2020 was a very interesting year in wine country, to say the least.
On the good side, the virus did not impact the agricultural and production side of the business. Indeed, 2020 is going to be a landmark vintage. The quality of the crop seems to be even better than the great 2016 vintage. The crops are all in, except for the Icewine grapes awaiting a sustained cold front. Yields are good too, so lots of great wines are now in production. One anomaly, Icewine production will be down. With the lack of international guests, Icewine sales were slower than usual, and many wineries have good stocks of Icewine from prior years.
The bad side is a little more nuanced. The selling season started with a lockdown until late June. It re-opened under guidelines that restricted the number of persons who could be at the winery at any one time. It also restricted the number of persons who could be served in one group.
Most wineries reverted to a reservation system, no matter the size of the group ( even couples). Some allowed walk-ins to use unreserved time slots, but they did not encourage folks to hang around waiting. Of course, there were no international guests, what with the border closures.
With smaller group sizes, many wineries improvised. They created outdoor tasting stations to maximize how many people they could serve. Many went to one-time use glasses. One happy side effect of this was a better, more elegant tasting session as servers were not overwhelmed by numbers, and were not rushed to get to the next group.
From the beginning of the restart, I restricted my tours to people who knew each other. No mixing of strangers. I also used a larger vehicle when I had more than 2 people on board. of course, my guests wore masks at all times unless outdoors and when actually tasting or eating.
In late October, even tighter restrictions came out. Group sizes were reduced to 4 people maximum, and they all had to be from the same household. Wineries would not let tour guides accompany guests to the tasting. The guide just introduced them and let them go alone. This worked OK for me because the wineries I use have excellent servers who know their stuff, so I knew my guests had a great experience
Most tour companies have since suspended operations since their business models depend on big numbers of clients. My more personal style was not affected. My one change was I am not accepting guests who are coming from hot zones. I have not been busy at all these last few weeks.
The wineries are still open for tasting, but only to household groups, max four people. Some have reduced hours, but this is common in winter anyway. there are still a lot of employees on site, as production is going full blast.
Customers are encouraged to come out and support these local businesses in a safe and responsible way.