The wine industry’s roots run deep in the Livermore Valley – hopefully deep enough to weather the current economic storm.
Despite the challenges of staying in business through COVID-19, the area’s wineries remain optimistic for the future. Chris Chandler, executive director of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association (LVWA), reported that while things may be tough now, the area wineries will pull through.
“We have too much agricultural and viticulture history and have survived prohibition and economic downturn in the past,” Chandler said when speaking of the challenges facing wineries and all small businesses now. “I think the people of this valley will push forward. I’m optimistic. Things are beyond challenging right now, but I think there’s too much history and too much dedication and heart in this valley to not believe that all of that will certainly carry us forward.”
Though indoor tasting rooms remain closed, some wineries have pivoted their offerings by adding a food option, which allows them to open for outdoor dining. Cuda Ridge Wines has partnered with local food trucks to offer a meal with a pour.
“We are doing by-the-bottle service on our patio by reservation,” said proprietor and winemaker Larry Dino. “We have been totally booked, so business has been really good since we have been able to reopen.”
Diners are seated at spaced-out tables on the patio, and facemasks are required until customers reach their seats. The process is somewhat controlled to minimize risk created by extra people walking around. Waiters only bring bottles to avoid return trips for refills, and tables are sanitized between seatings.
At Las Positas Vineyards, winemaker Brent Amos has rebooted on-site food preparation to create a charcuterie plate with a flight of five wines. He said his tables are filled with smiling faces.
“Things are going well,” said Amos. “We have had good feedback from the customers and a good turnout. We are taking every precaution we can take with spacing and sanitation and so forth, but so far, a lot of people are just happy to be out.”
For wineries with the ability to create an outdoor dining space, or those who had one already, things have begun to look up. But not all wineries have that capability.
Heather McGrail of McGrail Vineyards noted she continues to offer curbside pickup, deliveries to SIP club members and virtual tasting events.
“We are running different specials right now, but our staff is slim, and we are doing everything we can to get our wines into the homes of our customers,” she said. “We are about 40% down in sales. Our costs are down as well, but we are really hoping that we will be open by August.”
McGrail added the requirements for offering outdoor dining are not feasible for her business at the time.
“We are still going to pull through on the other side of this 100%; now is just when we really get to sink our teeth in and get more creative,” McGrail said. “That is the silver lining of this, the creativity all the local businesses have come up with.”
At Big White House Winery and John Evan Cellars, Jessica Carrol said business is also down. While they do not currently have a plan to offer dining options, that may change in the future.
“We are doing ok, June was a little rough, but we are surviving for now,” Carroll said. “We are reevaluating every four to six weeks to see how we can change and adapt and survive.”
She said the business is focusing on preparations to reopen as soon as they are allowed by the county. They currently offer curbside pickup and delivery of their wines, as well as virtual tasting events.
At Wente Vineyards, senior brand manager and fifth-generation winegrower Aly Wente reported her family’s business now focuses on getting wine to customers for virtual events. Both the Wente tasting locations are closed, but the golf course is open.
“We have several virtual tasting experiences that are going really well,” Wente said. “We invite wine-lovers to try our Virtual Tasting Experience through Alexa Echo and Google Home … the tasting walks you through the history of the brand and family, and taste through Wente Vineyards Morning Fog Chardonnay, Riva Ranch Chardonnay and Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon.”
As the number of positive coronavirus cases fluctuates and Alameda County continues to revise its reopening strategy, Livermore Valley wineries will work to keep their customers safe and stocked from a distance.
“I think everyone is having to make very difficult decisions right now,” Chandler said. “No one is untouched by the pandemic, but if history is any indicator, this valley still has a big, long history in front of it.”
LVWA is located at 3585 Greenville Road, Suite 4, in Livermore. For more information, call 925-447-9463 or visit https://www.lvwine.org/.
Cuda Ridge Wines is located at 2400 Arroyo Road in Livermore. For more information, call 510-304-0914 or visit www.cudaridgewines.com.
Las Positas Winery is located at 1828 Wetmore Road in Livermore. For more information, call 925-449-9463 or visit www.laspositasvineyards.com.
McGrail Vineyards is located at 5600 Greenville Road in Livermore. For more information, call 925-215-0717 or visit www.mcgrailvineyards.com.
Big White House Winery and John Evan Cellars is located at 6800 Greenville Road in Livermore. For more information, call 925-449-1976 or visit www.bigwhitehouse.com.
Wente Vineyards’ golf course is located at 5040 Arroyo Road in Livermore. For more information, call 925-456-2305 or visit www.wentevineyards.com.