Dining Reviews

How Santa Cruz Tasting Rooms Are Navigating the Pandemic

Outdoor seating continues expanding and may linger post-pandemic

Steve and Pamela Storrs, winemakers at Storrs Winery, have made Erlenmeyer flasks part of their serving approach. PHOTO: RR JONES

Looks like the thaw has begun. Outdoor seating continues expanding and invites us more and more.

We check in with winemakers on how tasting rooms (now on sidewalks, parklets and patios) are handling the ups and downs of the pandemic’s open/shut scenarios.

Ser Winery Winemaker Nicole Walsh: “Having an outdoor space has been critical for my business. I am also so happy it allows us to have a safe space for the community to get out and enjoy some time with friends and partners.” 

Ser Winery Tasting Room Manager Alex Baker: “When the weather is poor, it’s more difficult to attract people. But, in general, outdoor service has been incredible! When the weather is good, we’re usually consistently busy. Having the extra parking space has been crucial to being able to have tables for guests. Definitely want to be able to keep some kind of outdoor space open. Looking forward to having it be lighter later as it attracts more people.” 

Birichino Winemaker Alex Krause: “We are grateful that we’ve been able to reopen outside on our sidewalk patio for tastings, as it’s made it possible for us to bring back our amazing staff, and it’s helped make up for the loss of what used to account for about 40% of our business globally—selling our wines to restaurants. Even for our small business, it was tremendously challenging to pivot on a dime to a new business model every few months. We consider ourselves lucky, as well, that we’d had a couple of years of being open to build local support and get the word out about our wine club, which has absolutely made the difference for our survival this past year. Outside seating is something we’d like to continue in the post-pandemic universe.”

Windy Oaks’ Judy Schultze: “Our Corralitos winery and vineyard are open for tasting outdoors every weekend. The Carmel-by-the-Sea tasting room is also open except Tuesday and Wednesday. We are swamped pretty much every weekend, obviously pent-up demand, and our wine club has been incredibly loyal, so we’ve survived! Reservations highly recommended at both locations due to limited seating.”

Storrs Winery’s Pamela Storrs: “Things are going relatively well. The new format is really working for us. We’re using Erlenmeyer flasks placed inside of stainless pails filled with shave ice to serve our wine flights. Each guest receives a wine glass and tasting notes, and they taste at their own pace with our wine educators checking in on them periodically. We also offer longer term picnic and bocce ball reservations for those who prefer to bring a picnic or spend a little more time. Sash Mill Storrs is still only open for purchases and online pickups on weekends, but it’s holding its own, too. Now that we’re feeling a little more confident about being able to be open, we may consider reopening for outdoor, seated reservations wine tastings at the Sash Mill this summer.”  

Equinox’s Jennifer Jackson: “With the recent change in restrictions, the more brisk our business has become, especially Friday through Sunday. People are so very ready to be outdoors in the spring-like weather we have been enjoying. One thing we hear repeatedly is a gratefulness for being able to relax outside with a glass of wine and especially for being served rather than having to be at home alone. People are hungry for social stimulation. We are following Covid rules. All the wineries in our area have rearranged exteriors and stay abreast of the ever-changing rules for engagement. As Covid numbers begin to drop, we look forward with a sense of hope for the freedom we all miss with a ‘real’ normal way of living and interacting with each other.”

More Tastes

Equinox is also one of several Surf City Vintners offering small plate catering to their al fresco tasters on Saturdays thanks to Colectivo Felix—home of inventive empanadas, breads, and sliders. Items can be ordered and paid for online, and Felix staff will bring items to the tasters to enjoy along with their wine. Details at colectivofelix.square.site.

Big Basin Changes

Congratulations to Blake Yarger, longtime assistant winemaker with Bradley Brown up at Big Basin Vineyards. Yarger has taken over official winemaker chores, while Big Basin founder Brown turns more attention to sales and recovery efforts after his huge losses during the CZU Lightning Complex fire.

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