Sunday, July 12, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 19
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Santa Barbara County wineries could reopen to the public at the end of May as long as they serve food, too

CAMILLIA LANHAM

Winery visitors get the option of wines by the glass or wines by the bottle these days. 

But that’s only if they also purchase food. 

And as long as the alcohol and nibbles are on the same check, paid for by the same credit card. 

This is the world we’re living in right now. But, at least it’s something. 


Who’s open?
Visit Santa Barbara Vintners online at sbcountywines.com for a list of some of the wineries that partially reopened and are taking appointments. If you want to be up on the latest at Fess Parker, visit them on Instagram, Facebook, or at fessparker.com.

GROWN FOR YOU
Stoplman Vineyards reopened on May 29, and that beautiful sangiovese is available for visitors to taste—by the bottle or the glass—by appointment at the Los Olivos tasting room (purchase of a boxed lunch required).
FILE PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard joined dozens of other wineries over the weekend of May 29 through 31 in reopening their doors to let the public inside. 

“We’re excited. We’re really happy to be able to have people come out again,” Director of Hospitality Barrett Crandall said. “There’s a lot of questions as people are coming out for the first time in a few months and wondering what it’s going to be like.” 

Wineries, similar to all other businesses, have to follow a set of guidelines laid out by the state in order to reopen during the pandemic. This includes things like 50 percent capacity, socially distanced tables, regular sanitization, and wiping down tables and menus after every use. 

In Santa Barbara County, everyone is also required to wear a mask most of the time. Crandall said staff will have masks on, and the winery is asking guests to wear one anytime they aren’t seated at a table. 

Wine tasting rooms are included in Stage 3 of the state’s Resilience Roadmap for reopening, while Santa Barbara County is only in Stage 2. However, the county put an emergency rule into place on May 25 that will temporarily enable tasting rooms to open to the public as long as they act like a restaurant (allowed to open in Stage 2) and serve food. 

The rule suspends certain county zoning and permit restrictions for wineries until Dec. 16 or until the county terminates the proclaimed local emergency for COVID-19. 


BUY THE BOTTLE
Melville Winery between Buellton and Lompoc reopened on May 22 for some socially distanced wine by the glass or bottle.
PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

Crandall said Fess Parker and Epiphany in Los Olivos, which is in Fess Parker’s portfolio of wineries, partnered with First and Oak in Solvang to have food delivered to the tasting rooms—sandwich and salad combos as well as antipasto. Guests make reservations in advance for a 90-minute slot and are greeted by a mask-wearing hostess when they arrive. 

The winery is limiting the number of reservations it’s taking, for now.

“We have a big property so obviously we could fit a lot of people, but that’s not the goal,” Crandall said. “For us it’s just baby steps. ... To have these people come out and have a nice experience, enjoy the sun, enjoy the food. ... I think if we just opened without reservations, it would open the floodgates.” 

What they’re trying to avoid, Crandall said, is having big crowds show up. All of the seating will be outside, he said, and the winery’s main focus is making sure everything is clean and everyone is safe. 

“We have been anticipating that we would be able to open at some point. We have been prepping as far as getting supplies together,” he said. “We went and spaced out the patio three weeks ago. We could kind of see the writing on the wall. We kind of anticipated that space was going to be an issue.”

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said wineries that were already serving food qualified under the second phase of the governor’s program, but most of the wineries in Santa Barbara County don’t serve food. The emergency rule enables them to serve food if they partner with a permitted food truck or restaurant. 

But there are caveats. Hartmann said food has to be purchased alongside the alcohol, and patrons need to get that put on one bill and pay for it with one credit or debit card, which is what the state requires for restaurants. 

“If restaurants, why not wineries?” she said. “Counties are creatures of the state and so county governments, they have to comply, they have to be at least as stringent as the state requires.”


SCENIC ROUTE
Those vineyard views are once again available for your eyes now that wineries across the county were able to reopen starting May 25, as long as they followed social-distancing guidelines and served food.
PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

Still, Hartmann said that most wineries aren’t set up to serve food and believes they shouldn’t be treated like a bar or pub. In a letter Hartmann and 1st District Supervisor Das Williams sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom on May 27, they wrote that perhaps it would be even safer for wineries to reopen without dine-in service. The letter references a quote from a May 26 letter sent to the governor by a number of regional wine associations in the state, including the Santa Barbara Vintners.

“We have to agree with the following statement from the wine associations’ letter: ‘It strikes us as illogical that a winery must offer a “sit-down, dine-in meal” as a condition to reopen. If a winery can safely reopen with food service, a winery can certainly reopen safely without food service,’” Hartmann and Williams wrote. “It would be a easy transition for most, if not all, of these tasting rooms to open with more than adequate distancing and sanitation measures.” 

Until the governor loosens up the restrictions on wineries that don’t serve food or Santa Barbara County moves into the next phase in the reopening plan, the county’s wineries are stuck following the current moment’s guidelines.

While not all wineries are getting into the food service business, the ones that are, such as Fess Parker, are excited to have customers on-site again. Crandall said the last couple of months have been difficult. Everyone at the winery was looking forward to seeing people and doing what they do best: Show them a little hospitality. 

“We have a wine club membership that’s really loyal and miss coming out,” he said. “There’s a lot of these people that we haven’t seen in quite a bit, and they’re people we miss. We’re in the hospitality business and that’s what we like to do ... and we haven’t been able to do that in like three months.” 

Editor Camillia Lanham is making a reservation at clanham@santamariasun.com








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