Navigating Wine Country During a Pandemic (aka let's help each other)
There is little doubt that the first half of 2020 has been anything less than unexpected from what most would consider a 'normal' daily life. The global pandemic has affected every person in some way, and most people significantly enough to alter their lifestyle, even if temporarily. Work, school, daycare and financial hardships have reached into most homes, creating a fear of uncertainty and anxiety for many. But all is not lost. Whether it is a false sense of security, the need to return to an accustomed lifestyle or a belief that the worst of this virus is over, people are starting to venture out of their homes and travel.
There is no doubt that a large number of the world's population are still cautious and some, even frightened, about the health of the world and those around us. It's difficult to control the actions of those around us, but by using common sense and social distancing, we can begin to appreciate the lives we are customary of enjoying. I, for one, have chosen to travel.
It has been much too long since we visited California's amazing wine country. My wife and I feel very blessed to be able to make this trek with friends later this summer and we are going to maximize the fun, the feels and the fellowship during this long weekend. But wine country (at least online) looks much different than it did previously. Nearly every web site lists COVID-19 precautions and health protocols. Some wineries are asking guests to sign health release forms upon arriving on property. Access to many areas that were once readily available is now off limits. And that mask? You better be wearing one. So how do you drink wine through a mask? Let's discuss that later.
Now that (like it or not) we understand that times look much different than they did just six months ago, how do we navigate California's wine country? What is new and what is required and what is the best way to plan your trip?
- If you're headed to Napa like we are, check out the new health guidelines before you go.
- Bring a mask or several masks. (Nobody wants to wear a wine-stained mask). If you don't have one, stay home. You'll be turned around at the cellar door without one.
- Make reservations because they are required now. Long gone are the days of just "popping into" a winery for a quick tasting.
- Keep your distance and be respectful. Re-opening to the public after being closed for months can be scary and foreign to your hosts. Tread lightly and follow their lead.
- If you like the wine, consider making a purchase and/or joining a wine club. Most wineries are family owned and have suffered greatly because of the pandemic. Show some love and you'll be rewarded with your incredible wine purchases.
Now that we have a few pointers on how to navigate your upcoming wine trip, let's discuss about what you should expect from a winery before and during your visit.
- Communication. Seems easy enough, right? You would be surprised. I have reached out to about twenty California wineries during the planning of our upcoming trip. I am amazed at how many of them never even bother responding to an email. We get it; the wineries and tasting rooms are starting to get busy with re-opening in its infancy. But if we have specific needs or your web site scheduling tool doesn't work, we have to email you in order to plan our tasting experience. The lack of communication sends a message of apathy and we could have been your newest and biggest fans. I call this a "don't be a dick rule".
- Create a memorable experience. We understand that some areas and experiences may still be closed, but wineries still have an incredible opportunity to create lifelong memories for their guests. In lieu of a cave tour or super secret hidden gem tasting room that is inaccessible, maybe a sit-down with the vintner or a special library bottle tasting could be an extra-special treat? Or perhaps it is connecting us with the most special wine tasting room host who would blow our socks off with his/her knowledge, personality, humor and kindness?
- Try not to make things too sterile or uncomfortable. We're all scared. And we, as guests, promise to follow all of the rules and breathe the hot summer California air through our uncomfortable masks. We ask in return that the tasting room doesn't smell of hospital disinfectants and everyone doesn't spray us down with Lysol if we clear our throat.
We are all going to get through this together. We are going to wear our masks and pull them down when permitted (and to drink wine!). We are going to try to get back to a "normal" lifestyle and enjoy everything that wine regions all over the world have to offer. But most of all, we are going to embrace the ability to move freely, travel the world and drink some superb fucking wines. Go explore!
This article does not necessarily convey my personal feelings regarding the current global pandemic. While I encourage my readers and oenophiles to travel and enjoy wine, I also advise everyone to use common sense, be safe and exceptionally courteous to those around you. -Jeff