California loosens restrictions on wineries, breweries and distilleries

The weekend marks a long awaited change for wineries, breweries, and distilleries. New California Dept. of Public Health regulations allow those establishments to reopen – and they don’t have to serve food to do so.

"Every decision what to open and what not to open and how to proceed down that path towards a quote – normal society – is very much a risk reward balance," said Dr. Mark Schwartz, a San Jose State University biotechnologist.

Under the new guidelines, the establishments eligible to reopen must have customers make reservations, and those customers cannot stay more than 90 minutes.

"At least we get to operate this way. Otherwise we’d be out of business," said Tony Stauffer, who works in the tasting room of the Adobe Road Winery in Petaluma, CA.

At some businesses, owners and experts say economic activity has dropped almost to the breaking point.

"Employment opportunities for restaurant workers and bar workers are one of the hardest hit parts of our economy. Over 51-percent lost in employment opportunities," said Jay Cheng, a public policy director at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

The relaxing of state health department restrictions, effective March 13, does not extend to bars, or their customers, who’ve been enduring the shutdown since last year. Industry experts says there’s a reason wineries, breweries and distilleries can be open, and serve alcohol. But bars must remain closed.

"Wineries and breweries, like restaurants, they can socially distance people," said Dr. Jan Jones, hospitality & tourism management program coordinator at the University of New Haven. "I think a bar is that, it’s just that natural inclination for people to gather in big groups and be close to each other." Added Dr. Marcelle Dougan, a San Jose State University assistant professor in the Dept. of Public Health & Recreation, "the closer you are, the closer it is for the droplets from speaking and talking to get to you."

Health officials say the Coronavirus can spread more easily and quickly when people are closer together.

For now, it’s a small victory for one group, while another waits and hopes for some type of relief heading into Spring and Summer.