Finger Lakes Wineries Hold Their Own During Shutdown, Prepare for Gradual Reopening

May 14, 2020

The vineyard at Glenora Wine Cellars overlooking Seneca Lake.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

The COVID-19 shutdown has halted nearly all travel and tourism, which includes the popular Finger Lakes wineries.   But the wine industry is considered part of the state’s essential agriculture sector, so most operations were allowed to continue…even if wine tours and busy tasting rooms are still weeks away.

Carmela Barbagallo is Executive Director of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance.

"The agricultural calendar just goes on regardless of politics or health scares.  While our tasting room activities have slowed,  some of the wineries have transferred staffing into the vineyards to help there."

She says wineries are preparing vineyards for the growing season now that the threat of frost has passed, and staff are wearing masks and gloves.  The Finger Lakes is one of five upstate regions cleared for phase one of the reopening process.  But Barbagallo says tasting rooms and restaurants can’t reopen until mid-June at the earliest.  Meanwhile, she says they’ve seen an outpouring of support from customers.

"They are still able to receive online orders, orders to be shipped to folks' homes.  Almost all of the wineries are doing curbside pick-up."  

Red grapes grow on century-old vines.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

Barbagallo says she’s been impressed with how wineries have adapted.  President of the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance Cindy Kimble says everyone is getting creative.

"For instance, one tour company is doing virtual tours by shipping wine and cheese to participants in advance, and providing a guided tour and tasting, if you will, through the cheese and wine people receive."

Kimble says she’s been getting inquiries from potential tourists as they hear about the regional phased in reopenings. 

"I've been emailing back and forth with a couple from Westfield, PA.  They are looking to come, and are trying to understand what's open and closed.  It's best to call ahead and check."

For example, some overnight accommodations might be available, while others may not.  Then, the usually-crowded tasting room experience during the busy season will probably be a quite different. Barbagallo with the Wine Alliance says wineries are looking at best practices and other options.

Keuka Lake
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

"Cleanliness.  What type of glassware and glassware cleaning processes will be used.  How to spread out in our tasting rooms, or potentially use outdoor space."

…within state guidelines, of course.  She says some wineries are considering appointment-only tastings.  Meanwhile, Kimble with the Tourism Alliance says they remain optimistic.

"There's a video we produced on our website that ends with, 'New York's Finger Lakes have been here for over 100 million years.  We're going to be here when you're ready to come back.'"