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Sep. 21, 2021 | Tuesday
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COVID-19: NOTL wineries get ready to welcome visitors for tastings
Strewn sommelier Juan Nunez-Sanchez shows special distancing space at one of the winery's tasting bars. (Jill Troyer)

Wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake are preparing to invite guests back for tastings, and when they do, the experience will be very different.

Social distancing measures mean there will be far fewer people in the wineries at one time, and other tactics will include use of plexiglass, frequent sanitization of surfaces and protective equipment for staff.

Wineries will manage the flow of visitors by strongly encouraging or even requiring people to book their tastings ahead of time. Some also plan to use a concierge desk at the winery entrance.   

The two dozen wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake have worked together to come up with shared guidelines for safely resuming wine tastings, though each winery will determine their own timing, says Andrea Kaiser, chair of Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“There’s a common approach,” Kaiser added, emphasizing the priority is “ensuring the safety and well-being of the community, team members and guests, locals and visitors alike.”

For some wineries, there’s a positive side to the reduced volume of tastings – a more personalized approach.

“This is a huge reduction of our capacity, as much as 75 per cent,” said Jane Langdon, who is responsible for direct to consumer and onsite experiences at Strewn Winery on Lakeshore Road.

“We’ll be offering personalized tastings, with a focus on each guest’s interests,” she said. “This could redefine how we do wine tasting and we plan to deliver a great wine country experience.”

In addition to the existing tasting bars at Strewn, there is a brand new patio that will offer outdoor tastings this summer.

Just down the road at Konzelmann Estate Winery, that sentiment is echoed.

“Gone are the buses and crowds,” acknowledged Andrew Niven, director of marketing at Konzelmann. “I see it as a positive. We’ll connect with our guests on a more personal, intimate level,” he said. “I’m excited to see where we go with this.” 

Riverview Cellars already has some bookings made online for later this month. “We plan to open for tasting on June 12 if all continues going well,” (with COVID infection numbers), according to general manager Mike Pillitteri.

Other wineries are also hoping to start host tastings by mid-June, and some are watching for the province’s state of emergency to be lifted, which has been extended until the end of June.

Wine tastings are a grey area in terms of restrictions, as they are not specifically mentioned in the provincial guidelines.

“We’ve been heavily relying on each other as a wine community to determine the best approach to create as safe an environment as possible,” said Kaiser, adding that the group has been meeting regularly to discuss ideas. 

“We’re very excited to have our guests come back, but a bit apprehensive too, because we want to keep everyone safe, and it’s all new,” she said.  

All three wineries we talked to were of one mind in terms of looking forward to welcoming guests back, but insisting that safety will be first and foremost when they do.