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Napa County Restaurants Can Reopen Their Dining Rooms

All wineries, vineyards, and tasting rooms must remain closed unless they serve sit-down diners

Miriam Puentes owns Napa’s Honrama Cellars, which sells 100 percent of its wine via its tasting room — a room that for now, must remain closed.
Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Restaurants in California’s Napa County were cleared to reopen their dining rooms on Tuesday evening, but the wine-rich region’s vineyards and tasting rooms must remain closed to the public for now.

Officials in Napa, Sonoma, and Solano counties said last week that they were hoping to swiftly move into Stage 2B of California’s reopening, which is how state leaders refer to the conditions that allow for the reopening of sit-down dining, offices, and shopping malls on a county-by-county basis. California Gov. Gavin Newsom further relaxed the guidelines for those conditions Monday, saying then that most California counties could — if local officials deem it safe — reopen restaurant dining rooms as of June 1. Counties with COVID-19 hospitalization rates at less than 20 new cases per day could open even sooner, Newsom said, if those counties were approved at the state level.

That approval was granted to Napa on Tuesday, California’s Department of Public Health announced via press release (you can read it in full, below), saying that “based upon local conditions in Napa County, the Public Health Officer, County Board of Supervisors, local hospitals, and cities, believe we have collectively as a region established our readiness for an increased pace through Stage 2 of California’s roadmap to modify the Stay-at-Home order.” According to the state DPH, only one confirmed COVID-19 patient has been hospitalized in Napa over the last 14 days, and, so far, it “has not seen an outbreak of positive COVID-19 cases among its essential workers.” As of Tuesday, Napa County has seen three deaths as a result of COVID-19 and has 92 confirmed cases of the virus among its residents.

That means that, as long as they follow statewide guidelines that mandate social distancing, mask use, tableware restrictions, and many other rules, restaurants in the county can open as of this moment. But the region’s wineries — which, according to local industry group Napa VIntners, generate $9.4 billion at the local level, and employ 44,000 people in Napa county alone — must remain closed to customers.

Officials in Napa tried their best to reopen wineries and tasting rooms, however. In a letter to Newsom sent Monday, Napa’s Board of Supervisors wrote that, even though they know that state officials have told counties not to attempt to move into Stage 3 — which would allow the reopening of “higher-risk workplaces” including non-food-serving nightclubs, bars, and wineries — they hoped an exception would be made for Napa.

“We strongly encourage and support the inclusion of Wineries and Tasting Rooms as businesses that the State deems eligible for reopening in Stage 2,” Napa’s BoS urged in the note, but that request was denied, and officials confirmed that — per a state order enacted on March 15 — bars, wineries, brewpubs, and other booze-only venues must remain shuttered throughout the state, unless they also offer sit-down dining.

That distinction might be what held up Sonoma county’s request to reopen, which so far has been denied. Napa’s wine country neighbor had also applied for Stage 2B reopening last week, but Sonoma county Supervisor James Gore tells ABC 7 that it was sent back, as “there were are a couple things that were on dispute. Like for instance we said we wanted to open tasting rooms but the Governor’s office came back and said, tasting rooms can open but only under the restaurant guidance which says alcohol can be serve with food.” According to Gore, the revised application has been sent back to Sacramento, with an answer expected this week.

That food-serving requirement for reopening might not last for too much longer, based on remarks Newsom made Monday. At a press briefing, Newsom said that the state’s Stage 3 of reopening, which would also allow the opening of hair salons, sporting events (without spectators), and small church gatherings could be “weeks, not months away,” if infection rates continue to remain stable across the state. As of May 18, the state had a total of 81,795 reported cases of COVID-19, 3,073 in the hospital, and 3,334 deaths.