Big changes are in store for wineries across New York state as they begin to re-open from the Covid-19 pandemic. What will these changes look like? How will the local wine tourism industry be impacted? Time will tell, but here are some of my thoughts.
Changes Lie Ahead
Wineries are now allowed to offer outdoor seated service to guests. This will continue until Phase 3 takes effect, at which point tasting rooms will finally be open for business.
You will notice some immediate changes that will be with us into the foreseeable future:
* Group size and tasting room capacity will be limited (groups possibly under 6)
* Reservations required/requested for all
* Seated, intimate tastings that are socially distanced & masks will be required
* Proofing and contact tracing information gathered from guests
I would recommend calling ahead to inquire about each wineries requirements, as they will vary, However, one thing that will not vary is wine tasting as we know it will look and feel very different.
Please note: The chances of being able to just walk into a winery for a tasting will be a greatly reduced. You must pre-plan accordingly.
Where are we Headed
In our past as a growing wine region, we have relied upon large limo groups and cheap tastings to help propel us forward. This has contributed to a local culture of wine touring as a party, where you visit as many wineries as possible in a day.
Over the years wineries have had to manage a tight rope of balancing groups versus individuals. With ever increasing group tasting fees, reduced hours for group tastings and other restrictions, wineries have worked to reduce their dependence on this market.
With pandemic closures, wineries have had some free time to do some soul searching. To not only look at their business models, but to look at the very concept of what is a wine tasting? Restrictions placed on them (due to the re-opening) by the state, will have profound short and long term impacts.
So Now What
If you have been fortunate enough to visit a mature wine region such as Sonoma, Tuscany or Burgundy, you have witnessed a much different tasting room and tasting experience. Intimate tastings are offered in a range of options (pairing options), with a focus on the winemaking process and the uniqueness of the winery. They tell a story, one that creates a long-term memory between winery and guest. You know what else you don't see? Limo and bus after limo full of people hopping from tasting room to tasting room.
My hope is that model is emulated here in the Finger Lakes and the days of visiting six wineries in a party like atmosphere are gone.
A Look Ahead
Tasting costs will increase as a direct result of this focus on customer service, but so too will the experience received.
Welcome to the days of intimate educational tastings that focus on what is wine and enjoying wine for what it is. It is an amazing agricultural product that takes an immense amount of time and love to produce!
Tastings are about the nuances of wine. Wineries are about the process of how it actually becomes. Touring is about growing your love for wine. The combination builds a lasting love affair that creates a bond between wineries and customers.
If our region fully takes advantage of this opportunity, over time the quality of wine being produced will continue to ascend. The accolades received will continue to flow and our global reputation will mature into one that increases our wine tourism from all over the globe.