Webinar: Keeping winery workers and guests safe during COVID-19

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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.

View the webinar here

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

 

Getting Out: Wine and beer in the time of COVID

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After four months in the house, we finally decided to get back out there July 4th weekend, to visit a brewery and winery about an hour from Raleigh. Both experiences were good, felt safe, and we learned a few things we can share to help other wine and beer lovers figure out how to navigate the new world of wine and beer in the time of COVID-19.

Our first stop was at Grove Winery and Vineyards in Gibsonville, just northwest of Greensboro. This is a rural winery, and it felt good to get out of the city for a while.  First, we checked their website and learned that, yes, they were open, expecting tasting room guests to wear masks and limiting the guests in the tasting room to no more than 10 at a time.

We had already decided to buy wine by the glass or bottle, but no tasting. We even brought our own wine glasses, knowing that some wineries were not providing glasses at this time. Grove was providing glasses, but we used our own, and we brought along some food to eat with our wine.

Inside the tasting room, there were only  people (including the server) when we arrived, so we quickly brought the number to 8. But we weren’t planning to stay inside.

A place in the shade at Grove Winery…

After purchasing to glasses of wine, we went back outside to Grove’s vast open space and found a table under a tree in the shade. At the time, there was only one other couple, at a table on the stage also seeking shade in the afternoon heat. But others arrived later in the afternoon; one family even brought their own tailgate tent to provide some shade.

We started with glasses of Viognier and the dry Rose that was released that day. Later, we bought a bottle of Grove’s Traminette, a crisp light summer white.

Shade was in the greatest demand that day, with temperatures in the low 90s. I heard one customer say that Grove had taken down a tent or shelter, which I can’t be sure of since it was our first visit. Providing shade in outdoor spaces can help encourage customer distancing in warmer weather.

Grove is also hosting music events on their Grove Lake Stage. Reservations are required to maintain social distancing.

Here’s what Grove did right to help customers know what to expect:

  • Posted instructions on their website alerting customers to wear masks and limit the capacity in the tasting room. The website also provided information about ordering wine online for those not quite ready to venture out.
  • Provided the same information on signs leading up to the winery, for those who did not check the website first.
  • Had tasting room server wearing a mask.
  • Encouraged customers to bring food/picnics if desired.

After a couple of hours at Grove, we decided to head over to nearby Red Oak Lager Haus and BierGarten in nearby Whitsett, which opened at 4 p.m. We also felt comfortable coming here because the website and signage coming into the brewery required customers to wear masks. I don’t think I saw anyone arrive without one, though of course they don’t expect you to wear one while drinking or eating.

The staff inside and out were all wearing masks, and there was a sneeze guard at the bar where you ordered beer. They also had 6-feet markers on the floor by the bar to keep waiting customers separated. Of course, there was really no need to stand in line for beer – the wait staff will come to your table, and they are very attentive.

Social distancing is encouraged in both the Lager Haus and BierGarten.

We went back outside again, feeling safer unmasked in an open space. The biergarten is surprisingly shady and cool, even in summer. Tables are long, so we felt comfortable sitting at the end of a table, with two other people at the end. When they left, our seats were getting more sunlight, so we decided to move down. We managed to keep the table to ourselves while we were there.

Red Oak has onsite food trucks and a Wurst Haus of its own for German food to go with Bavarian beer. We opted for food from Durham’s Succatash food truck. Our food “buzzer” didn’t work, so someone from the truck had to bring us our food, but it was delicious. After dinner and a beer, we were ready to go.

What Red Oak did right:

  • Required guests to wear masks and clearly stated the policy on the website and signage leading up to the lagerhaus. Red Oak also has a policy of not admitting anyone under the age of 21, so no babies and children. During times when distancing is so important, such a policy seems really appropriate.
  • Protected workers at the bar with sneeze guards.
  • Encouraged social distancing with floor markers.
  • Had all staff wearing masks.
  • Provided plenty of shady outdoor space for social distancing, even in warm weather. Indoors, there are longer tables too, so groups could maintain distance while sitting inside as well.

Thinking you would want to venture out to a brewery or winery? Here are some tips to make the best of your experienc:

  • Check the website first to see how the brewery or winery is protecting customers during the pandemic. Don’t see anything? That’s not a good sign – this information should be front and center on websites and signage coming into the venue.
  • Call ahead. If you don’t see all the answers to your questions, call. Are staff wearing masks? Customers? Is there an outdoor space? Can you do tastings? Do you need your own glass?
  • Need more assurance? Check the list of establishments following the best practices recommended by Count on Me NC.
  • Look for places that are providing comfortable outdoor space, where you can socially distance from other customers. Shade is really helpful right now, so ask about that.
  • Make sure you know the venue’s policies on outside food. Grove allows it, but Red Oak does not. We left our cooler in the car on that one.
  • Wear your mask when you are not eating or drinking, especially when you are inside.
  • Try to visit at “off times,” not a peak time for that venue. Ask about busy times if you’re not sure. And if you see a larger crowd than you are comfortable with when you arrive, leave and come back another time.

Grove Winery & Vineyards
7360 Brooks Bridge Rd
Gibsonville, NC 27249

Red Oak Lager Haus and BierGarten
6901 Konica Drive
Whitsett, NC 27377

Wineries Share Strategies for Keeping Customers Safe

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serving wine in a mask
(Photo courtesy N.C. Wine & Grape Council)

Late Friday afternoon, the day before Memorial Day weekend, North Carolina wineries learned they would be allowed to open to the public, after hearing earlier in the week that they would not be included in the state’s Phase 2 reopening.

Since that weekend, winery owners and staffs have navigated new ways of operating in a COVID-19 world. On June 16, a webinar for the wine industry focused on what wineries are doing to help keep customers safe while ensuring relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere.

WATCH THE WEBINAR HERE

Webinar panelists included:

  • Amy Helton, Hanover Park Vineyard
  • Chuck Johnson, Windsor Run Cellars and Shadow Springs Vineyard
  • Tina Smith, Cypress Bend Vineyards
  • John Wright, Sanctuary Vineyards
  • Whit Winslow, N.C. Wine and Grape Council
  • Lynne Minges, N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association

The webinar was moderated by Tarheel Taps & Corks and hosted by UNC-Greensboro’s Bryan School of Business, thanks to Erick Byrd and Sam Troy. Here is what it looks like out there from the wineries’ perspective.

What happened between Wednesday, 5/20, and Friday, 5/22, that allowed wineries to reopen in Phase 2, when originally they were not going to be allowed to open?

Whit Winslow says that “a whole lot went down in 48 hours.” Representatives of wineries, breweries and distilleries presented Gov. Roy Cooper with a memo explaining that those businesses are not bars, but in fact, have more in common with restaurants, which were allowed to reopen dining rooms at half capacity in Phase 2. “Most wineries jumped at the chance to reopen, with modified tastings, bottle and glass sales,” Winslow said. “Everyone is excited to get back to business.”

What does the tasting room experience look like today?

When wineries got word on May 22 that they could reopen, most scrambled to revamp their tasting room arrangements, spreading tables apart and moving much of their operations outside. Some have put up tents over patios and reoriented their entrances to bring visitors into the open space.

Other changes to protect customers and staff: Signage about social distancing, sneeze guards at the bar where customers order wine, hand sanitizer readily available, and gloves and masks for employees. Sanitizing and regular cleaning is the new norm. No one reported asking customers to wear masks, but of course you can’t drink wine while wearing a mask.

Tastings, if offered, are done by flights. Guests can order a flight of wines that comes with a tasting sheet. Some wineries are using disposable or compostable cups for the flights. Gone are the crowds huddled around the bar, with a host pouring and explaining wines as they go through tasting sheets.

“Customers have been really pleased with this,” said Amy Helton of Hanover Park. “They feel safe, and for most of our customers, that’s the most important thing.”

Overall, customers who come out to the wineries are in a good mood, grateful for the opportunity to get out of their houses.

How are you handling events?

Tina Smith of Cypress Bend said that initially the winery had planned to continue their popular Friday night music series, which draws 400-500 people. But when they started spreading out the bar, stage and tables under their event tent, they realized could not accommodate a crowd large enough to make the events sustainable. They are still planning the winery’s 15-year celebration this summer.

Helton said that Hanover Park is planning an anniversary dinner in early July, but it will look much different than in the past. Appetizers on the tables, instead of self-service; less socializing and more social distancing.

What about weddings?

Most participating wineries said the weddings booked pre-COVID had been canceled or postponed until at least fall, some until next year. In most cases, the wedding size would make the events impossible until current restrictions on gatherings.

Lynne Minges said that the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association has been talking with the governor’s office about allowing weddings to go forward as events, rather than mass gatherings.

What marketing strategies did you use during the time you were closed to the public that worked well for you?

Some wineries with a local following were able to take pre-orders that they would fulfill at curbside pickup on Saturday afternoons, when they were open for that purpose. On the Outer Banks, John Wright of Sanctuary Vineyards offered drop-off service for sales of three bottles or more. Some offered free shipping for three bottles, and others offered quantity discounts. Johnson said his distillery pivoted to producing hand sanitizer that sold out every week.

Wine club members were very supportive with online and curbside sales. But in spite of a 200-300% increase in online orders, overall winery sales were down about 70%, owners said.

What is Count on Me NC?

Lynn Minges shared information about the Count on Me NC accountability program that allows hospitality businesses to participate in online training on how to operate safely during the global pandemic. Once businesses have completed the training, they can add their names to a list of participating businesses and print out credentials to share with their customers. At the time of the webinar, more than 40,000 individuals representing 10,000 business had participated, including some wineries. A Spanish-language version was expected to be out soon.

Looking Back: 2019 NC Wine Bloggers Summit

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It’s sad, but understandable that the #NCWineGuys had to postpone the 2020 NC Wine Bloggers Summit that would have started with tours today. To fill the void, Tarheel Taps & Corks takes a look back at the 2019 wine tour and summit.

BBloggers talk with Jones von Drehle winemaker Dan Tallman.A tour of two popular family-owned wineries near the Virginia state line – Jones von Drehle and McRitchie — kicked off the 2019 #NCWine Bloggers Summit. More than a dozen bloggers boarded vans for the short trip from Elkin to the wineries.

Our first stop was at Jones von Drehle Vineyards and Winery, where we were greeted by winemaker Dan Tallman who shared his thoughts on everything from parenting to oak barrels to the microclimate – hot days and cooler nights — that makes Jones von Drehle wines unique. He told the group about his favorite wine grape – Petite Manseng – which he described as having a “reliable chemistry each year.”

We enjoyed a catered lunch outdoors on a sunny spring afternoon, and then wine tasting in the Jones von Drehle tasting room, overlooking the vast vineyards. Winery owner Diane Jones said her family wanted to establish a winery producing high-quality estate-grown wines. So she and husband Chuck chose a site where they could grow great fruit, a farm with the highest elevation in the Yadkin Valley AVA.

winemaker Dan Tallman

Winemaker Dan Tallman explains the barrel aging.

They built the winery in 2008 and established the vineyard in 2009, so the vines are now over 10 years old. The family distributes their own wine to shops and restaurants around the state.

Diane says she spends a great deal of time educating chefs and restaurant owners about the value of serving their North Carolina wines.

JVD has been recognized for its Petite Manseng, a citrusy white. The winery’s top seller is a red blend, Steel and Stone. My personal favorite was the Viogner, a dry white that was quite refreshing for summer meals.

A new addition to the winery will be an amphitheater that is expected to bring in crowds of 800-1,200 for four to six concerts per season. The winery also hopes to begin hosting weddings along with disc golf events.

Around the bend and up a steep drive, we arrived at McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks, another family-run operation. The winery was started in 2006 by Sean and Patty McRitchie – Sean came from a family with a history in West Coast wineries. The McRitchies’ son Asher is expected to become chief winemaker next year. All the family — including canines Fiona and Aello — are also involved with the business.

McRitchie vineyards

Sean McRichie explains what’s in the vineyards.

After struggling with Chardonnay vines, the McRitchies replaced them with Traminette, a white that performs better in North Carolina. The winery uses sustainable management practices in the vineyard – copper for pests and vinegar, salt and soap to manage weeds. They also invested in a mobile bottling unit that they share with other wineries.

While the McRitchie wines are very good, the ciders are truly extraordinary. Made from apples grown in nearby Wilkes County, the ciders run from semi-sweet to dry, more like a dry sparkling wine. Ring of Fire is a popular red blend that changes a bit depending on what grapes have done well that year.

Beyond the tasting room, the winery offers some indoor seating and a patio for nicer weather to sit and enjoy a glass of wine or cider.

McRitchie family

Wine making is a family affair at McRitchie.

After the tours, I switched to “beer blogger” mode and went to Angry Troll Brewing in downtown Elkin for dinner and a little March Madness basketball, like most of the crowd there. (I mean, it was March…) The restaurant, known for its wood-fired pizzas, has a nice, intimate feel. There is also a taproom downstairs and additional dining/event space next door.

The wings and salad I had were good and paired well with a nice late-winter-season Angry Troll brown ale that was very smooth. Just a couple of blocks from the Yadkin River, Angry Troll boasts that it’s Elkin’s first downtown brewery.

The next day, NC Wine Bloggers gathered at Hanover Park Vineyard, a nice event space in an old barn. Presentations included topics ranging from social media best practices to working with convention and visitors bureaus. The presenters, food, wine (so much wine) and networking all made for a really great event.

Want to participate the next NC Wine Bloggers Summit? Watch for updates and follow the @NCWineGuys on Twitter.

wine pouring into glass

Tasting room at McRitchie Winery

Childress Vineyards: Big-time winery in a small town

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Childress Vineyards -- front

Childress Vineyards

There are some North Carolina wineries you should visit just to see the scope of the state’s wine industry, and Childress Vineyards is certainly one of them. As the largest winery in the Yadkin Valley with a history dating back to 2002, Childress offers amenities and an experience you might expect from wineries on the West Coast.

The winery is located just outside of Lexington, just off of Highways 52 and 62. It is about a half-hour drive from Winston-Salem and less than an hour from Charlotte. When I visited recently on a January weekend, both the tasting room and the Bistro were filled with tourists, and even the winery staff seemed surprised by the crowds.

Childress Vineyards opened its doors in 2004, after establishing vineyards on site and at the estate of owner Richard Childress. A NASCAR team owner, Childress had a personal interest in wine making and wanted to develop his own winery. To help him achieve his goal, he hired award-winning winemaker Mark Friszolowski.

Wine tasting

Wine tasting at Childress Vineyards.

The vineyards produce a wide variety of European varietal grapes, and all wines are made from estate grapes, except for the muscadine wines. Muscadine grapes are for Childress wines are purchased from vineyards in Eastern North Carolina, where they are better adapted to the drier soils and temperatures.

In January and February, Children Vineyards is offering “Winter Weekends,” with music on Saturdays and games (trivia and bingo) on Sunday in the pavilion.

Front entrance

Front entrance of Childress Vineyards.

The popular Bistro is open for lunch and brunch, but a few menu selections can be ordered in the pavilion with a glass of wine, beer or mimosas. In the interest of time, I grabbed a quiche with fresh fruit, which made for a delicious brunch. There is a beautiful patio overlooking the vineyards, which would be great on a warm day. But don’t bring your picnic — no outside food or beverages are allowed.

On weekends, tours of the winery are offered every 30 minutes. Weather permitting, you’ll walk through the outdoor areas, including 41 acres of vineyards that can be seen from the hilltop winery. You’ll also see the crush pad where grapes are brought in to be processed, the winemaking room, barrel rooms and special events spaces.

After your tour, stop by the tasting room for informal tastings ($15 for eight wines) or get a more private tasting in the Victory Lounge ($30 for nine wines). You can choose from a list of dry or sweet wines.

The wide variety of wine choices is one reason that Childress is so popular. Not a big fan of dry wines? Turn to the muscadines and Reisling. Don’t love sweet wines? Choose the dry tasting for Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. Then choose a bottle of your favorite to purchase before you leave.

Patio overlooking vineyards

The events patio overlooking vineyards.

So if you’re looking for a quick getaway that will leave you feeling as if you’ve just dropped into a West Coast winery, make the drive — winter or any season — to Childress Vineyards.

Childress Vineyards
1000 Childress Vineyards Road
Lexington, NC
336-236-9463

Open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wine tastings, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Winery tours, M-F, 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, every half hour, 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Olde Mecklenburg neighborhood rocks Charlotte’s brewery scene

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olde-meck-outside-webCompared to other North Carolina beer cities, you could say that Charlotte came later to the dance. Though places like Asheville (Highland Brewing, 1994) and Chapel Hill (Carolina Brewery, 1995) have had a lively brewery scene for more than 20 years, Charlotte’s first local brewery, Olde Mecklenburg, opened in 2009.

But Charlotte has made up for lost time. More than 20 local breweries offer residents and tourists something more to do than watch football and basketball games. And many of Charlotte’s breweries are clustered near the city’s light rail system, making it even easier to visit a few and still get home safely.

On a recent trip to Charlotte, we found a cluster of breweries within a two-block area, starting with the county’s first brewery, Olde Mecklenburg. As a brewery that specializes in Bavarian-style lagers, Olde Mecklenburg also offers a great selection of German food and sandwiches. So we started there for lunch – German sausages with sauerkraut and potato salad. We tried these beers – Hornet’s Nest Hefeweizen, Yule Christmas Bock, Captain Jack Pilsner and Fat Boy Porter – all were good.

Later we returned for the Olde Mecklenburg brewery tour. We heard more about the commitment to brewing according to the Law of Purity – using only hops, yeast, water and malt. The brewery is now building a second location in nearby Cornelius, reported to be larger than the Charlotte location, which means it will be, well, huge.

bar at sugar creek

Sugar Creek Brewing also serves food, along with good beer and a friendly atmosphere.

Nearby Sugar Creek Brewing Co.  is located at the site of the first Olde Mecklenburg. This brewery is also a friendly place, with good bar food – a fun place to watch football games on a Sunday afternoon. Sugar Creek had a nice fire burning pit outside on a cold afternoon.

mug of cider on table

Warm mulled cider was a great choice on a cold afternoon at Good Road Ciderworks.

Finally, we stopped at Good Road Ciderworks, a smaller place, with a variety of ciders. We tried four – New England Heritage, a dry cider, almost like a pilsner; Stayman, also dry, made with North Carolina-grown apples; Waymaker, a sweeter cider, flavored with ginger; and a seasonal mulled cider, served warm, hard or without alcohol. A nice way to warm up on a cold afternoon. The ciderworks had a large event space and a good selection of board games to play with your group.

Just around the corner was the Breweries at 4001 Yancey – a large shared space featuring Southern Tier Brewing Co. and Victory Brewing Co. This location appeared to be really popular with the football crow.

Scaleybark light rail station is just a five-minute walk from this area. Enjoy yourself all afternoon without ever having to get behind the wheel of a car.

Webinar will focus on Reopening NC Wineries

serving wine in a mask

(Courtesy N.C. Wine and Grape Council)

North Carolina wineries, along with breweries and distilleries, got the go-ahead to reopen on May 22, the first evening of Memorial Day weekend, after believing that they would not be included in North Carolina’s phase 2 reopening.

WATCH THE WEBINAR HERE

From what we’ve heard from the field, wineries are reopening with different levels of service. Some are doing limited events, some are serving bottles and glasses in an outdoor seating, and some are doing tastings as flights. But whatever the experience, it certainly looks different than it did in February, before wineries and other businesses had to shut down due to the global pandemic.

On Tuesday, June 16, we will host a webinar with wineries and other representatives of the hospitality industry to find out how things are going out there with North Carolina wineries reopening — what’s working, what’s challenging. How have wineries adapted to welcoming tourists back and keeping everyone safe during the global pandemic? How have tourists responded to the reopening? The webinar will be co-hosted by the N.C. Wine and Grape Council and UNC-Greensboro’s Bryan School of Business.

Also, a representative of the N.C. Lodging and Restaurants Association will share information about the program, Count on Me NC, a hospitality industry training program developed in North Carolina that will be more widely available soon. Advance registration is required, and a recording of the webinar will be available afterward.

When: June 16, 3:30-4:30 p.m.

REGISTER ONLINE

Panelists:

  • Amy Helton, Hanover Park Vineyard
  • Tina Smith, Cypress Bend Vineyards
  • Chuck Johnson, Windsor Run Cellars and Shadow Springs Vineyard
  • Whit Winslow, N.C. Wine and Grape Council
  • Lynne Minges, N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association

Moderators:
Natalie Hampton, Tarheel Taps & Corks Blog
Erick Byrd, UNC-Greensboro (webinar host)