fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Wineries shift approaches with COVID-19

View all photos

With tasting rooms closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, wineries have adapted other strategies to move their products and continue to bottle wines as they reach maturity.

Activity also continues in the vineyards, where nature is not paying attention to the circumstances, said Eric Weisinger of Weisinger Family Winery in Ashland, and Dan Marca of Dancin Vineyards near Jacksonville.

“We are getting things done. The varietals continue to grow despite the circumstances around us,” said Marca. “We recognize that nature is our managing partner and it is unstoppable.”

Both wineries report internet sales have increased since the pandemic restrictions went into place.

“There’s been a huge spiked in online orders,” said Weisinger.

Dancin has also seen an online sales increase, Marca reported.

Wine pickup is available at both locations, and Weisinger offers free delivery of three or more bottles in Ashland or Medford. Weisinger has teamed with Goldback Wines, and both are donating 10% of sales proceeds to ACCESS of Jackson County.

Besides wine, Dancin has created a take and bake option that launched last week. The $29 dinners for two — which can be can be picked up or delivered for a fee — include entrées and other courses. Suggested wine pairings are also available. Response the first week was good, and there were many reorders this week, said Marca.

A couple of people are working on the bottling at Weisinger, which had to lay off three employees who were primarily tasting room staff.

“Those who are still here are kind of filling in and doing whatever we have to do to get things done,” said Weisinger. He’s ended up answering the phone.

“We have been able to keep our distance from each other and worked hard to provide a safe environment,” said Weisinger. Among changes are allowing only one person at a time in the kitchen and in the lab at the winery.

Dancin laid off some staff, but the bulk of them will be brought back starting next week for educational opportunities about wine and tasks they can perform throughout the operation.

“They will have a better appreciation of how wine is grown, the tasks along the way,” said Marca. “We typically didn’t have the time as the season launched full force.”

Bottling usually takes about seven workers, but Dancin has been using five or six to operate with distancing, Marca reported.

“For us, the good news is we are mostly an outdoor tasting-room operation,” said Marca. When it reopens, the outdoor arrangement will facilitate spacing and allow use of different pathways.

Weisinger has 10 acres and manages three other sites totaling 6 acres. To supplement its own production, the company purchases grapes from other Ashland area wineries, but it amounts to less than 20% of total volume.

“Once the plants start growing, it’s pretty much a full-time deal. Everyone will be active,” said Weisinger. Outdoor workers can stagger by rows to maintain safe distance, he said.

With bud break happening around April 15, the usual time, it’s too early to say how the crop might mature, he said. Harvest usually involves from six to 12 people.

“It will represent a complex challenge if we are still at a point where (social distancing) has to happen,” said Weisinger.

On April 29 Dancin had 10 workers in the vineyards pruning shoots. Growth this time of year can be 3 or 4 inches a day. Rows in the 27 acres of vineyard are 7 feet apart, so a person in each row can maintain social distancing while working.

When harvest time comes, the winery will use new strategies to maintain distancing protocols if required. That might include the use of more tractors. Usually a single worker harvests a row, which can be hundreds of feet long.

“It’s not going to be difficult to adapt,” said Marca.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Pinot on the vine at Dancin Vineyards. file photo