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Wineries adjust to state orders

FINGER LAKES--Wineries across the Finger Lakes are working with the Seneca Lake Wine Trail to get the attention of state officials about recent COVID-19 regulations impacting their business. The state has required food service to serve alcohol, however, a number of wineries were never set up for this type of business and had to change on short notice to stay open.
"We are all coming together to take as positive an approach as possible," said Brittany Gibson, executive director of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. "While yes, it is challenging to be lumped in with bars, the wineries have complied with every single executive order and... guidance that has been issued, no matter if it's really designed for their business model or aimed at restricting bar-type activities."
Connor Evans, general manager of Castel Grisch Winery in Watkins Glen, said he has been frustrated by the new regulations and has resorted to serving oyster crackers to customers as a result of the food mandate.
"We are lucky because all our license dictates is that we serve small food items, and aside from that it hasn't changed too much," Evans said. "We have been stocking other food items though like local cheese and meats, but the time to pack crackers into personal serving cups has been cost-prohibitive because of the time it takes to prepare them."
While understanding the new regulations for bars and restaurants, Evans said it was outrageous wineries were grouped with bars and such.
"I think (Gov. Andrew Cuomo) would be surprised by how well we have done with social distancing and sanitation and then he would realize that the new regulations make no difference other than having to spend more money on food and labor, nothing would change in terms of our ability to keep customers safe," Evans said.
While wineries are grateful to be allowed to have customers back inside for tastings and purchases, Gibson said the process of reopening has been an expensive one for wineries.
"It's important to point out that wineries have absorbed substantial expense to do so," Gibson said. "They have had to expand their seating capacity (as all tastings have to take place while seated now). This necessitated the purchase of stools, tables, and chairs. Wineries have also been required to bring in more staff to ensure they can offer outdoor table service, take orders with social distancing observed, and run wine and food to and from their customers."
Scott Osborn of Fox Run Vineyards in Penn Yan said he sees the new regulations not as a problem and more as something that can be adapted too.
"We have always had a cafe so it wasn't difficult for us to fall in line with the new regulations, but it has also forced us to rethink certain things and adapt in a way that might actually be beneficial for us in the future," Osborn said.
One of the things Osborn said he has been enjoying is looking for ways to feature locally produced food.
According to Gibson a big part of the problem has been how the new regulations have been communicated.
"I have seen so many recent articles and stories in local media that have totally misrepresented the guidelines for wineries, which has actually caused panic among wineries," Gibson stated. "There are nuances in liquor law, for example, on-premise for manufacturers vs. non-manufacturers and those who don't know where wineries fit in often misinterpret those nuances."
As it stands Gibson said wineries are doing an exemplary job falling in line with the new regulations, she just hopes Cuomo will listen to his constituents and alter the regulations as it pertains to wineries.

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