Wine industry deals with being lumped in with bars, restaurants amid new mandates for food service

The Coronavirus Pandemic has resulted in big shifts in the way businesses operate. New guidance and regulations have been coming out on a weekly basis from Albany, resulting in a lot of confusion among certain industries.

The wine and craft beverage industry has been particularly challenged, as its been lumped in with bars and restaurants through Governor Andrew Cuomo’s guidance in response to the Novel Coronavirus.

The latest run of mandates from the Governor and State Liquor Authority prohibits businesses from serving alcohol to those who don’t also order food. It also requires all of those who are served alcohol to be seated.

Dave Peterson, co-owner of Swedish Hill and Goose Watch wineries on Cayuga Lake, and Penguin Bay on Seneca Lake says quick adaptation to changes has been crucial to staying operational.


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“With the ongoing pandemic, being able to adapt quickly in this rapidly changing environment has become a matter of necessity,” he explained. “This most recent change came as a bit of a surprise, especially since we initially did not have access to the guidelines and thought that we had to shut down if we did not have a restaurant.”

Meanwhile, Erica Paolicelli, a partner at Three Brothers Winery and president of the New York Wine Industry Association, says the crowds that Governor Cuomo was concerned about avoiding aren’t typically an issue at wineries. Especially since reopening last month.

“It is what it is,” Paolicelli told WSKG. “We just want to follow the rules and stay open, because our livelihoods depend on it at this point.”

 

 

Peterson said that after reading the guidelines, they realized it was possible for them to stay open, but that it would require some game planning beforehand. “This involved choosing a food offering that would be appropriate with wine, and going out first thing the next morning to get the food. Then we had to reprogram our point of sale to link this purchase of food with the sale of a wine flight or glass of wine in order to document on the receipt that we were in fact selling a food item with the purchase of wine for on-site consumption,” he recounted.

Peterson says that it has actually improved the experience for customers, as they have a more complete encounter when visiting one of their locations.

“Once the customers found out that we were offering chocolate with the wine, many people were actually pleased about the experience,” he continued. “The major negative comments regarded that many people were going to multiple wineries and that they didn’t really want to have to get a food item at each stop. The other comment was that a lot of wineries were doing crackers and they were relieved that it was something different. With all the wineries having to act on this mandate so quickly, there was no opportunity to coordinate with any other wineries to insure come diversity of offerings.”

Even seating new requirements, which include 6-feet of social distance, masking until being seated, and shrinking down the space’s overall capacity – were relatively easy to navigate once some creative thinking was deployed.

“I think the mandates have forced wineries to get more creative and the feedback that we have been getting is that we have created a better experience for our visitors,” he explained. “We no longer take larger groups so the setting is quieter, more relaxed and more intimate. Many of the changes likely will be longer term changes even when the mandates are lifted.”

Despite the positive, though, there are looming questions about sustainability. Particularly on the financial side. Peterson says things have been workable so far. That said, the future remains uncertain.

“All of the mandates result in more time and expense, but so far we have been able to adapt and keep our doors open,” he explained. “We applaud the Governor in his efforts to help control and limit the spread of COVID-19 in our state, and we support most of what has been put in place, including social distancing and wearing of masks.”

Peterson says that having wineries lumped in with bars has prompted a challenge. “Our biggest concern is that we are apparently being lumped with bars when it comes to these mandates, when in fact wineries are very different in that we are focused on a tasting experience with a goal on customers taking home unopened bottles to enjoy,” he added. “Most of us have cancelled all larger scale events that would be more difficult to maintain social distancing for. We, as well as other Cayuga Lake Wine Trail wineries, are taking the pandemic and the resulting mandates very seriously and have been diligent in enforcing the rules. It would be very unfortunate if the actions of some irresponsible bars resulted in us having to close our doors.”


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