Although current provincial health orders prohibit restaurants, pubs and bars from offering indoor dining services, wineries can still host indoor samplings of their products.
According to Miles Prodan, the president and CEO of Wine Growers British Columbia (WGBC), wineries were partially spared by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s latest “circuit breaker” health restrictions because wine tastings are viewed as a retail necessity, not a social gathering.
“You wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on; you don’t buy a wine without having a taste,” Prodan said.
Many of the wineries across the province have a system that requires people to book a sampling reservation in advance. Tasting sessions don’t typically last longer than 10 minutes and participants are only given three 1.5-ounce samples.
“People were there to taste and to get to know the wine and to buy the wine. It’s not as though they were standing around and having a glass of wine,” said Prodan.
When this concept was explained to health authorities, they gave wineries the green light to host indoor tastings.
“Interior Health’s ultimate goal is to keep people from gathering inside, and that’s why they moved all food and alcohol services outside,” he said. “They said, ‘As long as your tasting isn’t sitting down, we’ll permit that to happen inside.’”
In an email to Kelowna Capital News, Interior Health (IH) said that provincial manufacturers of wine, beer, cider and spirits are permitted to be open and provide tastings indoors.
“This must be for tastings only and be served for the purpose of tasting with intention for purchase,” said IH. “Where possible, it is encouraged to do this outdoors. As well, businesses need to have an approved COVID-19 safety plan.”
After a busy Easter weekend, Ron Kubek, the owner of Lightning Rock Winery in Summerland, said the new restrictions are a “double-edged sword.”
“We’re seeing a lot of people locally that have not been out to our winery and been out to the Summerland area coming to experience all the great wineries,” said Kubek. “We actually had a busy weekend of tastings.”
Kubek added that he was surprised — but not shocked — that indoor wine tasting was permitted.
“I wasn’t surprised in the sense that we really worked hard as an industry last year … wineries, distilleries, breweries are run by entrepreneurial people,” he said. “Those are what the rules are, and we’ll adapt.”
He said that COVID-19 has forced the wine industry to take reservations more seriously, highlighting that the winery has tasting sessions booked right up until June.
“We have tasting fees and make it a true experience rather than just come in, drink, stay or leave,” he said. “We want to make it, so you have a true experience when you come out.”
Despite this silver lining in the restrictions, Prodan said that many wineries across the province feel the pressure of the new restrictions.
“If a winery has a restaurant, they now have to do that outside. There are restrictions in space, weather dependant and not everybody has a patio to move out into,” he said.
According to a WGBC survey from August 2020, 83 per cent of wineries and grape growers in the province have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The survey also found that one in every 10 wineries and grape growers is at risk of closing, with 58 per cent seeing a loss in revenue and 55 per cent have reduced access to customers.
Prodan said that a similar survey was conducted after the province implemented the last round of restrictions — 75 per cent of those who responded were anticipating a loss of income.
“We’re disappointed because of how it’s going to impact all industries, in particular ours, but we understand that it’s something that needs to happen,” he said.