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Santa Barbara County vintners, restaurateurs adapt in the face of industry shutdown

Santa Barbara County vintners, restaurateurs adapt in the face of industry shutdown

Local tasting rooms and restaurants are adjusting their business models following the call by Gov. Gavin Newsom this week for bars, wineries, nightclubs, brewpubs and restaurants to close their doors temporarily, but indefinitely, over COVID-19 concerns.

Root 246 in downtown Solvang went from offering take-out and curbside pick-up options just days ago, to "closed until further notice" as of Monday, according to restaurant shift manager Rachel Matta.

Boutique tasting room Cali Love Wine, located in downtown Solvang, posted on social media that they too are following the State of California’s recommendation and have closed shop until further notice. In the meantime, they are offering scheduled private appointments for bottle purchases at their tasting room.

"Social distancing is obviously the opposite of our motto, but our first priority at Cali Love is that our customers, community, family and friends are safe," the wine bar said in the post. "Thank you for your always amazing support and we can’t wait to cheers you when we open our doors again."

Beginning Monday, Leonardo's Ristorante & Pizzaria of Solvang began offering free delivery and curbside pick-up to local senior citizens who are being warned to stay indoors.

"We understand that [these are] difficult times for everyone, and we remain deeply committed to the safety of our community," the restaurant stated.

Owners of Solminer Wine Co. in Los Olivos, David and Anna Delaski, said that they also have closed their tasting room until further notice, and are now leaning on wine club members and their mailing list of potential customers to boost online wine sales to be mailed or picked up curbside. 

"We realize the online presence now will be even more important for the marketing and selling of our wine," said David Delaski, noting that the health and safety of his family, employees and community are top priority. "We have assured our employees that we will stay busy with winemaking and vineyard projects in the absence of the tasting room being open."

Hitching Post Restaurant & Winery in Buellton has also followed suit, providing similar to-go services from a cashier kiosk situated outside of their restaurant.

Linda Aguilar, a server at the restaurant who was working a mid-day shift, said that on Monday the restaurant was observing social-distancing, allowing a limited number of customers be seated inside the establishment, but all that changed on Tuesday with new orders.

"It keeps changing," she said, smiling. "But we just adjust and do what we can." 

Keith Saarloos, multi-generational farmer and owner of Saarloos and Sons in Los Olivos who closed his tasting room doors out of a commitment to the health and safety of staff and their families, has assured his employees that their jobs are safe.

"We have made a commitment to our staff and their families so we are not laying anyone off. Of course this is an economic hit, but it is for everyone, all of our tides have dropped," he said.

Aside from offering to-go, pick-ups, and delivery options for purchasing Saarloos wines, he maintains that work on the farm is business as usual.

"We are farmers first and foremost, so little has changed in our day-to-day ... all other work continues," Saarloos said. "Farmers work in order to steward the best crop we can, sometimes it rains, sometimes it freezes, sometimes the sun cooks you. But this is the life we choose. You have to be optimistic you have to adapt to the changes thrown before you. I don't ever think I have met a farmer that isn’t optimistic at their core."

Santa Maria-based winemaker for J. Wilkes, Wes Hagen, who spends most of his time traveling the nation to market the label and is now somewhat grounded from travel, said the downtown Santa Barbara tasting room has also closed its doors in compliance with the governor's directive.

"... we just opened our downtown tasting room near Stearn's Wharf and business was starting to boom, but safety is paramount to us as a company," Hagen said. "We are adapting to the situation by offering virtual tastings, starting as early as next week, which will be educational in nature, will highlight three wines from our portfolio, last less than 10 minutes and conclude with a special discount on wines for delivery. The virtual tastings will start on my FaceBook page, Wes Hagen, as FaceBook Live events."