california wine coronavirus

California wineries continue to operate as "essential businesses" while retail sales soar

19 March, 2020

The Wine Institute of California has argued that wineries are an “essential business” and should be allowed to maintain operations during a lockdown.

Ten counties in the Bay Area, Central California and Palm Springs have issued shelter in place orders in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus. It instructs residents to stay at home as much as possible over the next three weeks, while forcing non-essential businesses like bars and restaurants to close their doors.

Grocery stores and pharmacies are exempt, as they are considered essential businesses, and the Wine Institute of California claims wineries should fall into that category.

“We interpret winery businesses to meet the definition of 'essential businesses'; as defined in the County Orders Section 10(f)(15), which states that essential businesses include businesses that supply other essential businesses [grocery stores and other food outlets] with the support or supplies necessary to operate,” it said in a statement.

This does not include tasting rooms, which Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered to close, but wineries have been urged to continue vineyard management, wine production operations, bottling, warehousing, sales, delivery and shipping.

Cannabis dispensaries were forced to close on Monday, but they have now reopened across San Francisco after Department of Public Health clarified that marijuana is used for medical purposes. Some cities have ordered the closing of all retail liquor stores, but others retailer are inundated with demand as Americans stockpile enough wine to see them through a period of isolation.

Daou Vineyards in Paso Robles has a small crew managing the vineyards. They are practicing social distancing as they keep things ticking along during these unprecedented times. The family business said it has received “an amazing outpouring of love and support” from customers this week.

Daniel Daou, proprietor and winemaker, told Drinks International: “Our wholesale market is on fire. We were up 60% last week. There are three things people are going to do when they are at home: fool around, eat and drink wine. Sales have been crazy from an off-premise standpoint. Clearly on-premise has been reduced, but ecommerce is on fire as well. People are ordering from our winery direct.

“We have had a real outpouring of love and support from our customers. I’ve had so many customers reach out to me, telling me, ‘we love your winery, we love your wine, we know it’s probably going to be hard for you, so we’re going to buy twice as much wine just to support you’. That’s been an amazing outpouring of support.”

Wine businesses in the Golden State are clearly reeling from the need to shut down their tasting rooms and restaurants, but they are pleased to be able to continue winemaking operations and sell bottles on site. “It’s a complicated situation but it’s not as bad as it seems because they’re not making us shut down production,” said Ross Jay Rankin, head of the Santa Ynez Wine Country Association and owner of Imagine Wine. 

He noticed a sharp decline in visitors due to the coronavirus outbreak, so he reached out to wine club members. “We sent a message to our customers that said, ‘Help, we need business,’” Rankin told the LA Times. “We had a stunning response.” Customers quickly purchased cases of his wine, helping to give the business some breathing room as it awaits news of how long the quarantine period will last.

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