San Diego County

Winery Owners Try and Keep Up With Ever-Changing Restrictions

Wineries were ordered closed on Monday, then allowed to reopen on Tuesday if they had outdoor areas for customers to drink wine, reports NBC 7's Artie Ojeda

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As public health orders and restrictions seemingly change every day, businesses owners are expressing frustration, anxiety, and confusion. Consider the case of wineries.

“It’s been a roller coaster. Definitely emotional and very stressful,” said Jess Koehler, owner of La Finquita Winery & Vineyard in Ramona.

Koehler reopened her winery June 12, implementing a focused reopening plan that includes a new reservation system to space out customers.

On Monday, however, the county Public Health Department ordered bars that don’t serve food to shut down. The order presumably included wineries. That decision stunned Koehler.

“It’s been such a crazy, not even two days yet, from both a business standpoint, a personal standpoint. We were closed for so long, and we were so excited to reopen to have to turn around and shut again was really just kind of devastating,” said Koehler.

But then, late Tuesday, the wineries were given an unexpected exemption.

In a revised Public Health Order is a single sentence that reads “new restrictions not applicable to outdoor service of wine at a winery.”

Koehler says she’s grateful for the change of heart, but recognizes how quickly things can change.

“I think at this point, we’re just taking it one day at a time, we’re planning to be open, and if that changes, if we’re ordered differently, then we’ll take it as it comes,” said Koehler.

The county’s decision to shut down wineries on Monday, then revise the order a day later, illustrates why many business owners are on edge and, at times, confused.

“People were freaking out, going ‘We just reopened and now they’re gonna shut us down again?’” said Teri Kearns, who’s owned Ramona Ranch Vineyard & Winery in Ramona with her husband for the last eight years.

Kearns said she was in contact with Supervisor Dianne Jacob to make a plea on behalf of the wineries.

Jacob then reached out to Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.

“I asked the county public health officer to consider an exemption for wineries with outdoor tasting areas and, thankfully, she agreed to the carve-out. Our top health experts say outdoor establishments and activities present a lower risk for transmission, so excluding wineries makes sense,” said Jacob in a statement to NBC 7.

Currently, there are approximately 150 wineries in San Diego County. About 30 are in Ramona, according to Kerns.

“Rural wineries are not bars. We close at sunset, we do seated tastings, it’s a different environment. And so to lump rural wineries in with bars, and put the same restrictions on us as bars just didn’t make sense," said Kerns.

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