Wine Tasting: Pandemic Style

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To say that things are different right now would be a severe understatement. We would normally be talking about harvest season in the wine industry, how to enjoy the amazing barrel tasting offerings, and what’s unique about this year’s harvest. Gone (for now) are the days we could decide to randomly meet friends at a winery for a carefree afternoon of winetasting, chatting up like-minded people at the tasting bar and moving on to another winery to repeat the same joy.

That remains a privilege. It’s even more so in our current state of caution and adherence to guidelines that are designed to help keep both staff and guests safe if we all participate in wearing our masks, staying with our small group, keeping six feet from others and washing our hands.

Pleasant fall temperatures are fortunately conducive to outdoor activities, which are the current recommendations as it is safer than indoor activities. State licensing boards that govern compliance of restaurants and wineries across the country, in particular wine regions of California, New York, Oregon, Washington, have published strict protocols and guidelines to assist wineries and tasting room operators in maintaining a safe environment for their customers and coworkers.

These already hardworking business owners have pivoted, adjusted and created a very special experience in the best ways possible during this time. Tastings must be outdoors. Total capacity of guests is limited to how many safely stationed tables the venue can accommodate at any one time. Tasting tables/settings must be six feet apart. Public spaces must have an entrance and exit clearly marked and all guests must wear face coverings when not at their specific tasting setting. In some states, wine flights must be served at the table. Most often, staff is required to wear masks and gloves at all times. These small businesses continue to surpass expectations to provide wine lovers with what they crave—wine, history and passion.

For the Best Experience:
RSVP whenever possible! Call or email ahead and confirm your time and wine tasting group. If you’re asked to pay a deposit to keep your time slot, please do. Proprietors are planning on your arrival and have prepared and sanitized your specific setting with stemware, water and more. Your deposit will be credited to your purchases. Ask about the current food policy and offerings ahead of time. You may have an opportunity to support a local mobile restaurant!

Wear your mask. You only have to wear it from the car to your setting and again when you move about in public spaces to the restrooms or picnic areas. The staff must wear one all day to protect themselves from us, so the least we can do is wear one for ten minutes.

It’s A Tasting!
Ask questions about the wine; explore, sip, taste and fall in love. Follow the advice of your host, whether it’s a pre-poured sample you then pour into your own glass or perhaps they bring you a wine glass for each varietal you are tasting. Your host is ensuring your safety by not bringing the bottle to the table or allowing guests’ glasses to touch the bottle or other items.

Be Kind
Be a courteous guest. Don’t stop at other tables and comment on the wine or food items and wear your mask whenever you leave your table or setting for any reason. Keeping our hands to ourselves means we don’t touch the wine bottles unless we purchased them. Being courteous in this space also means leaving the dogs and children at home. This helps maintain the safe spaces required for our winery businesses to remain open.

Purchase wine and then support your hosts by watching the time of your wine tasting. The host needs to be able to sanitize and prepare your setting for the next courteous guests who will also be on time and keep within their tasting party or group. Smaller wineries may have additional challenges as they may not have had much outdoor space and they are making the best accommodations possible to stay in business and support their staff and families.

The Benefits
I’ve noticed one of the best parts of supporting the wine industry pandemic style is that crowd sizes are minimized and controlled; tastings are low-key and the tasters are very pleasantly grateful with no distractions of children or dogs. This makes it safer and more pleasant as an entire industry pivots to embrace what’s to come, whatever that may look like. After adherence to the stay-at-home orders and the curbside pickups, perhaps we might all be a bit grateful for an activity we took for granted in our beautiful wine regions. This wine lover will gladly sip to #safetyfirst! ■