Santa Barbara Wineries Stop Tastings, Keep Selling

Some Close, Many Shift to Retail Pickups or Delivery as Official Guidance Remains Unclear

Credit: iStockphoto

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Wineries across California are struggling to stay on top of the frequent guidelines being issued by the federal and state government as the COVID-19 outbreak continues. On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department got more explicit, urging all bars, breweries, and tasting rooms to close while telling restaurants to switch to takeout or delivery only. 

On Tuesday night, the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta took the county’s urging one step further by ordering those closures, while allowing certain retail sales to continue. Those orders also applied to gyms, arcades, bowling alleys (aka Zodo’s), and a range of other businesses. Not affected are grocery stores, farmers markets, pharmacies, and other essential services. 

The wine industry’s response in other parts of Santa Barbara County is mixed. Many wineries voluntarily switched to opening strictly for retail purposes (no tastings) while others are still open for tastings, though most now by appointment only. 

For those that have closed in Santa Barbara, the grocery and alcohol delivery service Postmates is available to ship wines within two hours of an order. Many wineries are offering to deliver wines personally, usually with drastic discounts on orders of a case or more. 

Both David Potter, owner of Municipal Winemakers and Potek Winery, and Magan Kunin, owner of Kunin Wines and The Valley Project, spoke at Tuesday’s Santa Barbara City Council hearing. They’d voluntarily closed their tasting rooms on Monday, and requested that the city consider a mandatory order about shuttering such establishments for the time being. 

Potter already laid off all of his part-time employees. “We’re scared — business has stopped,” said Potter. “One month is feasible, as we learned from the Thomas Fire, but three months without revenue is probably impossible….We’re stuck and our bills haven’t stopped, but our revenue has.” 

Kunin said that most of the 25 tasting rooms in Santa Barbara had already closed. “I have zero revenue now and a full set of bills for the foreseeable future,” said Kunin, explaining that her business interruption insurance only kicks in when closures are mandatory. “If there was a mandate [to close] as compared to a directive, I know my business would survive. But we don’t know how long this piece of string is…. If we don’t think hard about this and take action, at the end Santa Barbara will lose a lot of businesses.”

Tracking the current state of affairs across Santa Barbara County is marketing consultant Kady Fleckenstein, of Kadydid Consulting. She’s building a database of Santa Barbara County wineries that are responding to the COVID-19 crisis through delivery and curbside pickup services. “The goal is to provide a resource to the community for where to safely buy wine,” said Fleckenstein, who’s also building a similar database for Santa Ynez Valley restaurants and retail stores. 

See Fleckenstein’s work here

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