Wineries across Michigan are reopening with various new procedures in place designed to protect their customers and staff. Here’s what’s happening at a few around the state.
Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson and Irish Hills
Owner Lorenzo Lizarralde says he and his staff went through the governor’s executive orders item by item and, in response, installed required signage, provided masks to staff, moved tables apart and installed tape on the floor and more.
They also took advantage of the shutdown to retool and upgrade the Irish Hills facility.
“We upgraded the floor, installed a monster pizza oven and began the process of adding a 5,500-square-foot cover to our outdoor patio,” he says. “We have so much room in Irish Hills that spreading out wasn’t a stretch.”
Customers have been in good spirits, he reports, noting, “They are so happy to get out.”
Staff is also happy to be back for the most part, he says, with one exception.
“The bigger problem is the government-provided vacation,” he says. “Some staff would prefer to stay home and continue to draw unemployment, and are hoping for an extension beyond July 25.
“I am competing with the federal government!”
Lizarralde doesn’t expect the COVID-19-mandated changes to become permanent.
“We look forward to this sci-fi movie we have all been living being over and a return to normalcy,” he says.
Mawby Vineyards and Winery, Suttons Bay
Mawby didn’t reopen as early as many of its northern Michigan counterparts, opting for a soft reopening in early June. Marketing Manager Claire Lepine says the winery is requiring reservations to manage reduced capacity, but is doing its best to accommodate walk-in guests.
“On weekdays, that will be more likely, but if people are tasting on weekends, I would suggest booking in advance,” she says.
Guests aren’t bellying up to the bar these days, and instead are being seated in groups of no more than six. Founder Larry Mawby used to say, “Don’t be an ass, leave the glass” to discourage guests from taking stemware. Now Mawby’s flights include a commemorative glass with that exact statement printed on it.
The staff is getting used to the new service model, though some have been hesitant to return to work out of health concerns. Lepine says that Mawby has been contemplating how to offer “an enhanced experience” in recent years, and the changes resulting from COVID-19 may help usher something like that in.
“Now we are making the best of the situation to try out something different,” she says. “Maybe the October Saturdays with 1,000 people coming through are over?
“Maybe we can position our industry and our wines as something meant to be enjoyed, not just consumed for the sake of it.”
Karma Vista Vineyards & Winery, Coloma
Amanda Herman at Karma Vista says it was great to get the news that Michigan wineries could reopen.
“We’ve pretty much been closed since before Christmas — we close for the winter and were only open one weekend before we shut down,” she says. “We really miss our customers, the regulars and others coming from all over the place.
“We love hearing their stories, learning about them and sharing a love for wine together.”
Still, Karma Vista is moving forward with caution. The family-run winery is continuing to offer curbside pickup on Saturdays as it eyes expanding outdoor tasting options for an estimated reopening in mid-July.
“We have such a family-oriented mindset,” she says. “We just keep thinking about our loved ones and what’s best for our family — and yours — as we navigate our way through such uncharted territory.”
Herman cites protecting staff and customers as being the biggest challenge.
“There’s so much uncertainty and unpredictability,” she says. “Things are constantly changing and we want to make sure we give our customers the best and safest experience we can, and I don’t think anyone can quite honestly detail what exactly that is right now.
“We are just working through it all one day at a time.”
Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery, Old Mission Peninsula
Brys Estate has employed a new assistant for its wine tastings served tableside: tasting towers. Each aluminum vertical tower offers five 1.5-oz. samplings of wine served in individual glasses.
Hospitality Manager Taylor Lopiccolo says guests will be able to choose from the tasting tower option or a glass of wine or Frosé frozen wine slushie, along with cheese and charcuterie. They’ll be seated at a designated table on the Upper Deck overlooking the vineyard and East Grand Traverse Bay. In bad weather, reservations will be accommodated indoors.
“Guests are required to wear a face mask in the building and if they choose to visit their Vineyard Overlook viewing platform,” she says. “When seated at their tables, face masks may be removed.”
Reservations are strongly recommended, with groups limited to no more than six. Table service is limited to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. during June. The tasting room is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday for curbside pickup and to-go bottle purchases. Those without reservations will be seated on a first-come, first-served basis.