With COVID-19 safety guidelines changing frequently, it’s comforting to see local wineries continue operations and rolling with the punches.
Cienega Road’s Eden Rift Vineyards, Calera Wine Company and DeRose Vineyards spoke to BenitoLink about how they’ve provided wine tasting to guests while allowing them to enjoy the natural beauty of the county. All three wineries shut down mid-March and reopened in June, with DeRose resuming wine tastings on June 6, Eden Rift on June 12, and Calera on June 19.
Adhering to state health guidelines, wineries have been able to stay open by moving their tastings outside and following protocols such as wearing masks and employing seating arrangements that follow social distancing.
“We have moved to outdoor tastings, menus are single-use, and employees wear masks,” said Amy Vogt, marketing manager of Eden Rift Vineyards. “We have tried to follow all of the restaurant guidelines as well as the Wine Institute’s.”
“We are all wearing masks,” said Danielle Burke, hospitality and sales manager of Calera Wine Company. “When we are serving people we have to have gloves on. We change out the gloves every single time.”
The wineries have also moved to a reservation system in order to maintain proper capacity.
“By having reservations we know when to expect people,” Vogt said. “We are a lot more prepared. It does make us feel more comfortable with everything going on. My employees are happy to be in a controlled environment.”
Al DeRose, co-owner of DeRose Vineyards, said, “All of our tables or tasting stations are six feet or further apart. Everything gets sanitized between customers. That is why we need reservations as well.”
Under current state guidelines, the wineries’ maximum capacity is lower than it was before COVID-19.
“We are running at less than 50% of what our capacity really is,” Burke said. “With that we really need to enforce the reservation system. No parties of over six people in a group. We are very, very restricted on how many people we can definitely have out there.”
For Eden Rift, full capacity would be about 40 people.
“We feel comfortable with that,” Vogt said.
Though some may believe that the guidelines have negatively affected customers and the wineries, these three establishments have a positive outlook.
“It is still a fun experience, but we still need to be as safe as possible,” Burke said. “Since we opened our weekends have definitely been very busy. We have had very good sales over the last few weekends we have been open.”
Vogt said there are fewer people at Eden Rift, but they “seem to be more engaged with the wine, really happy to be out and about, and interested in what we have to say about the wines.
“We always had tables before but we didn’t have the tableside service,” she said. “We are getting to spend more time with people with the outdoor seating.”
Local wineries also count the natural beauty of San Benito County as a draw for people looking to steal away from their everyday routine.
“It is such an escape up here,” Vogt said. “This is a destination. It is at least a 20-minute drive even if you live close by.”
Calling the Calera location it’s “own pocket” like being “off in our own island,” Burke spoke of guests coming out to taste wine and having an hour to an hour and a half experience to escape everyday worries.
“It is kind of like a mini vacation getaway,” Burke said.
Winery guests have not been limited to San Benito County residents. Burke said that Calera has had guests from Los Gatos, San Jose and Napa come to participate in a wine tasting and/or to purchase wines on site.
Local wineries have also seen an increase in online sales since the pandemic began.
“Our sales have been up, but we think there may be a few less people,” said Vogt. “We have had a lot of great customers throughout the country place big orders. People are not going out as much so they are ordering bottles to have a great selection at home.”
As Burke noted, “You are not going to restaurants. You aren’t going to bars. A lot of people do want to have the fine wines when they are home. They still want to have a very nice wine with their lunch or dinner.”
For people interested in making reservations for the wineries interviewed, information can be found below. Note that for all local wineries calling ahead and checking to see if guidelines and/or hours have changed is important during this time.
Reservations for Calera Wine Company can be made online or by phone at (831) 637-9170.
DeRose winery is currently accepting reservations through email, Facebook message, or by phone at (831) 636-9143.
Reservations for Eden Rift Vineyards can currently be made online.
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