If you haven’t been to California wine country for a while and are planning to visit this summer, be aware that things have changed.
Even though California has finally removed some of the country’s most restrictive COVID-related regulations, many wineries have decided to extend their limited visitation guidelines — at least for a while longer.
The pandemic gave wineries an opportunity to take a long, hard look at their tasting room hours and policies.
Pre-pandemic, it was pretty much an open-door policy at the tasting rooms. They’d open in the late morning (typically 10 or 11 o’clock), close around 4 or 5, and simply welcome guests as they arrived. Sometimes the tasting rooms were empty; sometimes they were packed elbow-to-elbow at the bar.
By switching to a reservation system, a winery could control the number of visitors at any given time, enhancing the experience for everyone. The challenge involved being able to accommodate only a set number per day, thus limiting their potential sales and possibly disappointing people who didn’t reserve a time before slots ran out.
The good news is that a number of wineries have addressed the situation in creative ways.
Some have added seating — indoor and/or outdoor — thus increasing capacity while maintaining a healthy distance between guests.
Others have introduced curated flights to help guests zero in on the types of wines they like, rather than taking a “try everything” approach.
Still others are offering samples of only estate wines, which gives them an opportunity to tell their stories.
And, yes, some have gone back to their former practice of simply popping the corks on everything they make, opening the doors, ringing up the tasting fees and letting the pouring begin.
Our best advice is that if you’re planning a visit to wine country, follow this plan:
1. Do some research and decide which wineries you want to visit.
2. Check those wineries’ websites or give them a call to verify their current hours and tasting policies and options.
3. Schedule your day(s) around those hours, policies and options. It has always been good to plan ahead when traveling, but it’s even more so when planning a wine country visit post-pandemic.