As Gov. Gavin Newsom paves the way for restaurant reopenings with precautions, wineries in the Napa Valley are marshaling forces within the county and among other officials to get pandemic restrictions on their multi-billion dollar industry lifted.
On the same day that Napa’s supervisors passed a resolution allowing restaurants to move tables outdoors and start serving customers, the Napa Valley Vintners’ Association and the county forwarded to the state a seven-page list of best practices for Napa County wineries.
The document outlines proposed protocols to go beyond rules now in place and raise the bar on ways to safeguard winery employees and guests, while allowing for economic activity in Napa County to resume responsibly — when deemed appropriate by state and local public health officials.
“Wineries are ready to reopen, which makes sense given their ability to derive greater use of outdoor facilities allowing for even larger social distancing. Why are restaurants permitted to offer dine-in and outdoor service, while wineries are not? Both restaurants and wineries should be reopened at the same time,” said Rex Stults, association vice president of industry relations.
Even as restaurants in the area were allowed as of May 20 to welcome back customers for indoor dining, at present, wineries and tasting rooms are not allowed to open. They cannot until the county moves into stage 3 of California’s four-stage recovery plan, based on state guidelines published on the website covid19.ca.gov/industry-guidance). Newsom has said when stage 3 is reached, all state wineries would be granted permission to open at the same time.
As of early Friday afternoon, 43 California counties, also including Solano, Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma in the North Bay, have been allowed to reopen shopping malls along with swap meets, retail stores and dine-in restaurants, with schools to follow in June.
On Friday, Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance, Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau rolled out Sonoma Valley Safe, guidelines the organizations stated will “protect the health and welfare of employees, guests, and our community while providing world-class hospitality. “
Drawn from best practices from the California Department of Health, Sonoma County Economic Development Board as well as industry-specific organizations, the guidelines deal with issues like physical layout, cleaning protocols, employee training, necessary supplies and other programs.
Businesses can go through Sonoma Valley Safe self-certification assessment, and be able to identify themselves as such, the groups stated.
Other changes, such following standards of face mask wearing, will also have to be followed. As for the issue of when wineries will open the wine trade group, visitors bureau and the chamber stated, “The exact dates when businesses can reopen will follow the guidelines from local government. Sonoma Valley Safe prepares the business and provides signs and graphics for them to use when that time comes.”
Until Newsom’s order shut down the public side of the wine industry on March 15, Napa County wineries (at a minimum) were able to host 10 visitors per week, or one to two per day, by appointment only. Numbers vary depending on each winery’s use permit specifications.
Today, no winery in the county is hosting visitors – except virtually via video conference services.
In its letter to county supervisors, the vintners group stated that in 2018, the Napa Valley welcomed 3.85 million visitors who spent $2.23 billion and provided $85.1 million in tax relief to residents – largely through winery visits, hotel stays and fine dining experiences.