Keeping winery workers and guests safe was the subject of a webinar, What Works for NC Wineries, hosted in July by Tarheel Taps & Corks, UNCG’S Bryan School of Business & Economics and the N.C. Wine and Grape Council.
Since wineries in North Carolina were permitted to reopen on Memorial Day weekend, their primary goal has been keeping customers and employees safe. An outbreak of employees testing positive for COVID-19 could shut those businesses down again.
David Bower, enology instructor and winemaker at Surry Community College, talked with winery operators about how to keep customers and employees safe at wineries in the age of COVID. His presentation was based on guidance from the CDC, the Food Safety Modernization Act and local health departments.
Much of the advice that Bower gave for keeping winery workers safe is similar to what public health experts have been saying for months: Wear a face covering, wash hands frequently and stay at least 6 feet apart.
Bower urged wineries to set a positive example for winery guests by making sure that all employees are wearing face covering. In fact, he encouraged wineries to brand their employees’ mask to make them a part of their uniforms. Cloth face masks need to be washed at night, he said.
Washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds kills the virus, even more effectively than hand sanitizers, Bower said.
He also urged wineries to adopt standard operating procedures for cleaning and sanitizing public spaces and surfaces in wineries. While cleaning is for removing soil, sanitizing removes microbes, he said. Procedures should be consistent and easy to follow. Bathrooms, for instance, should be cleaned when opening the winery, mid-way through a shift and when the winery closes.
Since deliveries are an important part of winery business, procedures should be established and shared regarding how deliveries are made. Should delivery drivers call when they arrive? Do they need to wear a mask?
Employee wellness checks are recommended for wineries, including temperature checks and questioning employees about any illness symptoms. Sick employees should quarantine themselves for 14 days, although North Carolina doesn’t require their business to shut down.
Tasting rooms should follow the same guidance for protecting staff and guests, Bower said. Some tips for wineries that want to conduct wine tastings are:
- Do as much as possible outside because outside spaces are safer than enclosed spaces. Where this isn’t possible, try to improve indoor ventilation to allow more fresh air into the space. Allow at least 200 square feet of space for each guest indoors.
- Glasses can be used for tastings, as long as they are washed in water heated to at least 160 degrees F.
- Use signage to alert guests about safety procedures.
- Establish a culture of safety on a wine trail by having all wineries follow the same procedures regarding masks and tasting protocols.
- Limit group size at a tasting to no more than six.
- Assign employees to specific tasks and areas: Someone to greet guests and explain procedures, someone to oversee tastings, someone to ring up customer sales, and someone to fulfill orders.
- Consider taking reservations for tastings, especially when space is limited.
- Limit the length of time for a wine tasting.
- Don’t allow customers to spit wine.
- Don’t provide shared snacks; only pre-packaged foods.
- Use a chalk board rather than handing out shared tasting sheets.
- Employees should wear a face shield in close quarters.
- If a winery is conducting tours, exposed surfaces must sanitized more often.
- Best practices at this time are to avoid activities that can lead to lingering, such as concerts or performances. For any events, crowds are limited to no more than 25 people outside.
View the webinar slides here