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Long fuelled by a sense of adventure and the opportunity to make memories while touring and tasting, a visit to wine country will have less spontaneity as winery retail operations reopen in parts of the country. Depending on the location, there’s no guarantee you’ll even have the chance to taste until restrictions are lifted.
When Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery in Beamsville, Ont., was among the first wineries in Niagara to reopen its store to consumers in May, its staff was surprised to hear the occasional complaint from visitors who had made the trek from Toronto looking to taste, wine and dine in the on-site restaurant. Manager Meg McGrath says some people have a misguided notion wine country was somehow immune to the pandemic.
“As much as we are wanting to offer an escape and are known as a place to relax and enjoy, we are first and foremost dedicated to complying with the rules and regulations set out by our provincial government,” she says.
In preparation for reopening, winery associations in Ontario and British Columbia have shared information about health and safety guidelines based on government recommendations and looked to industry practices planned in Oregon and California to figure out the best way forward. While there’s no definite plan at this time, as every winery operates differently and governing rules and regulations continue to change, there are enough plans in place to give you a sense of what to expect for your next visit.
Reservations are strongly recommended as wineries look to manage capacity and traffic flow. Some wineries are planning to reopen strictly on an appointment-only basis, so it’s best to book ahead. Prebooked appointments will also help wineries screen guests and maintain a contact list for tracing purposes.
While many wineries have long employed a greeter to offer a warm welcome and information about tour times and winery experiences on offer, that role may now be conducted behind an acrylic shield and include health declarations and temperature checks prior to admittance.
You can also expect group numbers to be limited – no matter how large your family’s bubble may be – and your favourite tasting room to sport a different look, with physical barriers and increased signage to promote physical distancing throughout the retail shop and winery. As is the case in most retail shops, contactless payment will likely be required.
As you plan your next wine tour, be sure to consult the website of the local trade associations, including Wines of British Columbia (winebc.com), Wines of Nova Scotia (winesofnovascotia.ca) and Wine Country Ontario (winecountryontario.ca) for the latest information.
Wine tours are supposed to be fun, and many wineries see opportunities in this new reality. For instance, numerous wineries in British Columbia have been busy retooling their experiences, with a more flexible mandate to conduct tastings throughout the winery and on the grounds. Previous regulations restricted tastings to be conducted strictly in specifically licensed areas.
Wine lovers can also embrace the positives of a more personalized experience, along with increased sanitation and protective measures, smaller crowds and more connection to the liquid that inspired their visit.