An annual trek to the Sonoma County wine country earlier this week turned out, in part at least, to be a study of how wineries are coping with the “almost-open, somewhat-closed” stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Accompanied by a quartet of friends, I did my “research” at two wineries in the Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg. Of course, I had to pick up a few bottles of wine in the process.
First stop was at the A. Rafanelli Winery on West Dry Creek Road. They had been making deliveries of ordered wine in the parking lot outside the tasting room for a while, but starting last week, they were also doing tastings, and those tastings, by reservation, were being offered outdoors, too.
They have set up a bar around the side of the tasting room, where Rick, the tasting room manager, and an assistant were pouring red wines — the only color they produce. We’re talking mostly cabernet and zinfandel and a splash of merlot.
We pretty much staggered our approach to the bar to keep the proper (at least 6 feet, more or less) distance. Once a glass with a dash of wine was in hand, we would step away and find a shady spot or a spare chair to facilitate sipping of the sampled wine. It was the way alfresco tasting was supposed to be. And on a June day with mild temperatures, it worked out to be quite a pleasant experience.
I suspect outdoor tasting has become the standard operating procedure for many wineries throughout California’s wine growing areas. Rick said the winery, which usually has plenty of demand for its unfiltered reds, was behind in sales this year because of pandemic restrictions, and the opening of the outdoor tasting area will help.
After sampling the reds at Rafanelli, we headed north a short distance on West Dry Creek Road to Quivira, which specializes in white and blush wines. And again, it was an outdoor tasting experience.
The tasting room guy came out of the winery and told us the tasting had to take place outdoors, and he would bring bottles of wine — one white and the other rosé — for us to sample around a long table, as long as we bought some wine in the process.
The white, a sauvignon blanc, which has garnered gold medals in several major wine judging events, had a unique flavor but wasn’t the favorite of everyone involved.
The rosé, however, was a universal choice with its dry, yet fruity, flavor of grenache and other varietals from France’s Rhone Valley creating a great summertime sipping option.
Again, another successful outdoor wine tasting experience.
From the Dry Creek Valley, it was over the range of hills to the Alexander Valley, where we stopped for lunch at the Geyserville Grille, a home attractively remodeled into a restaurant and bar next to the Geyserville Inn.
And yes, we dined outdoors in one of the restaurant’s shaded patios. Another pleasant alfresco experience in the wine country.
I may be overstating the appeal of outdoor sipping and munching, but it is something we’ll have to become increasingly accustomed to as the coronavirus restrictions limit indoor seating continue in the months ahead. Alfresco is the word of the day.
Not all restaurants and bars have outdoor eating and drinking facilities, but if they have the space to develop some, it could be worth doing. Our trip to the Sonoma County wine country showed me that.