When we reopen post-Coronavirus, things will look different. But safe and fun aren't mutually exclusive.

Six weeks ago, I wrote a blog thinking about what reopening might look like post-Coronavirus. At that time it seemed far away. Now, we're getting down to the details of reopening, which I'm anticipating will happen sometime in June.

When I wrote that blog, three weeks into most stay-at-home orders, the idea that businesses would reopen into a very different reality hadn't hit most people yet. The hope was that we could crush the curve in a month or two, and then reopen more or less as we were before. Now nearly every state has begun reopening, to some degree at least, and California has entered stage 2 of its Resilience Roadmap. In this stage, restaurants (and wineries who serve meals) can reopen for in-person dining under distanced guidelines.

At Tablas Creek, we're not a restaurant, and don't feel it's wise for us to try to become one just to reopen a few weeks early. Food, after all, changes how wine tastes. There's a reason that professional tasters don't evaluate wines over a meal. And great food (as well as great food service) is hard, particularly if you have to provide "bona fide meals" as specified in the state protocols.

If I thought we were looking at months before we could reopen, I might evaluate, but I really do think that we're in the home stretch, and reopening tasting rooms under new safety protocols is a matter of weeks away, not months. After all, as a recent letter from CA regional wine associations to the governor points out, if serving food and wine can be done with an acceptably low level of risk, serving just wine is (if anything) safer. There's less prep, fewer utensils, less cleanup. Less to sanitize.

Outdoor tasting - Flight

We don't know exactly when that will happen. But we do know that when it does happen, we want to be ready with plans that we're confident will provide a great experience, safely. So, what can customers expect? Much of what I predicted in my April blog, but a few additional things. Here's what we're planning:

  • Tasting by appointment only, so we can regulate traffic flow, make sure that we don't have people building up in our parking lots, and be sure that we can take great care of the people who do make the journey.
  • Get to know our patio. We'll be doing all our tastings outside for at least the next few months. We have a great patio space with several shaded levels, and we're making some alterations to ensure that everyone has their own space. Why outside only? I dive into why we think that's so critical below.
  • Plenty of time between groups to clean and sanitize spaces. We're leaving roughly double the time that we figure most guests take for a tasting with us between bookings. We want to make sure we have enough time for a relaxed tasting, and to clean and sanitize spaces, with no one having to wait.
  • All seated flight tastings. We're planning tastings of six wines, which we'll serve in two flights of three. We're getting cool no-touch carriers to bring the wines to guests' tables. That way we don't need to stay in guests' space as long. That level of spacing just isn't possible across a tasting bar.
  • No groups larger than six. Large groups in and of themselves encourage people to abandon physical distancing, even if you ask them to maintain it at your facility. Plus they're inherently chaotic at the winery. I feel like this is a part of not encouraging behavior that is likely to have negative consequences.  
  • Face coverings for us, and for you until you're seated. Our team will be wearing face coverings, and we'll ask guests to as well until they're seated at their tables. We'll have disposable masks for anyone who needs one.
  • Education and health checks for our team. We're working with our team to help them monitor their own health. No one who is showing any symptoms will be allowed to come to work. We have always granted paid sick leave for our team members, so they have no economic incentive to work while they might be ill.
  • No merchandise browsing or picnicking. We'll be restricting our merchandise to a few items that we can display on the wall behind our check-out table, and then getting items from boxed stock as requested. And because we'll be using our whole patio to properly space out our tastings, we won't be able to accommodate picnicking. We apologize!

As we learn about how Covid-19 spreads, it's clear that the most important thing to avoid is creating spaces where virus particles accumulate and stay. That's why the rates of outdoor transmission are so (happily) low, particularly with distancing guidelines observed. Earlier this month I shared on Twitter this terrific piece by UMass epidemiology professor Erin Bromage. In it, he investigates where significant spread occurs and where it doesn't. Because infection becomes much more likely as sustained contact with virus particles occurs, the risks are high in enclosed indoor spaces without much air flow, low elsewhere. And while I love our tasting room, and feel confident in our cleaning protocols, it's not a space I'm comfortable welcoming guests in right now. There's not a ton of air flow. It's surrounded by our cellar (a space without much air flow, for obvious reasons). We only have one door. It's just not feasible to match the level of air circulation we can get outdoors.

Fortunately, we've got our patio. We did the math and figure that we can easily seat 50 people at a time, with plenty of distance between groups. Plenty of shade (and yes, we know there will still be some hot afternoons and are installing both fixed and portable misting systems to help ameliorate this).

Outdoor tasting - View from below

On our patio, with our other safety and cleaning protocols, I feel that we can open with exceptionally low risk to our guests and team. And that's critical. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I'm expecting that we'll need to operate in a Covid-19 environment for a long time. If you feel you can operate each day 99% safely, that sounds like pretty good odds. And if you're just open a few days, that's probably OK. But if you have to be successful every day for a month, your likelihood of zero mishaps drops to 74%. If it's six months, it drops all the way to 16%. A year, and your chances are just 2.5%. That's just the relentlessness of exponential math. But it drives home what the stakes are as we contemplate how to reopen. Each additional step that we can take to reduce our risk of catching or transmitting the virus, even if it's minor and incremental, makes a big difference over time.

Outdoor tasting - tables

For years, we've gotten requests for outdoor tastings. This wasn't the situation in which I'd hoped to add them to our lineup, but I do think it's going to be a great experience for our guests, and I'm confident that we can sustain it as long as we need to, safely.

What do you think? Are you ready to go back wine tasting? And under what conditions? Are there things you're particularly concerned with? Please share in the comments.⁠


A Wine-Themed Pandemic Reading List

By Ian Consoli

Part of my role as the marketing coordinator for Tablas Creek is to stay connected with people in every department. With the recent stay-at-home order and our transition to working from home, I am missing that role and the conversations that come with it.

As I thought back through those conversations I recalled a common thread: a whole heck-of-a-lot of us love to read.  Whether it’s the latest book that we’ve picked up, a recent article, or a blog, if you’re a reader you’ll understand how exciting it is to say, “I’m reading so-and-so right now,” and inevitably someone in the room says, “I’ve read that book, it’s amazing!”

With that in mind, I reached out to our team to gather a wine-themed reading list. It seems like the whole Tablas Creek community could use a good book or seven right now, to complement the binging of Netflix and the rehearsing of TikTok dances (don’t ask) we're all doing. And maybe by the next time you visit us in our tasting room, after this whole thing is over, you’ll bring up the wine book you’re reading and the person on the other side of the bar will say, “Hey, I’ve read that book. It’s amazing!”

Enjoy the recommendations from the members of our Tablas Team in alphabetical order, in their own words. Anything look familiar? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Something missing on this list? Please share it with us in the comments.

Tablas Creek Bookshelf

Neil Collins, Winemaker

First book that comes to mind is Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch, I read this book very early in my career and found it very inspiring in fact I still do.

The other book that I would recommend is Devil in the Kitchen by Chef Marco Pierre White. Although this is actually not a wine book rather a book by a chef, I find the lengths to which he went in pursuit of perfection very inspiring. He is also out of crazy!

Sandi Crewe, Wine Educator:

He said Beer She said Wine by Marnie Old and Sam Calagione

It is about “beverage options from more than one angle.” Sam is a brewer and owner of Dogfish Head (which sold to Boston Beer Company last year). Marnie is a sommelier, author and wine educator.

My son and I became seriously interested in the beer and wine worlds at about the same time. As he became a professional brewer and more passionate about beer, it made me cognizant of the similarities with wine. I wanted to share his passion and the book helped me to better speak his new language. On the other hand, he attended a few of my wine classes. Now we share beer and wine tastings whenever we can find the time. I particularly enjoyed the beer and wine food pairing information presented.

I recommend the book because it is a great source for beer and wine lovers alike. It gives very basic information on flavors and styles of beer and wine. Best of all, I feel closer to my son because of our common ground.

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager

Wines of the Rhone Valley by Robert Mayberry

I somehow savored this dusty tome like a divorcée on a Provence-bound train reading "Eat Pray Love". This circa-1987 book got me through the later stages of my broken foot in January and into the first part of this other crisis. Anyone interested in how the Rhone Valley was set up and governed, or its personalities and history of the grape varietals, will find this book more than alive today. The winemakers give away most of their secrets, and the section on Tavel alone had me buying a couple cases from Domaine de la Mordoree on presale. The author's jazzy, matter-of-fact take on good and bad bottles and vintages reveals a true wine enthusiast who was well trusted by the profiled vignerons. In between the Cornas and Crozes Hermitage chapters an old, unsmoked cigarette fell out of the pages, which I contemplated lighting alongside a bottle of Domaine des Alexandrins.

Meghan Dunn, Publications

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Perhaps only tangentially related to wine, but I recommend A Discovery of Witches (and the rest of the All Souls trilogy), by Deborah Harkness. It defies easy categorization, but combines fantasy, historical fiction, and romance -- witches and vampires unite to trace a missing alchemical manuscript through history. The main character is a vampire who is extremely knowledgeable about wine, and there are evocative passages about wine pairings and historic vintages, all described by a super-human taster with centuries of experience. It's great escapist fiction! (Harkness is a history professor at USC who published an award-winning wine blog for several years, so she knows her stuff!)

Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker

The Quick Read (with solid, useful information):

The New Wine Rules by Jon Bonné

This book is completely without pretense and a fun, easy, fast read (it’s a thin book) but it’s chock full of great, easy-to-digest information.  I wouldn’t necessarily say this book is for a wine professional, though I wouldn’t say it isn’t; sometimes it’s good to be reminded of certain things!  For someone looking to increase their wine drinking confidence, this is a well-written collection that will make you (even more) excited about your next glass of wine.

The Historical Account That Reads Like Fiction:

The Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine by George M. Taber

This is an exciting, hopeful story about the (then) young-guns of California wine and how they opened the eyes to the rest of the world that California (and, as an extension, other parts of the world) can produce world-class wines.  It’s a true story, but it has everything that a fiction lover like myself could want: character development, recognizable locations (not just Napa, but specific wineries that are now household names) and drama.

The “There Is A Lot Going On In The World And I Just Want to Read Something That Will Make Me Smile”: French Lessons:

Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew by Peter Mayle

This is not a wine book.  This is one man’s stories from his time spent living in France (if the name sounded familiar, he’s the author of A Year in Provence) and the hedonistic and delightful experiences that follow.  Each chapter is a different story, so it’s technically possible to read a little bit and then walk away – though I couldn’t put it down.  I especially loved the chapters devoted to the Bordeaux Marathon, the black truffle Catholic Mass, and the Michelin Guide.  If you’re looking to read something that will keep a grin on your face, this is my pick.  Unfortunately, it will definitely give you some wanderlust.

Jason Haas, Partner and General Manager

Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace.

The true story of the unraveling of a complicated con, set in motion with the 1987 auctioning at Christie's of what were purported to be bottles of 1787 Chateau Lafite owned by Thomas Jefferson and discovered in a sealed Paris cellar. The book reads like a mystery novel, and takes you inside the world of collectors, auction houses, and the shadowy figures that keep both supplied with ever more incredible discoveries. Of course, it becomes clear, if it's too good to be true, it's probably not.

Proof by Dick Francis.

OK, this is a mystery, not a wine book. But I've been looking for escape in my reading in recent weeks. Dick Francis is my favorite mystery writer. His novels usually revolve around the world of English horse racing, but for this book he chose a main character whose occupation is the owner of a neighborhood wine shop, and a plot that involves a fraud of replacing famous wines and whiskeys with cheap, generic plonk. The glimpses into the world of European wine are spot on, the description of blind tasting and the difference between adequate and great wine explained well, and the storytelling and prose have the crystal clarity the author is famous for. Appropriate for an author who is supposed to have said that he could give a confident character description of anyone after a five minutes look at their wine cellar.

Haydee McMickle, Wine Educator

Red, White and Drunk All Over: A wine Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass by Natalie MacLean, 2007

12 years ago this was a refreshing alternative to dry information. It assuaged my inner voice of awkwardness and insecurity as it pertains to wine and the culture. I found the poetic quirkiness curiously enjoyable.

MacLean, a sommelier, takes a journey from vineyard to cellar to retail shop, restaurant and dining room, she also travels with her insecurities. Imagine her tasting with Aubert de Villaine, the proprietor of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

This is a fun book, nothing stuffy here yet you pick up a few tidbits.

This is in the category of summer beach read. It’s funny and approachable. The jacket says it all, it reads “...this bodice-ripping wine book.”

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager

There’s nothing like giving a shout out to one of our own, and recommending a book that’s a lot of fun at the same time. Slave to the Vine: Confessions of a Vagabond Cellarhand, by Tablas Creek National Sales Manager Darren Delmore.

Darren invites us along on a rollicking trek of a wonderfully chaotic crush.  I love how the real story of harvest is told: dirty, wet, exhausting yet exhilarating.  Darren has a deft comic touch, and the writing gets better and more engaging as the book unfolds.  I look forward to follow-up, Lucky Country: Confessions of a Vagabond Cellarhand.

Monica O’Connor, Direct Sales Manager

Real Wine by Patrick Matthews

It’s about history and natural wine making, and Bob Haas is mentioned I believe on the very first page!

Gustavo Prieto, Tasting Room Lead and Head of Biodynamic Practices

The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell,

This book is about the history of phylloxera in France. It covers how and when it was  brought from the US to France, all the efforts people took at the time to try to understand what was happening to their vineyards, and the experiments they first used to try to control the problem. All leading up to how they finally were able to discover the solution with the use of rootstocks. It’s interesting that phylloxera started right next door to Chateauneuf It’s a great read and a great story.

Another great book that I use all the time and is a great source for anything wine related is The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson. I think this was the first wine book that I ever owned.

Deborah Sowerby, Wine Educator

American Rhone by Patrick Comiskey

Mr. Comiskey did a fantastic job of tracing back to the roots movement of the Rhone varieties and their hosts. To start he shares the genesis relating to the three leading red varieties, an emphasis on Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre and how (up to the point of release of the book) the other Châteauneuf-du-Pape varieties were received. He shares with us the cast of characters (with historic photographs) that played a role in introducing us, the American public, to these hallowed grapes. He shares with us their belief, vision, tenacity and fortitude to bring these varieties to the U.S. through avenues of transportation in one’s suitcase or the path and patience through quarantine. As well as the work devoted to propagation, and years invested in the annual harvest and making of these Rhône varieties, resulting in the fine wines we enjoy today all thanks to the Rhône Rangers and those that followed.

My favorite photo's: Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, Robert Haas and Jean-Pierre Perrin, our old friends John Alban, Mat Garretson and Gary Eberle and the group pictures of the gathering of French and American producers at the International Colloquium event held in 1991 organized by Robert Haas. Historic.

My favorite chapter: 15 - Tablas Creek the Validator (of course).

Nathan Stuart, Shepherd

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil

MacNeil keeps you interested and is constantly recommending pairings and cuisine from each region to go with the wine of the area. Still to this day when I open a bottle of white from the Loire Valley or a Syrah from Hermitage I go back to the images and stories from her book.

At a time like this when travel is impossible this book will let you explore the world from your living room and leave you with a great foundational understanding of the world of wine.

I recommend this book if you’re new to the world of wine. She does an amazing job of drawing you in and taking you to the major wine regions of the world.

Jim and Debbie Van Haun, Wine Educator and Accountant Respectively

The Global Encyclopedia of Wine by Peter Forrestal

This was a great resource for us when we bought our Alicante Bouschet 10-acre vineyard back in late 1998.

The history of growing grapes & wine making around the world is fascinating. Alicante was replaced with several of the Rhône varietals in France & Spain and that is exactly what we eventually did. Alicante was very popular during prohibition because of its dark juice.

This book is a great source of information.

Ian Consoli, Marketing Coordinator

So what am I reading?

Natural Wine: An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally by Isabelle Legeron

This book clearly lays out the natural wine making process, identifies icons in the industry, and helps you find natural wine producers throughout the world.

I purchased Natural Wine early on in my wine career from a local biodynamic estate and I am so glad I did. While the focus is obviously on natural wine, the really lasting knowledge I gained from the book was insight into the wine making process. It was the first time the whole process clicked for me. I gained a high level of respect for low-intervention winemakers.

I recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about winemaking or wants to know more about natural wine. Reading this book literally changed my palate.

Conclusion…

Of the 20 books listed above (including my own) I was shocked to learn that I’ve only read five of them. On top of that, I assumed there would be many people selecting the same favorites; however, there was only one instance of this (Billionaire’s Vinegar) and it was listed along with a second recommendation in both cases. We also had multiple more recommendations that were left out. Perhaps we’ll save those for another post.

Until then, happy reading!


Why we're going to be a better business after this Coronavirus shutdown

Last week, I made a small appearance in Eric Asimov's excellent assessment of how the various disruptions caused by the Coronavirus are impacting American wine producers. If you haven't read For American Wine Producers, Fear, Uncertainty and Hope go read it now. OK, welcome back.

New_York_Times_Jason_Haas_Apr10_2020
Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The article included a photo (right) from Eric’s last visit to Tablas Creek, in the depths of the 2012-2016 drought. The 2015 article that resulted noted that at Tablas Creek, "the vineyard has managed to thrive despite the drought." And that's true. We had a string of excellent harvests as the drought really took hold, with each of 2014, 2015 and 2016 producing memorable wines across three different vintage signatures.

Re-reading the article today, I don't think I emphasized to Eric enough that we made it through that drought not principally because of our location (though we do get more rain here than much of the Central Coast, thanks to our location at altitude, in the Santa Lucia foothills, and relatively close to the Pacific) but because of a series of extraordinary actions we took to reduce our demand for water.

These included rethinking how we planted new vineyard (much more widely spaced) so that we could set them up for success dry-farmed. It included new, deeper-rooting rootstocks. It included micro-emitters for frost protection. And it included investing in cover crops and a much larger animal flock. The flock and cover crop together increase our soil’s carbon content, which allows it to hold more moisture. In Paso Robles, we don’t have a water table at root-available depth, and it doesn’t rain for six months every year. The soil is our reservoir, if we allow it to be. [For a deep dive into how our farming changed during the drought, check out my 3-part series Dry Farming in California's Drought.]

Why mention this now? While the outside shock is different, we’re in the middle of another shock right now that is forcing us to rethink how we operate. Coronavirus is a demand shock rather than a supply shock like a drought, but we’re having to reinvent ourselves as a business the way we did as a farm last decade.

Without many of the ways we’ve always interacted with customers (tasting room, events, festivals) we’re investing in new technology. The first things we rolled out utilize the live interactive capabilities of our social media platforms. I've been hosting Instagram Live broadcasts every Wednesday at noon PDT, inviting a guest to dive into the world of Tablas Creek. Neil has started hosting weekly tastings on Facebook Live, also with a guest, of two wines each Friday at 5pm PDT. Our tasting room has launched virtual Zoom tastings, where customers can choose a pre-made pack of half-bottles, order wines they want to open and discuss, or just taste through wines they have on hand, led by one of our senior tasting room team members. We've ramped up our investment in video; we've been adding a deep-dive into a recently released wine to our Chelsea and the Shepherd series each week, and now have a YouTube channel to collect them all.

What do all of these initiatives have in common? We're meeting customers where they are, instead of asking them to come to us. We didn't really have a choice; with our tasting room and restaurants closed, and events canceled both here at the winery and around the country, the typical avenues through which we'd interact with our customers are unavailable. But I'm convinced that many or most of these new initiatives will remain valuable enough to keep doing them even once we can reopen our tasting room, resume pouring at festivals and reschedule those restaurant wine dinners that we'd planned to host this spring. After all, we’d discussed doing, or even made starts on, many of these new initiatives before the arrival of Coronavirus, but this crisis made us attack these new programs with urgency.

All of these new initiatives have in common that they are location-independent. Of course, when you're stuck in your house, it doesn't really matter whether Tablas Creek is 30 miles away or 3000. But I'm convinced that the lessons we're learning will allow us to better connect with customers near and far. Even our local customers weren’t making weekly trips to visit us. What's more, the majority of our current customers and an even larger share of our potential customers don't live an easy drive from Paso Robles. In the periodic surveys we do to former wine club members, we always see responses that they weren't able to take advantage of the events we offered because of their distance from Paso Robles. We think of limitations like that as constant, but they're really not. We weren't utilizing the tools we had to offer opportunities to learn about and become more connected to what we're doing. But we are now.

Jason on video chat with Sadie

After the drought ended, we realized that the new things we’d learned to do in the vineyard led to healthier vines, better fruit, and wines with more character even when they weren’t existentially necessary. I don’t think it’s coincidence that 2017-2019 is maybe our best-ever run.

I think we're going to see something similar here. Just as we emerged from the drought better farmers, so too will we come out of this crisis a stronger business and industry.


We're not about to reopen. Which means it's the right time to think about what that will look like.

Wherever you are and whatever you do for work, I hope you’re weathering the current storm OK. Here, even though as an agricultural enterprise we've been able to continue our farming and cellar work, we've had to begin reinventing how we work as a business. I feel good about the things we've added, including Instagram and Facebook live weekly broadcasts, virtual tastings over Zoom, and an increased investment in sharing what's happening here over video. We even have our own YouTube channel now.

New Tasting Room - EmptyAgricultural businesses are classified as essential, because we’re working with perishable products that often have only one harvest a year, and are the building blocks of the food and drink supply chain. But unless we want to risk infecting our workers and our customers, that status doesn't give us leave to operate as though the business environment were normal. When we were blending at Tablas Creek week-before-last, we made several changes to do what we could to minimize the risks that if one of us were infected but asymptomatic we might transmit the virus. I talked about some of those in last week's blog. With six people distributed around our big conference table, we all had plenty of space. We all pulled and washed our own glasses and dump buckets. The sample bottles were wiped down before they were poured, and only one person picked up and poured each bottle. We kept doors and windows open so there was air moving in the room. We'd all been quarantining at home the previous two weeks, and everyone was healthy. As we've started physically blending the wines, we've limited our cellar team to two people at a time.

Even as we're reevaluating how we can safely operate under current conditions, I've spent a lot of the enforced downtime thinking about how and under what conditions we and other hospitality-facing businesses will be able to reopen. At some point, the shelter at home Coronavirus restrictions will be lifted. I've come to the conclusion that it's very unlikely that we'll go back to pre-Covid status quo.

I'm clearly not the only one thinking about this. As discussions ramp up on lifting local and national restrictions, some of the heavyweights of the American business community are weighing in. The American Enterprise Institute, which you'd think would come down on the side of restarting the economy sooner than later, laid out some pretty rigorous preconditions in their report on how the economy might reopen:

"...when a state reports a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days (i.e., one incubation period); and local hospitals are safely able to treat all patients requiring hospitalization without resorting to crisis standards of care; and the capacity exists in the state to test all people with COVID-19 symptoms, along with state capacity to conduct active monitoring of all confirmed cases and their contacts."  

Similarly, JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon, in the annual letter to his shareholders he published last week, predicted a complex series of events that would need to take place before the American economy could start to get back to normal, and ongoing restrictions once it does:

"It is hoped that the number of new COVID-19 cases will decrease soon and – coupled with greatly enhanced medical capabilities (more beds, proper equipment where it is needed, adequate testing) – the healthcare system is equipped to take care of all Americans, both minimizing their suffering and maximizing their chance of living. Once this occurs, people can carefully start going back to work, of course with proper social distancing, vigilant hygiene, proper testing and other precautions."

We won't be the only (or first) economy to figure out how to safely relax the restrictions that have allowed us to slow the spread of Covid-19. An article in the New York Times examined how a few European countries are going about restarting their economies. From their conclusion: “The gradual acceleration of economic activity is accompanied by strict new rules requiring people to cover their nose and mouth in shops and on public transport — and many more months of strict social distancing.

So, what will a winery tasting room look like once we can reopen, whenever that is? It won't, I don't think, look like it did over the last two decades. We will almost certainly face restrictions to the activities we can conduct, and even if we don't, we will need to operate responsibly. I'm thinking it may resemble the brief period after social distancing measures were announced but before all tasting rooms had to close. Restaurants removed tables. Our tasting room moved to tasting-by-reservation so we could keep six feet between groups. Everyone started cleaning and disinfecting much more rigorously.

This is the time, before we're faced with the imminent arrival of customers, when we should all be thinking about we can reopen safely. How many customers will we safely be able to welcome at a time? What sorts of events will we be able to hold? What will we need to do to make sure that our team is safe? I don't know, but am trying to plan for it. Assuming we'll just go back to status quo ante isn't smart.

This great article by Thomas Pueyo called "The Hammer and the Dance" was widely shared last month. We're all working on the hammer now. But there will be a longer period of the dance, where we've reopened but are constantly mitigating risks. Now seems like a good time for us all to start thinking about what that will look like, and examining the pieces of our business that will likely have to change.

I look forward to figuring this all out, as a community.


How to Help Your Favorite Wineries Survive the Coronavirus Pandemic

It's been a tough last week, on a lot of levels. Like most Americans, we've personally been adjusting to social distancing, school, and activity closures, while reevaluating our own life patterns and checking in with family members to make sure everyone is in a good place. On a business level, we've been worrying about how best to make sure we're operating in a way that is responsible while still hopefully continuing to operate, both to be able to support the great team we have working here and to be available to provide wine to our thousands of customers. We switched briefly over last weekend to tastings by-appointment-only to ensure proper distancing, and then closed our tasting room entirely this week in accordance with Governor Newsome's new directives and our own obligations (and desires) to do everything we can to slow the spread of the virus. 

Tasting Room Closed for Coronavirus

We're just one of hundreds of wineries in Paso Robles, and thousands of wineries in California, who've been navigating this new crisis. I know it's hit plenty of other industries hard. Restaurants are on the front lines. Tour companies, hotels, neighborhood shops... really the whole tourism infrastructure has been disrupted or shut down indefinitely. At the same time, the outpouring of phone calls, texts, and emails I've gotten from people has been really heartwarming. One thing so many of them have asked is "how can we help?" I've been answering everyone individually, but thought it might be timely and helpful to expand these into a blog.  

Order Wine From Us
OK, this is probably pretty self-explanatory. Wineries are seeing two of their primary revenue streams disrupted right now. Tasting room sales, the lifeblood of the majority of California wineries, are going to zero. And wholesale sales are going to be seriously impacted too, as restaurants are forced to close or toward takeout. But from what I'm hearing, people are still definitely buying wine. Who wants to be stuck at home with leisure time to plan and cook meals for several weeks without the wine to accompany them? Wine shops and grocery stores have been reporting sharply increased sales in recent weeks, and that's great. These sales do help wineries, and help keep the distribution channel functioning. But if you are able to buy directly from the wineries you patronize, that's a lot better for them. If you had to cancel a trip to wine country, consider joining a wine club or two with the money you aren't spending on hotels and travel.

Support Restaurants Who Are Staying Open by Ordering Takeout
Restaurants are the hardest-hit businesses in these socially distanced times. Some are closing entirely. But others are pivoting to offering their menu for takeout. This list includes big name restaurants that made news for doing so, like Canlis in Seattle, Spago in Beverly Hills, and Balthazar in New York. But it also includes local favorites here in Paso (each linked to their announcements or carryout menu) like The Hatch, Il Cortile, Thomas Hill Organics, BL Brasserie, and La Cosecha. Will there be enough local business to make up for all the lost visitors to the area? Almost certainly not. But we can all do our part. Many jurisdictions have also announced a new easing of rules and allowed restaurants to sell wine to go. As wine programs are typically a big piece of a restaurant's profitability, ordering wine with your gourmet to-go meal can have several benefits. It keeps restaurants going, which benefits the entire community, and it helps wineries by reducing the loss to their wholesale sales. Plus, we all want these restaurants to be open when we're out the other side of the crisis, for lots of reasons.  

Share Your Experiences and Recommendations
One of the most important things that we lose when we close our tasting rooms and cancel our events is the chance to reach new customers who don't yet know that they'd love us. You can help bridge that gap by sharing on social media the wines that you're opening at home. There's a ton of research that shows that peer-to-peer recommendations are the most trusted in this day and age. In an environment where most wineries will struggle to get in front of potential new customers, just sharing a photo of a bottle you opened and loved can mean a lot. And talking about wine encourages engagement and other people talking about wine. There's a lot of story to wine, generally more than there is to other alcoholic beverages, because wines have an association to place, and to year, that beer and liquor generally don't. Thousands of these stories would normally be told every week in tasting rooms around the state and country. Instead, start one of your own, tag your favorite winery, and see where it takes you.

Stay in Touch
I've sent two emails to our entire mailing list (37,000-plus) in the last five days, sharing the changes that we've been making here at Tablas Creek. I can't tell you how much it means that so many people have taken the time to reply to say some variation of "hang in there". I honestly wasn't expecting that, though I probably should have. We know that we're losing many of the easy ways that we have to share what's going on here and help our customers feel connected to our work, and so will be moving toward more digital ways of communication. When you see these, if you felt like participating and interacting, we'd love to know what you think. A virtual tasting? Let's try it. A live-streamed report from the blending table? We'll see. An Instagram Live vineyard walk? You bet. We're all going to be learning how to preserve social ties through a period when face-to-face contact is restricted. Wineries are no different. 

Buy Gift Cards
While most wineries are keeping their shipping departments open, not all are. And not everyone is in a place to take delivery of wine right now. Restaurants and local shops are in even tougher positions. Buying gift cards right now, and redeeming them when the crisis is over, is a way of helping these small, local businesses survive a period of zero foot traffic. 

Self-Isolate
Mostly, though, the best thing that you can do for us is to take these restrictions seriously so that we can get through to the other side of this without major breakdowns of our health care system and our economy. If you have the choice, please be serious and conscientious about your isolating and your virus spread mitigation. I'm not going to repeat the whole list that begins with washing your hands a lot and not spending time around other people if you're sick. But it's all true, and the extent to which we all make the changes we're told are important will make a meaningful difference not just in the societal response to this pandemic, but to how fast we can all safely get back to our raising a glass... together.