Current State of Wineries

wineriesSince the onset of the Coronavirus wineries have been operating at a slower rate than normal, by at least more than 60 percent according to Wine America – the national association of wineries.

This based upon a recent survey also indicated that wineries anticipate a decrease in the purchase of grapes from growers for wine production somewhere between 9 to 22 percent. With layoffs of workers and canceled events numbering in the thousands, some estimates tally that financial loss just for the month of March (when the virus went into “Secure In Place” ordinance mode) reached $40,439,764.

While by that statistic the forecast seems bleak, according to Wine Spectator the purchase of wine online or other sources has not stopped.

What does this indicate for the local winery industry here in Sonoma? There are more than 425 wineries in the county. Smaller boutique wineries are the hardest hit by the impact of COVID-19. Family owned wineries like Donelan near Santa Rosa have been “locked in,” even though sales of wine have continued via the web site.

The Governor’s “Phase 2” for reopening business in California included restaurants but not wineries. This has caused considerable consternation amid local wineries in both Sonoma and Napa Counties, especially.

According to the Sacramento Bee last week officials in Napa County petitioned Gov. Newsom to re-open wineries. As it is now restaurants under the “Phase 2” can provide food to the public. Yet wineries are still restricted, they can’t pour wine or provide wine tastings. Currently 28 counties have petitioned State Government to expedite the re-opening of business.

Long-time vintner Jeff Mayo of Mayo Family Winery and Vineyards offered some perspective on how COVID-19 has impacted his boutique/family winery specifically.

“Between our two locations, as soon as the ‘Secure In Place’ went into effect, we lost business immediately,” said Mayo. “Typically we have at least 1,000 visitors or more (a conservative estimate) and in just one day it went to zero.”

When asked what he thought about the survey stats from Wine America, “Oh My God, it’s been terrible, drastic,” Much more than that, way over $40 million; I would say in the past three months – since March, just in Sonoma County alone that figure would be more like $75 million.”

“No amount of online or curbside sales can make up for that loss,” he added.

Part of the frustration in Gov. Newsom’s omitting wineries in the ‘Phase 2’ reopening plan is wineries can only serve/pour wine if they provide food.

Fortunately for Mayo, they have a commercial kitchen on site at their Glen Ellen facility. “We can pour wine as long as it is outside, served with food and all the social distancing rules. Servers must wear face masks and gloves when waiting on tables and each table must be six feet apart from one another.”

Those wineries without a commercial kitchen or a licensed catering service are stuck and must abide by the no wine pouring/tasting rule.

As summer season heats up, Mayo sees the current restrictions of only serving patrons outside as absurd. “98 to 100 degree weather is uncomfortable for people. Our cellar barrel room is over 3,000 square feet and would be able to accommodate patrons within the current distancing protocol easily,” said Mayo.

But as it is now wine when served with food can only be so outside. To make the situation particularly difficult as Mayo noted. “The current restrictions cut our hours of operation. We have to close at 5 PM.”

In summer with magnificent sun-drenched evenings beginning at 5 PM winetasting is most appreciated between late afternoon to sunset and then to twilight.

Wineries, especially those with large cellars and tasting rooms like Mayo and others, “we are big enough to allow for the six feet distance requirement,” he said.

Going forward if ‘Phase 2’ of business reopening doesn’t include wineries…

The financial loss during this past month of May is estimated to be about 70 percent. “That is dreadful,” said Mayo. He hopes that with the petition to State on behalf of wineries, that serving food requirements to simply taste wine will be dropped.

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