Self-guided tours, bring your own picnic and outdoor tasting venues are among some of the changes local wineries have had to make to adapt to COVID-19 regulations.
At Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery near Waterford, one of the biggest changes was to its schedule.
They attempted to open with regular hours in March but quickly realized that wasn’t sustainable, said co-owner Anita Buehner. Cutting back the schedule and on samplings were moves made at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In June, they were able to re-open for weekends, and are now again serving samples from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
“That was a journey in itself,” said Buehner. “How many hours? What was the demand? There were some unknowns there.”
In preparation for opening, plastic was installed around the sales counter, and sampling was moved from the bar to the wine tank area to provide more space.
The farm’s lavender fields are still available for visitors to walk through, but they have cancelled what would have been their 10th annual Lavender Fest.
“That was a hard one to cancel,” said Buehner. “But, normally, we’re doing wagon tours and we really felt that we wouldn’t be able to ensure sanitization on the wagon, so our festival is cancelled.”
Guests are welcome to bring their own lawn chairs, blankets and picnics to enjoy with their wine on the farm as long as they are able to be physically distanced from others on the property. Self-guided tours with maps are available as well.
This year was going to see the start of tours at Blueberry Hill Estates near St. Williams, but due to the pandemic, they have had to put that on hold.
“We also have the blueberry operation so we didn’t want to have any cross contamination there,” said Amanda Allison, communications co-ordinator. “Tastings are still a really great way for people to experience our story and our history.”
The bottle shop and patio at the winery have both reopened.
Blueberry Hill staff are asking that all guests book reservations to ensure they have the space available.
At Hounds of Erie Winery at Clear Creek, self-guided tours began in April with videos prepared for each location along the journey.
“We have been working really hard to keep up with something that we don’t know how to keep up with,” said Lara Sawaya-Norman, marketing co-ordinator. “We don’t really have an end date or playbook.”
One of the newest additions on the grounds is the Hound Hut, an outdoor space for tasting on the patio.
The outdoor space allows the same tasting experience while allowing people to remain distanced from others at the venue, said Sawaya-Norman.
“It allows us to be out on the patio with the guests,” she said. “Its so much nicer for the experience, you’re not going in and out of the building, for sure the Hound Hut is going to be a staple now all the time.”
Guests will be able to purchase glassware to use during their tastings and then take it home once they are done.
Self-guided tours are still available and can be pre-booked.