Winery visits in the Time of Covid

Today, I saw the Heartman as I was walking along the seawall in Vancouver.

The Heartman, as we call him, creates beautiful arrangements of flower petals on the earth or grass, always in the shape of a heart.     He radiates calm and peace and his delightful work inevitably brings a smile or a photo opportunity moment to passers-by.

This heart symbol seems particularly appropriate as we all do our best to: “Be Kind, Be Calm and Be Safe”; the affirmation that British Columbians have taken to heart, literally, coined by Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer of British Columbia.

The focus on compassion and safety is reflected in the approaches to winery visits this summer where social distancing and safety are paramount for visitors to be encouraged to venture into winery tastings.

The key message for people planning to visit wineries during their summer holidays, whether here in BC or in other wine growing areas, is to anticipate the need to make an appointment for a wine tasting.     For now, drop in wine tastings are a thing of the past.       Additionally, the numbers of people tasting at any one time is sharply reduced, so check out how many people can be in the tasting party.   And, ask about the guidelines on spitting wine at the tasting area: some wineries provide a disposable spit cup, so a good idea to clarify this before the tasting begins!

Each winery creates their own wine tasting procedures as long as they keep to the guidelines around social distancing and sanitation.   This affects where the wine tastings take place, indoors or increasingly in outdoor spaces.  A point of enquiry is the definition of social distancing.   Here in British Columbia, we are operating with a 2 metre social distance.   In France, the social distance is 1 metre.   Figure out what that distance looks like, so you can conform to the expectation or leave more space.   Its important everywhere to know the guidelines, so you can: “respecter la distance de 1 mètre” or 2 metres, whichever is relevant.

Winery visitors can expect highly professional levels of sanitation for everything from counter tops to wine stemware to pour spouts on wine bottles with visitors being discouraged from touching bottles of wine for sale, unless buying them!

I visited the websites of two award wining wineries I know well in SW France to see what is on offer in these Covid times.   Both these wineries have 5 stars with Trip Advisor for their winery visits.

Chateau Lestevenie has clear instructions on their home page about phoning to arrange wine tastings.   They indicate that wine tastings are strictly by appointment to one household group per time in order to maintain social distancing.   Chateau Lestevenie is a beautiful countryside winery offering a wonderful visit and opportunity to learn with Humphrey and Sue Temperley and admire the work they have also done to promote the flora and fauna on their property.

Website: chateau-lestevenie.com         email: temperley@gmail.com

These comments above assume that the winery visit will be in person.   A growing element in wine tourism now is the advent of the virtual wine tour and tasting.

Another local winery in the Dordogne is Chateau Feely where Caro Feely has been busy launching a range of virtual experiences to enable people to experience Chateau Feely from anywhere.

Caro says: “We have been working flat out days, nights, weekends to get these new products developed and the response has been great.   We had started developing ideas for online courses as part of our wine school the last couple of years and the coronavirus offered the push and the ‘time space’ we needed to get the first products done.”

Caro has produced several videos on their website describing the biodynamic vineyard of Caro and her husband, Sean, including a one minute video produced about their new Virtual Discovery Wine Course.

Website: chateaufeely.com      email: caro.feely@chateaufeely.com

‘Down the road’ from these country wineries, in Ste Emilion and the areas around Bordeaux another approach to wine tasting takes place.   This year, many of the most famous chateaux in the wine world are conducting their wine tastings with merchants using video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft teams etc.   Samples of wines are shipped to the merchants in advance and then the tastings take place virtually with the chateaux technical directors discussing the wines and answering enquires from the merchants.   This is how the 2019 en primeur wine sale to merchants is taking place for many chateaux.  The good news is that it appears 2019 was a year producing a high quality vintage.

Economically speaking 2020 looks like a tough year for winemakers. At the en primeur level of wine sales, many chateaux are discounting their 2019 vintage prices to encourage sales. Inevitably, this price challenge will ripple down through the industry and affect all the wine-makers.

In the time of Covid, let’s be kind to our wine-makers and support them through an unforgettable year, which is bringing many challenges as well as opportunities for change.

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