Some local wineries opened their tasting bars last weekend, but will likely be closing them with Monday’s news from the Province.
Other local wineries were preparing to welcome guests back to their tasting rooms this weekend, with new protocols and best practices in place, but Monday’s announcement from the Premier allows wineries in other areas of the province to open this Friday, but not in Niagara. There are indications it could happen as early as the end of next week.
While wineries had been deemed an essential service during the pandemic, and many have remained open for shopping and curbside pickup, tasting bars were closed to ensure the safety of the community, guests and their front-line team members.
Andrea Kaiser, director of marketing for Reif Estate Winery, says the intentions regarding the closure of tasting bars were never “super clear, but it made sense for us to close for the health and well-being of everyone.”
Now, as restrictions are beginning to loosen on a provincial level, Kaiser says wineries thought they would “get the nod” from the Province to open this week, as long as they had approval from local health departments, but had their hopes dashed with Monday’s announcement.
Kaiser, who is also chair of the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake organization, which includes 24 wineries, has been in contact with the Niagara Region Public Health about safely reopening, and has been working with other wineries in preparation for when it is permitted in Niagara.
They have a best practices guide to help them, and have been discussing how wineries might best prepare for the “new normal.”
They have been helping each other locally, and also getting advice from other wine regions that are already open, such as B.C., Oregon and California, says Kaiser. Although they will be following best practices, each winery is adapting them to suit their premises, including specific tactics and opening dates once the Province permits, says Kaiser.
Reif, which is looking very cheerful and elegant, has created an attractive division between the shopping area of the retail store and the tasting bar, which is set up with plexiglass dividers for staff, two chairs to a tasting pod, and the pods spaced out along the tasting bar.
Kaiser says the winery has made a special effort to look inviting as they welcome visitors back, which she is hoping will be by June 19.
The last two months have been trying for member wineries, with reduced revenues and layoffs, “the support across the country to buy local has been inspiring to all of us,” says Kaiser. “Most of our members were able to pivot from a focus on in-store wine sales to online sales, as well as curbside pickup, to soften the blow.”
Reif is encouraging online reservations for tastings, and will take walk-ins as space is available.