June 16, 2020 – Get ready for winetasting in earnest this weekend, when many wine tasting rooms will throw open their doors to welcome you with open arms, open bottles, and virtual hugs. Some are already open, like Burrell School, Loma Prieta, Regale and Silver Mountain, all up in the Summit Road area. All have plentiful outdoor seating. Burrell School, Loma Prieta Winery and Silver Mountain are pouring flights, along with bottle sales, while Regale is offering wines only by the glass and bottle.
Wrights Station opened last weekend for club members only, with prepaid reservations that included grilled cheese sandwiches. They are in Santa Clara County, which still requires food to be served in order to offer winetasting. Proprietor Dan Lokteff said it was a lot of work, but worth it. “We were pre-sold out within two days. We served 109 guests (all club members) and it went pretty well. We served a flight with four separate glasses, so we used like 500 glasses which was…everything we had! Our club members, of course, are very happy to be back and would stay all day if allowed.” They are offering something similar again this Saturday.
In Santa Cruz, Bargetto and Wargin have reopened, and Soquel Vineyards is open by appointment on weekends. Stockwell Cellars will open for seated tastings this Friday, by appointment, with 90-minute reservation windows. Sones Cellars hopes to reopen this weekend, and El Vaquero Winery will be open this Friday and Saturday from 3—8pm and Sunday, 2—7pm, with live music Friday from Michael Gaither from 6—8pm. Reservations recommended.
Ser opened last weekend in Aptos, with both indoor and outdoor space, and plans to offer several short flight options. Nicole Walsh says she’s grateful to have easily cleanable surfaces and great airflow. She won’t be requiring reservations. Dad’s get 50% off wines by the glass.
Armitage plans to open the weekend of July 4th. Sante Arcangeli targets opening within a couple of weeks, and will partner with Mentone for food. Outdoor furniture is forthcoming.
Comanche Cellars in Monterey reopened last weekend and was met with a courteous, appreciative crowd. Owner/winemaker Michael Simons told us, “Being unsure of so many things has turned into a nice surprise. People have been happy to be there, and to remain compliant with the county rules. It is simpler than it sounded early on. Guests start with a clean table and we bring everything once seated. After they leave, we remove everything, throw out the breadsticks, dump the water bottle, sanitize everything with ethanol (which smells like wine!) and start anew!”
Simons says having someone at the door to explain the rules and seat people has been helpful. Nobody has come in without a mask yet. Simons says the space turned out to be ideal, with four seating areas with the correct distancing, and two areas capable of 6 guests. They have retained the same tasting fee, and offer the same charcuterie, cheeseboard and chocolates as before. Simons decided against reservations, due to the foot traffic in their area. “I think trying to save a table when customers are already at the door, and hoping the res party actually shows, could be problematic!”
Scheid opened both their tasting rooms this past weekend. Director of Hospitality, Stefani Chaney, told us, “The reservation only system is the biggest challenge, as people always want to stay beyond the hour reserved.” She says it was worthwhile being open, however. “Our staff was chomping at the bit to come back to work—we’re so lucky!” She says they actually need to hire a few more part time tasting hosts for both locations, and hopes to attract some of the great local restaurant waitstaff that need hours. Please get in touch with Stefani (831.970.8703, or firstname.lastname@example.org), if you’re interested.
Alfaro will open beginning this weekend, June 20, by reservation only. Tasting fees will remain the same as they have been. Flights will be served at tables.
Beauregard Vineyards is open in Bonny Doon, for outside seating only, by reservation. They’ve added some lovely new redwood tables for your tasting pleasure. Please, no children allowed.
Windy Oaks has already opened its locations in Carmel Valley (noon to 5:30pm, 6 guests max) and Carmel-by-the-Sea (noon to 6pm, 4 guests max). Reservations are required. The Estate tasting room in Corralitos will open for club members only this coming weekend, June 20 and 21, by reservations only, from noon to 6pm. Thereafter, they will be open to the public every weekend, except Saturday, July 4th, again by reservation only, including patio tastings and picnics on the ridge. A max of 6 guests per reservation, please. They will also accept reservations for weekday picnics from club members. Says Judy, “Our tasting fees are $20 for our Summer Sampler, and $25 for our Premium Estate tasting. And what we are very insistent upon is the wearing of masks in our common areas, unless seated.”
Marguerite Nicholson of Nicholson Vineyards in Corralitos tells us, “Feels like we have been closed forever! I did not want to open without being fully prepared. We are opening Friday, June 19, and will be open subsequent Fridays, 4—8pm, for bottle service only. We plan to be open Saturdays and Sundays from 12—5pm, with wine tasting available.” She says the tasting fees will remain the same and they will use stemless glasses for each pour. Reservations are a must, with a max of 6 guests per party, for a two-hour period. She says, “The best of plans! I hope it goes well. Just excited to get back to business and welcome guests back to the winery!”
Jeff Emery of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards is cautiously approaching the concept of being open for tasting. “I just felt we weren’t ready once I looked at all the paperwork I legally had to have filled out.” He might “soft open” later this week during the week to just trial things out. “I am leaning towards only inviting Wine Club members this week and weekend. I think we’ll do reservations for Friday through Sundays, drop-in the other days, still being open 7 days a week.” He’ll definitely raise tasting fees, which have been a super-low $10, citing the reduced number of tasters he can accommodate, and the need for more staff to attend to all the sanitizing and other protocols.
Emery plans to have wine in flasks after the initial pour, so customers can pour each subsequent wine of the flight into their own glass. “This way, we get to engage the customer and tell them about each wine as it is presented. I think our strength is the knowledge my staff can impart and we’d lose that if the full flight of wines was just plopped down in front of them,” says Emery.
Big Basin Vineyards plans to open at the estate vineyard in Boulder Creek on Friday June 19th, for Fireside Friday (5pm-9pm), with bottle service only. They will accommodate up to 4 people in a group, by appointment only, with all outdoor seating.
On Saturday and Sunday, June 20 and 21, they will be open from 12—5pm, with Mattia Pizza authentic Italian-style pizzas available for purchase for on-site and take-home! Info and sample menu at mattiapizzatruck.com. Wine by the glass or bottle only. Enjoy live music by Robert Stone, who specializes in traditional folk, rock and country. Reservations are required for patio and vineyard picnic sites. Maximum party size of 6 (exceptions for cohabitating households). They hope to return to tastings eventually. Meanwhile, you can order one of their Taste at Home kits and then Zoomdrink six wines, along with Big Basin staff: very educational and fun. Zoomdrinking has become the new normal.
Among the many wineries waiting it out is Integrity, in Watsonville. Proprietor, Mark Hoover, believes they will open for tasting sometime in the next 30 days, but he’s in no rush. He plans to raise tasting fees by $5 at that point, and include a souvenir tasting vessel. Meanwhile, he is having success with his “At Home Tastings,” which are done with a set of samples sent to the customer in advance, accompanied by winemaker-led tasting sessions on Zoom. Says Hoover, “These have us in front of 150—250 people a week at this point, and everyone is safe. So far, so good!”
Down in Hollister, you’ll find both De Rose Vineyards and Eden Rift open for tasting by appointment only. DeRose has a “stimulus package” that includes your choice of a barbecued tri-tip, bacon from Louie’s Smokey Trails or Al’s split pea soup, when you purchase a case of wine. We love how cleverly people are handling this SIP situation.
Raise a glass to this one small step towards the new world we are all facing, and building together. Don’t forget your mask.
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.