Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they can accommodate you. Stay posted on what Oregon’s new COVID-19 guidelines mean for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Also, remember to bring your face covering, required for all of Oregon’s public indoor spaces and outdoors when keeping 6 feet of distance isn’t possible. Here’s what to know about Oregon’s outdoors right now.
Top Things to Know:
- Plan ahead and make a reservation
- Wear a face covering
- Tastings may be outdoors or at private tables
- Don’t expect to see spit buckets
- Be patient, flexible and kind
If you’ve missed the experience of sipping a complex Oregon wine while looking out over the shimmering rows of grapevines, then it’s time to plan your next visit to one of the state’s many acclaimed wineries. As tasting rooms across the state reopen slowly and safely, it helps to be aware of the new operational guidelines in effect. In order to provide a relaxing atmosphere while also helping curb the spread of COVID-19, wineries have made changes to comply with a series of safety regulations, including social-distancing guidelines. Expect a great experience, just expect it to be a little different.
To find out whether a specific winery is open and to learn more about their safety protocols, visit the Oregon Wine Board’s helpful tasting room reopening directory. While each winery will implement these changes a little differently, here are some best practices to be aware of before you head out for a day at the vineyards. Regulations for wineries vary depending on which part of the state you’re in, so be sure to check your county’s Risk Level status, which determines capacity limits and whether or not a venue can offer indoor tastings.
Make Your Reservation
While Oregon wine country is known for being open to walk-in customers, nowadays it’s important to plan ahead by making a reservation, which are now required or recommended at many wineries. Laurel Ridge Winery in Carlton requires reservations (call for same day) with outdoor seating on the patio and in the garden tent, plus special areas reserved for wine club members. Many wineries are limiting group size; Flâneur Wines, also in Carlton, welcomes groups of 6 or fewer. For visitors to Brooks Wine in Amity, you can choose a reservation for an hour or 90 minutes and pick a table in the winery’s expanded outdoor seating space, which can also accommodate parties with children or dogs. “There was some hesitation at first, but we’ve had a lot of positive feedback with our reservation system,” says Dayson Tiogangco, a Brooks tasting room staff member. “It’s a more calm atmosphere.” Many wineries allow reservations to be made online and will include helpful protocol information. Note that some wineries are charging a deposit for reservations (which is later credited to your bill) to ensure you show up.
Face Coverings Are a Must
Face coverings are required statewide at all indoor establishments open to the public, and while some wineries provide them to visitors, it’s best to bring your own. When visiting a winery, you’ll be required to wear one while ordering inside, using the restroom, and walking to and from your table. At Cathedral Ridge Winery in Hood River, staff member Lara Schifferns says they’ve had to gently remind people who forget their face coverings at their table. “It’s kind of the new normal. It creates a little bit of annoyance, but we’re all in it together,” she says. “We’ll get through it. Wine helps.”
Wine Tastings May Look Different
Many Oregon wineries have small indoor tasting rooms, so they’ve had to pivot operations. Your tastings may now take place at an outdoor bar or while seated at your table with waitstaff pouring and introducing each wine. The entire flight served at once is also becoming more common. At Rellik Winery near Jacksonville, you can order tastings indoors, then receive your pre-poured flight on a tasting board at your table. “We try to make it still very calm and social for them by having music every weekend,” Rellik tasting room manager Shirleen Grealish says. The winery has worked to ensure its patios are covered and heated for the colder, rainier days — a move that many wineries are opting for moving into winter. Other wineries going this route include Knudsen Vineyards near Dundee, Lexeme Wines in Elkton, and Stave & Stone Wine Estates vineyard winery near Mt. Hood.
Also, keep in mind that some wineries have suspended their food operations, some are offering pre-packaged picnic specials and others are allowing guests to bring their own picnic. Be sure to call ahead if you’re planning your visit around a meal or snack. When rainier weather rolls around, some wineries are planning to continue utilizing outdoor patios, tents and heating lamps to continue offering tastings and other services outside. (Yet another good reminder to call ahead before heading out.)
Tasting Rooms May Look Different
Upon arrival, you may notice the winery has a different layout than normal. Tables will be positioned 6 feet apart from one another, and there may be a new traffic flow to allow for more distance throughout the space. You may also notice more signage explaining new rules such as new maximum occupancy, hand-washing guidelines and a list of COVID-19 symptoms with a request that people who show these symptoms stay home. You also won’t see any self-service stations, but that just means more time relaxing at your table. When settling up, you’ll notice that touch-free payments are becoming more common, and many wineries are also continuing to offer curbside pickup.
Show Your Gratitude
At some tasting rooms, you may see more staff members assigned to help you with reservations, pitching in on sanitation efforts or pouring wine for guests. At Dobbes Family Estate in Dundee, you’ll notice more waitstaff around to help with the tableside pouring for wine tastings. “We wanted to keep it traditional,” says Amelia Dobbes, the winery’s marketing and sales coordinator. “We’re excited to actually see our customers face to face again, and we’re doing everything we can to create a safe environment.”