Trish Masters and George Gittelson sipped a red blend called Tuttorosso at The Waterfront Vancouver’s newest tasting room, Brian Carter Cellars, which opened for the first time on Wednesday.
“It’s nice to get out of the house and walk along the riverfront,” Masters said.
The experience is what wineries in Vancouver have been waiting for. Most wineries are bouncing back from the pandemic’s stay-at-home order, and all wineries are open for tasting, but with a slightly different experience. Most are encouraging or requiring reservations under Phase 2.
Masters said she’s been to tastings at a handful of Vancouver’s wineries under Phase 2, including Maryhill Winery and Airfield Estates. Burnt Bridge Cellars and the joint tasting room from Pepper Bridge Winery & Amavi Cellars are also open.
“In some, you have to make an appointment,” Masters said. “In others, you just go right in.”
The Waterfront Vancouver’s newest tasting room, Brian Carter Cellars in the Rediviva Building, held a soft opening on Wednesday, and the winery will hold a grand opening sometime in the future.
Brian Carter, the owner of Woodinville-based Brian Carter Cellars, said he’s excited to open his second tasting room that was originally meant to be ready as soon as January. He recalled looking for a spot for a second tasting room last year, which led him to various cities around the state and also in Hood River, but The Waterfront Vancouver’s charm drew him in.
“I was excited from the minute I saw the place,” he said. “I think there’s incredible potential there.”
The new tasting room also has a small kitchen, or bistro, where it serves flatbreads, crab cakes, salads and tapenade from locally sourced ingredients. It’s a good pairing for the Brian Carter wines, which are all blends; Carter is known for his blending style, which won him Washington Magazine “Winemaker of the Year” twice.
Rick Montgomery, general manager at Brian Carter Cellars’ Vancouver tasting room, said that all the safety precautions are in place: servers wear masks, tables are spaced 6 feet apart and sanitizing is common.
“People are anxious to get back out and enjoy life together as long as we follow very clear guidelines and rules,” said Montgomery.
At Airfield Estates, Tracy Jones, hospitality and sales manager, said that the tasting process was changed to have the most minimal contact. Depending on the party size, and up to five people, a server pours the tastings into a carafe, which is delivered to the table. Members of the party then pour their tastings from the carafe into their own glasses.
“We are still coming up to the tables and talking about the wine while socially distancing,” she said.
Maryhill Winery also changed its tasting process to prevent people from standing at a counter, said tasting room manager Kaci Stovall. Instead, guests receive table service.
Stovall said Maryhill hasn’t yet brought back its full staff, and it won’t until Phase 4. But with a 50 percent seating capacity restriction, the tasting room is usually busy.
“We tend to have a three-hour waitlist every night, which is a good problem to have,” she said. “We ask that people only spend around two hours at a table.”
While tasting room managers are mostly optimistic, they all said they’re dealing with challenges with the COVID-19 restrictions.
“We’re just trying to get by,” Jones said.
One Vancouver tasting room and bistro, Koi Pond Cellars, permanently closed during the pandemic.
Wes and Michelle Parker, the owners of Koi Pond Cellars, said in a May news release that operating at a 50 percent capacity would not make financial sense. Koi Pond will not permanently close its winery; it will continue to sell wholesale wine to restaurants and stores, and the wine club will stay active with online orders too, according to the news release.