A palpable sense of relief has descended upon northern California wine country. On Wednesday 7 April the counties of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino all moved out of the ‘Red: substantial risk’ tier and into the ‘Orange: moderate risk’ tier after their daily rates of reported new COVID-19 infections fell below six per every 100,000 people, and their rates of positive test cases fell below 5%.

Practically speaking, this means that winery tasting rooms and wine country restaurants can reopen, allowing customers inside at a limited capacity, and that wine tasting can now legally resume without an accompanying meal (a requirement that was among the stranger impositions of California’s COVID-19 protocols). Wineries can now operate normally at 25% of their standard capacity up to a maximum of 100 guests, while restaurants can operate at 50% capacity for indoor dining. 

Many factors have contributed to the reduction in virus transmission in these counties, but among them one must certainly count the concerted efforts that the wine industry itself has made to have a large portion of its workers vaccinated.

These efforts were aided, early on, by California’s decision to classify wineries and other agricultural enterprises as essential businesses. This meant that employees working in the cellar and the vineyards were classified as essential workers alongside healthcare, grocery store, transportation, first responders, and several other occupations. By virtue of this designation, all winery employees were eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it became available.

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