Masks? Proof of Vaccines? Michigan Wineries Navigate the New Landscape

Outdoor seating is one of the options at Bløm Meadworks, which recently reopened limited indoor seating to vaccinated customers. Pictured here, owners Lauren Bloom and Matt Ritchey speak with customers. (Courtesy of Bløm Meadworks)

When Bløm Meadworks in Ann Arbor began laying the groundwork for reopening its indoor tasting space as state restrictions began easing this past month, owners Lauren Bloom and Matt Ritchey took a lot of factors into consideration before deciding how to proceed.

Bløm had been closed to indoor service since the first lockdown back in March 2020. Since then, Lauren says, they have “kind of evolved.”

“We added a patio, we added some outdoor seating huts, then expanded that seating a bit when the city allowed patios to extend into parking spaces,” Lauren says. “We’ve just been obviously, like many businesses during this time, closely monitoring cases and vaccination rates, trying to determine how to proceed cautiously.”

Indoor service at Bløm Meadworks. (Courtesy of Bløm Meadworks)

Now they’ve decided to add limited indoor seating — with the proviso that customers who use it are fully vaccinated.

“We decided what made the most sense for us is continuing all of our existing seating options we’ve had throughout COVID times,” Lauren explains. “But for phase one of indoor seating, we’re adding one room with some distanced tables in it — six tables total. It’s in a space that has a pretty extensive air-ventilation system.

“For now, we’re requiring anyone to sit indoors in that space to show proof of vaccination.”

It’s not intended to penalize customers who aren’t vaccinated, she notes.

“People may have different reasons for not being vaccinated right now,” she says. “Some are tentative, some may have health conditions, some may be waiting. People are in different positions right now and we recognize that.

“So, we’re just coming in with the mindset that we understand people have lots of reasons now, and while we personally feel strongly about being vaccinated, that’s people’s choice and we will just provide as many options as we can.”

Bløm’s staff, all of whom are fully vaccinated, appreciate the policy, she says.

“We’ve told them throughout this process, as we move forward with steps … in each phase, we talked to all of our staff and made sure they felt comfortable with it,” Lauren explains. “We certainly weren’t going to take any steps that our team wasn’t comfortable with.”

And so far, so good, she says. Speaking a few days into the new indoor model, which Bløm launched the week of June 7 after announcing it on their website and social media, Lauren said customers seemed happy to comply and either had their vaccination cards on them or in a picture on their phones.

(Courtesy of Bløm Meadworks)

She believes other business owners in the community might be considering a similar model.

“This is very anecdotal, but … I think a lot of businesses in Ann Arbor would like to implement the vaccine-required policy,” she says, “but nobody is sure they want to be the first one to do it.”

In random checks with other wineries around Michigan, none indicated that they would be implementing a similar policy.

Gloria W. Oberst, co-owner and operations manager at 12 Corners Vineyard in Benton Harbor, says their policy is simple: no mask required if you’re vaccinated, mask required if you’re not.

It’s the same at Fenn Valley Vineyards in Fennville.

“We are requesting non-vaccinated people wear masks indoors, but have no intention of requiring proof,” says Vice President Brian Lesperance. “We require all non-vaccinated employees wear masks at all times, and can require proof, though we haven’t had to do that as of yet.”

He adds, “Through the whole pandemic, we have been fortunate to have largely avoided a lot of the drama we have heard about regarding other service establishments, so we have not necessarily had to resort to more draconian methods.”

Dave Miller, owner of White Pine Winery in St. Joseph and president of the Michigan Wine Collaborative, believes most Michigan wineries are taking guests at their word when it comes to vaccination status and that most personnel are vaccinated.

“It was stressful requiring people to wear masks,” he says. “I would not ask my staff to check proof of vaccination.”

Shady Lane Cellars’ General Manager Rick DeBlasio says the Leelanau County winery isn’t requiring customers to provide proof of vaccination, in keeping with state and health guidelines that don’t mandate it.

Deb Burgdorf at Burgdorf’s Winery in Haslett says their tasting room is so small that they’re not open indoors yet. Instead, Burgdorf’s has been utilizing a “great outdoor area” to host customers for wine flights or wines by the glass.

“If we do (open), we will probably limit it to two groups at a time,” she says. “We’re not interested in requiring proof of vaccination — just a sign that allows those that have been fully vaccinated the option to go without a mask.”

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