As Small Wineries Open for Tastings Post Pandemic, Plan Ahead
The COVID-19 restrictions on businesses are slowly easing up and winery tasting rooms are open and ready to welcome guests once again. Whether you opt for indoor or outside seating, here are a few tips to make the most out of your next tasting room visit.
Make Wine Tasting Reservations
In the before-times, famous wineries in Napa and Sonoma relied on reservations and appointments. Small wineries were open for walk-ins, however, making spontaneous day trips possible. Guests could explore several tasting rooms in an afternoon, jostling for a position at the tasting bar.
Limited occupancy and strict sanitation routines made reservations a requirement for tasting rooms serving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Borne from these regulations was a realization that restricting service allowed both guests and servers a more bespoke tasting experience.
Many boutique wineries are considering using reservation systems permanently.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the plan-ahead philosophy, check with the winery’s website or social media account to see if reservations are required or recommended. If the tasting room only recommends a reservation, consider this a strong suggestion. Keep in mind that many people are itching to get out and that your spur-of-the-moment wine tasting trip probably overlaps with several other visitors.
At a recent tasting room experience in Sonoma that didn’t require reservations, two groups of guests arrived at the same time. Unfortunately, limited staffing meant that the tasting room host had to check out a group that wanted to purchase wine, sanitize a table, and then seat one of the groups, while the other was left waiting until there was additional seating.
Don’t be the guests waiting for a table to open; make a reservation.
There is a plus side to the reservation approach.
Some appointment platforms require a credit card to schedule your tasting. Any tasting fees or wines can be billed directly to the card used to make the reservation. This may appeal to those guests who prefer a contact-less experience.
Local tasting rooms in wine country, including Napa wineries, Sonoma wineries, Paso Robles wineries, Temecula wineries and beyond, are open and bustling with wine lovers.
Like most of the hospitality and service industry, small wineries were forced to limit hourly wage workers during the pandemic shutdown. Now they’re faced with the challenge of thirsty guests eager to get out and enjoy good wine while at the same time trying to hire and train new tasting room staff.
Everyone hopes for a pleasant tasting room experience, but if your host or wine educator seems a little off, know that it could be because the person is a new hire and still learning.
And if you’re planning on doing an afternoon of tasting at a few different wineries, let your host know. They’ll move you through your service efficiently to make sure you can get to your next appointment.
Safety Protocols May Still Stand
Be mindful of sanitizing and mask protocols. Private businesses may have their own policies separate from local ordinances. Again, check with the winery’s website or social media account to see if they have restrictions posted. Nothing spoils a wine tasting mood more than disgruntled guests.
And remember, new staff learning new systems and employing safety procedures mean that tasting room hosts are doing their best to juggle lots of different demands at once.
Welcome Back to Winery Wine Tasting!
Above all, wine is a social experience. This is a unique time when everyone wants to be together. With a little planning, you’ll have a wonderful experience. Wineries are thrilled to open their doors and welcome visitors, and hospitality professionals are happy to see you again. Ask questions, engage, enjoy, and indulge!
If you're planning a trip to wine country, let us know! We would be happy to recommend a few great winery spots in your destination area. Alternatively, you can search our website for the specific region and see which wineries we've featured in our 6 wine of the month clubs.
Author Bio: Erin O’Reilly is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators and a long-time lover of all things fermented grape. She pens her work from Monterey wine country where she raises a glass to the growers and producers crafting wines that transcend time.