While SLO County wineries are still allowed to operate on the production side, the industry's hospitality side has seen losses, according to Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (PRWCA) Executive Director Joel Peterson. Most wineries rely on wine tasters coming through doors, he said.
"It's been a pretty big financial hit, and our region is driven by tourism," Peterson told New Times. "If it's not for the wineries, it's for [Lake] Nacimiento, the coastline, it's for getting away from the bigger cities and coming to the small charming region of Paso Robles."
The lack of tourism means hundreds of PRWCA members are impacted, in addition to wineries across the state.
California's wine industry generates $60 billion in economic activity, according to Tim Schmelzer, vice president of California state relations at the Wine Institute, a public policy advocacy group for California's wineries. Many wineries rely on direct transactions to remain afloat—wine tasting included, Schmelzer said.
While SLO County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said on May 4 that wine tasting was part of Phase 1 of the county's START guide, the county has since demured to the state's reopening guidelines, which do not include wine tasting until a later phase. Schmelzer told New Times that the Wine Institute is working with the state to draft proposals that would allow wineries to open wine tasting in an earlier phase.
The state was impressed with institute's proposal and its thoroughness, Schmelzer said, but said the biggest significant concern is tourism growing as a result, bringing people from highly impacted areas to less impacted areas, where they can spread the virus.
"We think with our protocols—requiring appointment only, taking things outside, and with numerous other safety protocols in place—that we can provide a safe atmosphere," Schmelzer said.
Peterson said the PRWCA has been working with the Wine Institute to adopt measures that ensure wine tasting can be done in a manner compliant with state protocols.
"It's been a pretty big financial hit," Peterson said, "but I'm sure when we open back up, we can do so in a safe manner and do the distancing and sanitation to make sure we can open in the right way." Δ