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California vineyards reopened amid a coronavirus pandemic



California vineyards reopened amid a coronavirus pandemic

While it might be wrong to look for chardonnay during social upheavals and pandemics, wineries are reopening throughout California, and their owners and analysts seem very optimistic about sales and the future atmosphere.

For now.

On the opening day at Sonoma Buena Vista Winery, the couple cycled to the gate of the historic vineyard and were greeted with waves by wine owner, Jean Charles Boisset, and a man dressed in “Count” Agoston Haraszthy, founder of 19th-century Hungarian founder of the winery.

Waiters and hospitality workers buzzed in and out Press House, a landmark wine bar and restaurant in 1862. They are masked and keep a safe distance from each other and their guests are restless and excited, who have been locked up at home for weeks as a result of orders for state shelter.

Sonoma actor and historian, George Webber, welcomed the visitors in the role of “Count” Agoston Haraszthy, founder of Buena Vista Winery in Buena Vista, in Buena Vista in Sonoma on May 29, 2020.

(Susanne Rust / Los Angeles Times)

But a little a different wine from before the pandemic.

Communal spit buckets are now banned, such as queues crowded around wine tasting bars. Instead, guests must make a limited time reservation, and the winery must ensure there is no overlap.

Servers are required to wear masks and gloves, and have minimal contact with guests.

“That’s really for everyone’s safety,” said Rene Byck, co-owner of Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, California.

Explaining the new protocol, he said the waiter would serve guests at the beginning of the dish sitting and tasting and giving them an iPad that presents information about the wine they were trying. The hope is to have contact between the server and guest only at the beginning and end of each reservation.

“In some ways, that’s good,” Byck said of the virtual tutorial given to guests. “People can move past it at their own pace. And back off, if they want. “

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At Buena Vista, charcuterie dishes, salads, and other gourmet foods are served in individual plastic boxes along with separate wine glasses for each variation served.

And baking – for every occasion – is strictly prohibited among non-household members.

That did not stop Boisset and Prince from toast “air” with visitors to reopen successful wine.

Although the number of visitors dropped from the same time last year, said Boisset, full bookings and walk-ins, such as cycling couples, appeared – hoping to relax at a table on the stone courtyard of a 19th-century winery.

And that’s something to raise your glass, said Rob McMillan, executive vice president and founder of the Silicon Valley Bank wine division. He said California’s small to medium sized wines had made 43% of revenue since the start of the pandemic – the result of a combined loss in tasting rooms and restaurant sales.

Early indications show people want to return, he said, and although point-of-sale revenue has plummeted, online sales have skyrocketed – soaring from 5.3% of total sales from January 1 to March 13, to 19.2% percent from March 20 to May 8

This is a sign that wine owners are finally heeding McMillan’s advice, which has been decades for moving more sales and experience, such as virtual tasting, to the internet and paying attention to consumer data.

“Sometimes it takes a kind of pandemic to open your mind,” he said, and to spur people to “try new ways to do things.”

For an industry that builds itself based on location-based experience – vineyard tours and tastings in the field – this new model requires “major changes” in self-perception and organizational efforts, McMillan said.

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According to the data, less than 20% of wineries have full-time employees dedicated to analyzing consumer data.

And that, he said, is where wine owners need to look: Who buys their wine? What are their interests? How can you use it to get them excited about buying more wine?

“Don’t advertise wine cruises if your customers don’t like cruises,” McMillan said. “If the data shows your customers like tennis, consider tennis sightseeing as a way to reach them.”

Jean Charles Boisset, owner of the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, California, welcomed guests on May 29.

Jean Charles Boisset, owner of the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, California, welcomed guests on May 29.

(Susanne Rust / Los Angeles Times)

When guests enter Buena Vista, Boisset – who wears a dark blue suit with bright red socks and a matching monogrammed face mask – discusses how his company spins during crises.

For example, he holds virtual happy hour with the public every Saturday on Facebook, as well as more exclusive experiences for wine club members, such as private cooking lessons with him and celebrity chefs.

McMillan said that since March 20, wine club membership grew for most wineries from around half of their income stream to a little more than 60%.

He noted that Boisset, which owns dozens of wineries and specialty food stores throughout California and its home country France, is ahead of the online experience curve.

“The man is as sharp as a fox,” McMillan said. “He is willing to try different things.”

Includes virtual history lessons with Hungarian Counts – reactivated by actor Sonoma and historian George Webber.

Standing on a hat, satin vest and 19th-century clothing, Webber – who channeled the Count – noted that Buena Vista, who voiced himself as “California’s first premium winery”“It has faced its share of havoc over the past 163 years. So do other historic California wineries.

“You have forgotten the cholera epidemic of the 1850s, which killed thousands of people,” he said, calling for the persona of the Count, minus the Hungarian accent. He then marked a list of other events, such as the 1918 flu pandemic, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 1989 Ban and Loma Prieta earthquake – all of which took place after his death – noting that “after each event, we returned even stronger.”

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Byck, co-owner of Paradise Ridge Winery, shares that sentiment.

“This is not the first time we have to think about ways to adapt,” he said.

In October 2017, Tubbs fire burned Paradise Ridge to the ground. Not long after, the business faced a flood.

After two years, The wine finally reopened its pavilion in December 2019, only closed again because of a pandemic.

Byck said he hopes online sales and virtual experiences will make up for lost revenue and direct tours.

He said that like Buena Vista Boisset, the wineries were more focused on virtual events and off-site. Before the pandemic, he and his team regularly flew across the country to bring the experience of tasting rooms to the houses of members of foreign wine clubs.

In addition, the new wine venue has a large terrace and outdoor space, providing space for a dining and tasting experience – as long as guests bring masks and maintain social distance from each other while on location.

For wineries that have outdoor space, everything will be easier.

On a recent Friday, Katie Bundschu, from the Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma, welcomes guests who book a 90-minute slot to taste at the stunning 120 acre property.

A DJ mixes songs at the entrance of the winery while the staff explore the property, directing guests to the tasting station and outdoor dining.

Bundschu said 45 bookings had been made for opening days, and around 200 every day for Saturdays and Sundays – a decrease from the usual weekend figures, which generally range around 600.

“It’s time,” said Troy Tanga, member of the Gundlach Bundschu wine club and residents of Sonoma, who enjoyed the experience – happy to be back at the winery with a small group of friends. “We are all ready to go back to business.”

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