Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery patio opened during Phase 2 of the Province’s reopening program, delayed to ensure the safest protocols were in place to ensure a comfort level for staff and customers, says owner Paul Harber.
Guests are welcomed under a large tent, and even once the Province entered Stage 3, the restaurant remained closed.
The tent was used last summer as a temporary setup while the winery’s new event facility was being built. They were not planning to use the tent again and had even planned to dismantle the patio-stoned flooring in the spring. Due to the pandemic and the imposed restrictions, Harber said they had to “change gears quickly” to adapt to the changing circumstances. The patio stones were left intact. The tent went back up. The newly-built facility became the retail store to accommodate physical distancing and a flow of traffic. Tastings are being offered by reservation on the terrace outside the new event/retail building near the pizza oven area.
In light of the restrictions, the events, mainly weddings, planned this summer at the new facility have been cancelled and the normal traffic to the winery is down. Harber said the winery parking lot is empty of the usual New York and Ohio licence plates. They are seeing more people from the Toronto area, though, and he is pleased to see so many locals coming out.
He said that many locals are within walking distance of the winery and can stroll over with their dogs to the patio for dinner. “It is nice to have a bit of normalcy and have a safe setting to enjoy it in.”
Harber explained that at this point their business is down more than 50 per cent in revenue, but they were able to welcome back around 50 per cent of their regular crew, mainly full-time staff, including retail employees, cooks and servers, and the full management team.
Harber is taking the safety issue very seriously. He explains they are safeguarding the staff and the public by following all the provincial guidelines, plus they are taking it a step further by adding their own precautions. For example, the menus are set on the tables and covered with plexiglass to ensure it’s visible, without the need to be handled. The tables are placed more than two metres apart, and a barrel is placed at the end of each table to act as a serving table, to minimize contact between the guests and the staff. The washroom trailer provided for guest convenience is cleaned and sanitized often, as are the washroom facilities inside the building. Staff is required to wear masks at all times and employees and guests are screened upon entering the winery.
Harber says he is comfortable with staying in Stage 2. “We don’t want to go inside.”
He maintained that they will take it “one day at a time” and keep a close watch on the situation. Factors such as the weather and the numbers of cases of COVID-19 will determine their future plans for the fall. They are prepared, if needed, to go back to doing just takeaway, online and retail pickup orders if necessary. They are constantly reassessing the situation, watching numbers and listening to reports. He lamented that it is “exhausting, but these are the times we are in.”
Like many other restaurants and patios, Ravine is offering a truncated menu. Harber says the kitchen is focusing on a quality and flavour-focused menu, with daily features to give their chefs a challenge and allow them to use their creativity. They are “having some fun with the daily specials” which usually feature the fresh produce from their onsite organic vegetable garden. For example, Saturday’s daily special was a creamy polenta and sautéed wild mushrooms, with chillies drizzled, and a black garlic jus, beautifully adorned with flower petals. Other offerings on the menu may sound like simple fare but they all have that Ravine flair, incorporating specific items from their garden, the relaunched Lowrey Bros. line of preserves and sauces, and even honey from their apiary. The St. Davids Sundae features vanilla ice cream smothered with Lowrey Bros. peaches, and topped with their own honey oat crumble.
Harber said he is “glad to see how receptive everyone has been in the offerings.” He refers to the positive Open Table reviews the patio has received, adding it is “nice to see our efforts are being noticed,” as they try to provide “the safest possible experience during COVID times.”
Guests will be delighted to discover the drink menu. With so many choices, it is sometimes good to leave the choosing to the experts, including Jayne Stewart, who has been working at Ravine for more than eight years. Her family and the Lowrey/Harber family have been friends for generations. In fact, it was at her great- grandparents’ picnic where Harber’s great-grandparents met and eventually started the Ravine legacy. Stewart is a wealth of information about the history of the farm and the winery itself. She highlighted the NV Charmat Rosé, which was produced during the pandemic. This rosé has become very popular and is almost sold out. In addition, there is also the NV Ravine Charmat, a prosecco-style sparkling wine, nice on a hot summer day. If sparkling wine is not your style, Stewart suggests trying one of the Lowrey Bros. ciders in either the apple or pear flavours, from the relaunched Lowrey Bros. brand, and offering a light, refreshing summer drink.
In addition to food and drinks on the patio, Ravine has provided entertainment, with live music to add to the experience.
Summer patio hours are Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made through the Open Table platform at Ravinevineyard.com or by calling 905-262-8463.