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Indoor wine tastings still permitted amid new B.C. COVID-19 restrictions

At Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna, B.C., additional outdoor wine tasting stations are erected, in the wake of new COVID-19 restrictions in B.C. Dan Couch/Global News

Kelowna’s Summerhill Pyramid Winery jumped into action, setting up outdoor tasting stations, after new COVID-19 rules were announced on Monday banning indoor dining for three weeks as a so-called circuit breaker to prevent increased transmission and get circulating variants under control.

“As soon as we got the order that indoor dining was closed down, we assumed that indoor tasting was as well because thus far they’ve been connected in all the policy rollouts,” said Ezra Cipes, a second-generation owner of Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna, B.C.

Read more: One in 10 B.C. wineries, grape growers at risk of closing due to COVID-19 pandemic: survey

Other wineries shut down their tastings rooms on Tuesday, awaiting further clarity on what the restrictions meant for them.

“We are now clear that wineries can continue to offer tastings. Those that offer wine by the glass and food, they need to comply with the restrictions of moving outdoors,” said Miles Prodan, president and CEO of Wine Growers B.C. (formerly known as The B.C. Wine Institute).
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Prodan said he is relieved a crucial part of winery operations survived the chopping block.

“In the past when it happened, we had a chance to explain to the provincial health office that it’s a critical component of how we conduct our business,” he said.

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But winery restaurants must comply with new health orders, which permit patio service, takeout and delivery only until April 19th.

“Breweries, wineries and other tasting rooms that have licenses to serve alcohol and some small food items that have a patio can continue to operate the patio. Indoor seating is not allowed,” said a statement issued Tuesday by the Ministry of Health.

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“No changes have been made to wineries or breweries that operate as a retailer without tables and seating for food and beverage service. B.C. wineries in this type of setting can continue to offer samplings indoors provided that they follow existing COVID-19 protocols,” the ministry wrote.

“We felt jerked around right away. We were planning our Easter brunch and high tea, but we are very fortunate to have a big patio so we are all good,” Cipes said of the indoor dining shutdown.

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The hospitality sector is hopeful the latest round of restrictions is temporary. Businesses are still recovering from losses incurred in 2020.

A recent survey commissioned by Wine Growers B.C. found 83 per cent of wineries and grape growers have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and 1 in 10 are at-risk of closing.

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Read more: New wine app hopes to boost Okanagan’s wine tourism

“The wine business is not a get-rich-quick business by any stretch. Selling your wine at the winery is the most profitable place where you can do that. Tourism is key to a successful winery and being able to thrive,” Prodan said.

But with international tourism virtually non-existent, wineries are preparing for a second summer catering to locals.

“This is going to be like a locals place and a regional tourist destination this year and again,” Cipes quipped.

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