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Central, South Coast Wineries Hard Hit By Coronavirus; One Gets Innovative With Virtual Wine Tasting

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The coronavirus crisis has impacted all types of business on the Central Coasts. Among the hardest hit is the region’s wine industry, which relies on tourists. The shutdown has left wineries looking for innovative solutions.

One of the most unique has been virtual tastings.

A Santa Ynez Valley winery came up with the idea, as it tried to figure out how to stay in business.

Sean Pitts is the Winemaker for Happy Canyon Vineyard. He says they came up with the idea of holding a virtual wine tasting event with people. He could talk about the wines, and they could taste and ask questions about them. Happy Canyon Vineyard sends out flights of four to six mini-bottles, which range from $40 to $60 a flight. Each flight includes participation in one of the virtual tastings.

Pitts says the response has been huge, with the tastings sold out, and a waiting list in place. He says one of the most exciting things that’s happened is family members, and friends separated by coronavirus will order flights, and then share the same virtual tasting experience.

Pitts says the virtual tastings are so popular they plan to continue them even after things reopen, because some people are using them as gifts for people who may never make it for an in-person visit to the Santa Ynez Valley.

Meanwhile, Santa Barbara County officials say more than three dozen wineries and breweries have reopened for in-person visits using some special exemptions in coronavirus shutdown guidelines. Places which serve food are allowed to offer in-person service. So, some wineries and breweries have teamed with restaurants, food trucks, and caterers to add food service. That’s allowed them to reopen.

But, for now at least a visit to a winery will be a different experience, because you can’t do a traditional tasting. You’ll have to order food, you may get a pre-poured flight of wines to try, and you may be sitting at a table outside. And, with space limited due to social distancing, some wineries which are open under the plan recommend reservations, especially on weekends.