Wondering what it’s like to go wine tasting during COVID with social distancing requirements and capacity restrictions? We chose Masia de la Vinya Winery in Temeacula Valley Wine Country to find out what the experience is like with the new California state guidelines in place for wineries during COVID-19.
After staying home for more than three months except for running errands, the hubby and I ventured out to a winery for a change in scenery and a little relaxation. We looked forward to an actual social outing, even if it was just the two of us! This was a calculated outing, as I am an advocate of staying safe, social distancing and wearing masks until the pandemic is under control.
We are fortunate to live only a short drive from Temecula Valley Wine Country in Southern California. That we can be at the wineries in less than 30 minutes means we have spent many memorable days with family and friends sampling the fantastic wines produced in this region. Usually we prefer to enjoy the wineries with the added company of good friends, but in the interest of social distancing Fritz and I made it a date for just us this time. Fortunately we still enjoy each other’s company, even after three months of only socializing with each other and our son.
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California Restrictions for Wineries as of July 2, 2020
Temecula Valley Wineries are working hard to stay open and offer fabulous experiences while adhering to the rules and regulations required to keep patrons safe. As of July 2, 2020 wineries in California are required to only serve food and wine out of doors; no indoor wine tastings or dining is allowed. Social distancing rules must be followed and out door tables must be properly spaced for safety.
Masks are required to be worn by all when out in public in California. You are expected to wear your mask into the winery and keep it on until you are seated and have placed your order. You must also wear your mask anytime you leave your table for any reason including to walk around the winery grounds or enter the buildings or restrooms.
What to Expect from Wine Tastings at Temecula Valley Wineries During COVID Restrictions
Though a few wineries are closed to tastings and only allowing walk-ins for purchasing wine bottles, many of the wineries are offering a variety of services in modified capacity. I found that most of the wineries fall into one of four categories as to how they are staying open to guests while COVID restrictions are in place:
- Wineries offering tastings at patio and outdoor tables by reservation only. Tables are spaced out to allow distance between guests and masks are required when not seated at your private table. Guests can choose from a variety of flights, which are served at your table by a masked server.
- Wineries offering outdoor seating, but not by reservation. These wineries have opened their patios, decks and lawns to guests. Traditional tasting are not available at most of these wineries, but guests can order glasses of wine to enjoy outdoors, and many offer food service as well. Some of these wineries are offering wine flights to be enjoyed at the outdoor tables. Masks are still required except when seated at your table.
- Wineries offering wine by the glass with food orders only and seating in outdoor areas. Social distancing guidelines and mask requirements are in place for these services.
- Wineries offering pick up and purchasing of bottles only. Guests are allowed to enter the winery to purchase bottles of wine for taking home.
I researched the wineries in Temecula Valley Wine Country, looking for wineries that offered reservations for the wine tastings and had clear outlines of the measures to adhere to current restrictions put in place by the state of California for service establishments. Nearly all of the wineries I researched had the new protocols posted clearly on their websites outlining what guests can expect, whether or not reservations are required, the guidelines put in place to keep guests safe, and the requirements of guests while visiting the winery.
Wine Tasting at Masia de la Vinya Winery
I looked for wineries offering tastings by reservation for our wine country date. For this outing, I wanted a guaranteed table and did not want to risk driving from winery to winery trying to find one with an open table and not overly crowded. We went to the winery on Friday, July 3, 2020, and I was able to book our reservation the night before for Masia de la Vinya Winery. I found several other wineries offering reservations, but most were booked or didn’t have open tables open for the time we wanted, which was not surprising for a holiday weekend, especially 4th of July weekend with beautiful Southern California weather.
Making reservations was easy as the website for Masia de la Vinya Winery had a prominent banner on the home page for booking a wine tasting. We reserved a table for 11:00 am when the winery opened, and being first to arrive had our choice of tables. We chose to sit at a pair of white Adirondack chairs with a small table on the grass under the shade of a bright umbrella. Several sets of Adirondack chairs were spread out on the lawn, and tables were available on the covered patio, all with more than six feet of space from one seating area to another.
Our masked server (that makes it sound like our server was Batman!) seated us and pointed us to a placard with the access information for their Wi-Fi and a QR code to scan for access to their digital menu. The server explained that the app allowed for touch-free ordering of the flights, wines by the glass or bottle, and bistro boxes. Both Fritz and I connected our phones to the Wi-Fi and scanned the QR code with our phone cameras, but neither of us could get the digital menu to open on our phones. Our server offered us paper menus after several more failed attempts at getting the digital menu app to load on either of our phones (he has an android and I have an iPhone).
I later heard others saying they were not able to get the app to load on their phones and the servers were distributing paper menus to most tables. It was a minor glitch that I’m sure they will get figured out in the near future. The important thing is the servers were very patient and accommodating and did everything possible to make sure we had a great experience.
We ordered a mixed flight of wines and the meat and cheese bistro box, all of which were served quickly. The flight was slightly more expensive than their traditional wine tastings pre-COVID and consisted of three wine samples. Given the limited seating capacity and the restrictions placed on the wineries, making it very difficult for them to accumulate enough sales to break even, I did not mind paying more for the experience.
Small and self-owned businesses, including the wineries, are struggling to keep their staff employed and pay their bills, which is why Fritz and I wanted to give them our business even as we continue to social distance. I was relieved and pleased that we could enjoy a date at the winery while still maintaining necessary precautions against the virus. All staff wore masks, bottles of hand-sanitizer were placed around the grounds for guests, and polite signs notified guests that they masks were required at all times when not seated at their table. Paying a little more now for the tastings is a small price to pay for the added service and the chance to support the wineries.
Shortly after we were seated, the other tables filled with guests. The majority of the tables had couples at them, and one table had a group of four people seated together. I observed most people wearing their masks until their orders were placed and delivered, and anytime they left their table. Everyone was very respectful of adhering to the guidelines and giving each other space when moving around the winery grounds, which I was happy to see as everyone’s cooperation is needed so the businesses can stay open to guests.
We ordered a second flight of red wines and sipped them together while relaxing in the shade and taking in the sweeping view of the valley beyond. It felt good to be out of the house and doing something that brought back a little sense of normalcy. After months of working on a project that made for very few non-working hours and few weekends for myself, this was a much needed getaway to unwind and decompress.
It’s so important to visit wineries and other small businesses, but please help them stay open by adhering to the guidelines.
As we drove through the winding roads of wine country on our way back home, I could see the patios and outdoor areas of many of the wineries. Signs along the roadside directed people not to park on the roadside and many of the wineries looked like they were not overcrowded. At a few, cars were parked along the roads despite the signs, and the people were crowded closer together on the patios.
I understand that everyone is stir-crazy from so many months of isolation and loneliness, but if we don’t adhere to the instructions of the wineries to help them maintain manageable capacities so they can stay in compliance with state requirements, they will be forced to shut down again. If the parking lot is full, then please try another winery instead of parking on the road and trying to squeeze yourself onto a patio that is already fully seated and at capacity for the current situation.
Please visit the wineries, support them as much as you can in the current situation, tip your servers well, be patient with the restrictions in place so they can stay in compliance and stay open, and try another winery if your first choice is full and doesn’t have room for you.
For more information on how to stay safe while on outings locally or traveling regionally, please see my article How to Travel Safely During the Pandemic.
Temecula Valley Wineries Offering Reservations for Tastings
Here are some of our favorite Temecula Valley Wineries offering reservation service for tastings: