Rod Byers: Nevada City Winery marks its 40th harvest this year
Lordy, Lordy, look who’s forty.
And it doesn’t look anything like I thought it would.
This year, Nevada City Winery marks its 40th harvest. The first crush, in 1980, took place in a small garage on Rock Creek Road just outside of Nevada City. In 1982 the winery moved to its present location on Spring Street next to the Miners Foundry.
Twenty years was a milestone. That’s when the winery expanded the tasting room, creating the barrel room below it.
Thirty was challenging. A financial crisis is never good for wine.
But forty was looking good. Just a few short months ago the talk was all about reunion parties, barrel tastings, vintage library tastings and celebration. That was then.
This is now.
The mandatory closing edict was lifted on June 12 and tasting rooms are now open. While they may be open, and the wine as delicious as always, the experience will be different.
The challenges of meeting the new regulations are daunting and as always there is ambiguity. Some of the directives are “musts” and some are “shoulds” leaving space for interpretation.
In spite of what the regulations do or don’t say, it will be interesting to watch, as the economy tries to recover amid newly growing numbers, how we spend our money and who we support. That’s if we even go out at all.
I met with Kim Crevoiserat, the general manager of Nevada City Winery, for an update.
First of all, the Winery remains closed. They have taken the mandatory closing as an opportunity to do some needed repairs, upgrades and renovations. They expect to open mid-July with a fresh look.
As far as the regulations, the first concern is space, or having to give it up due to distancing. Instead of a 50% reduction California uses the six-foot metric. If you have a lot of space you can spread your tables out. But if you have a small space, can you afford to operate with fewer seats?
In response, the Alcohol Beverage Control has loosened its restrictions on bonded areas allowing wineries to set up tables in previously unbonded areas of the property.
If you have the space you can make the distancing thing work, but it changes the employee dynamic. Before you had one person, sometimes two, behind the tasting bar. Now you need a host and servers to patrol the distant tables.
At Nevada City Winery the host will greet you at the door, hopefully with your reservation. According to regulations, you can sit with family members without distancing, and friends if they pre-agree. The host “should” screen guests for symptoms and ask for a liability waiver. Everyone “must” wear a mask.
You are only shown to your table when the entire party is present. No more parking the car while your spouse secures the table. Once seated with your group, you can remove your masks.
Tableside everything will be done with a touch less menu. That might be good. It certainly has the power to offer videos of the vineyard, a virtual tasting with the winemaker, tours of the winery. It could all be there.
At Nevada City Winery the tasting bar will be closed with sit down table service only. Once everyone in the group has selected their sampler flight, glass or bottle, the server will deliver the wines to the table with the tasting samplers coming in small carafes.
From the server’s perspective, they must be screened daily for symptoms. Any contagion could shutter the place for two weeks. Duties now include thoroughly cleaning each table after every use, cleaning the bathrooms hourly, and common contact points frequently. There is no sharing of communal office equipment. Keep your hands to yourself, after you have washed them at least every thirty minutes.
These are curious times. Some will regard the highest levels of safety with approval and support those businesses. Others will not. We’re going to vote with our pocket books on this one.
Crevoiserat explained that Nevada City Winery is taking a very cautious, safe and conservative approach. “We want people to come out and have a good time without worrying about putting themselves at risk.”
Crevoiserat is expanding into different tasting areas creating as much buffer space as possible. They will set up tables outside in the side garden, on the street café style in the two parking spots allotted to them for outdoor seating by the city, maybe in the barrel room.
While not a restaurant, they are partnering with downtown restaurants for take-out delivery to enjoy at the winery.
While Crevoiserat will take a wait and see approach, she expects to operate with reduced hours including fewer days per week and less hours per day. “It’s challenging to be hit with reduced capacity and increased employee duties,” she explained.
Beyond that, with no gatherings of more than 10 people permitted, all extra events including birthday parties, weddings, reunions, meetings and grand openings evaporate.
Still Crevoiserat remains optimistic, focused on providing the safest and friendliest tasting room experience. “People are going to enjoy a more personal experience, and I’m excited to have more of the winery available for tasting.”
Maybe it’s not the celebration I was expecting but I’ll still toast 40 years with a bottle of 1980 Douce Noir.
Rod Byers, CWE, is a Certified Wine Educator and wine writer as well as a California State Certified Wine Judge. He is the host of the local television show Wine Talk. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-802-7172.
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