

According to the California Department of Public Health, wineries should remain closed unless they offer dine-in meals. However, not all wineries offer that service. The same guidelines include the following:

•Dine-in restaurants, brewpubs, breweries, bars, pubs, craft distilleries, and wineries that provide sit-down meals should follow the restaurant guidance below and should continue to encourage takeout and delivery service whenever possible.

•Brewpubs, breweries, bars, pubs, craft distilleries, and wineries that do not provide sit-down meals themselves, but can contract with another vendor to do so, can serve dine-in meals provided both businesses follow the guidance below and alcohol is only sold in the same transaction as a meal.

• Venues that are currently authorized to provide off-sale beer, wine, and spirits to be consumed off premises and do not offer sit-down, dine-in meals should follow the guidance for retail operations and offer curbside sales only, until local and/or statewide rules allow additional retail activity.

"Having a food truck outside and having somebody come inside with a meal to come inside doesn't seem more safe than to have a seated tasting for someone otherwise," Magdevsky said.

Along with her winery, she owns the neighboring business Babi's Beer Emporium, which sells food. She says she plans to sell food and serve wine outside on the patio of her business when she reopens.

Serving food with tastings is something Austin Hope is also considering. He's the winemaker and owner of Hope Family Wines in Paso Robles. Most of their recent customer interaction has been through wine deliveries, curbside pick-up, and virtual tastings through Zoom, which can be booked through their website.

"Say you want to do a Cabernet, a chardonnay, a rosé , well she ships it out to each individual person prior to the Zoom and she sets up Zoom and walks them through and has fun," Hope said.

Erin Kirschenmann, the managing editor for Wine Business Monthly, says 90% of Central Coast wineries with tasting rooms are offering curbside pick-up. She's been gathering results of a survey issued to local wineries that also reported 27% of those wineries are offering virtual tastings with purchase, while another 30% are providing virtual tastings without purchase.

Chuck Mulligan, the winemaker for Harmony Cellars in Harmony, is bottling up the best for customers to taste at home. Mulligan is bottling tasting kits that include six different wines in 2-ounce bottles.

"I played around in our lab putting a thing together where I can hook up six bottles of the same wine and then feed nitrogen into the system and push the wine into the bottles that we sparge with carbon-dioxide," Mulligan said.

He says the kits have been a hit, and customers can even have access to virtual wine tasting with videos narrated by Mulligan about the different wines included in the kit. It's like wine tasting, but from the comfort of your own home.

Harmony Cellars announced on Instagram the winery will be open for tastings Memorial Day weekend by appointment only. For more details, click here.