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Finger Lakes Wines and Grapes: Wineries preparing safe tasting room experience

Finger Lakes Wines and Grapes: Wineries preparing safe tasting room experience

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After a record cold April, early May wasn’t much better. Mid-month we had the polar vortex visit, cold days and even colder nights, freezes, frosts and a few sub 30-degree mornings! Well, the grape vines are about two weeks behind their typical development. In a normal year (not sure when we last had one) we see the buds “break” open during the early days in May. As I’m writing this column on May 15, we still haven’t seen that happen yet. So we’re lucky the freezing weather really hasn’t damaged any growth. Good news is the long-term forecast shows above-average Finger Lakes temperatures for the for the rest of the month. Our vineyards are in great shape, as we’ve been through them mowing the cover crop between rows, scouting for any insect damage or winter kill, and repairing trellis wires and posts. Now we’re just waiting for some warm weather. Grape-growing is always challenging in this part of the world.

Every spring the Cornell Finger Lakes Grape Program presents a spring integrated pest management meeting that is usually held at a large vineyard or winery, attended by about 100 people. This brings grape growers together to learn about new developments with diseases, insects and new practices and spray materials used to prevent damage to the vines and grapes. Well, with COVID-19, the meeting went virtual. Presenters were on the web from their own home or office. It was a good meeting, with lots of new information shared to help growers, yet it was strange not visiting with friends and farmers and having dinner and glass of wine after the meeting.

Wineries are trying to survive in this coronavirus world. This applies to wineries and vineyards around the country: New York, Washington, California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, etc. We’ve had to adapt our sales and marketing practices since we can’t have customers come in and taste wine. Most Finger Lakes wineries are offering curbside pickup and delivery/shipping. Fortunately, the central New York and Finger Lakes regions were able to reopen from the New York State on PAUSE order, for phase one, on May 15. If things go well and the virus is contained, wineries possibly may start up tastings again at phase three, which could occur at the earliest on June 12. So I think winemakers are hoping the warmer weather and COVID-19 strategies in place allow us all to safely get back to business “as usual." Although I’m not quite sure what that will look like yet. Wineries are developing plans for reopening their tasting rooms to incorporate safety and health protocols to assure customers and employees a safe visit and good experience. Bigger wineries may start with outdoor tasting areas, spread apart. Our winery is very small, so we may initially start out with scheduled tastings on the hour and ask visitors to call ahead for an appointment. To avoid people touching common surfaces, our tasting lists have been printed on paper for one-time use, as we encourage customers to take the list with them so they remember which wines they liked. Then, between tastings, we will be able to sanitize the counter tops, door handles and bathroom areas, ready for the next group. Certain wine trail organizations around the country and in the Finger Lakes have come up with ideas on how to do tastings and keep everyone safe, so there are a lot of people looking at how to operate in this new environment. I’m confident we will be able to welcome tourists to wine country this summer, and provide a healthy, happy experience to all.

In the winery, we’ve done more bottling to get the 2019 vintage ready for the upcoming summer. Many wineries are also taking this downtime to paint and remodel the tasting room and other winery facilities and vineyard equipment.

Thanks to all the wonderful customers who have come from near and far to support the Finger Lakes wineries with curbside pickup and wine orders. Hopefully we can visit with our customers face to face in the near future. In the meantime, stay healthy and well, and enjoy the upcoming spring weather!

Chris Scholomiti is co-owner and winemaker at CJS Vineyards & Aurelius Winery, located at 6900 Fosterville Road, Aurelius. Our tasting room is currently closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. The winery is in operation, offering curbside pickup and shipments. For more information, questions or comments about the column or wine and grape-growing in the Finger Lakes, email, call (315) 730-4619 or find the winery on Facebook.


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