Updated: France and Spain Shut Down, Washington and California Wineries Close Tasting Rooms as Coronavirus Spreads

As COVID-19 cases exponentially increase in the U.S. and Western Europe, leaders impose rules on restaurants and bars in effort to decrease infection rates

Updated: France and Spain Shut Down, Washington and California Wineries Close Tasting Rooms as Coronavirus Spreads
The Eiffel Tower and all other French tourist attractions have been shuttered for now. (istockphotos)
Mar 16, 2020

Updated March 16, 4:15 p.m.

Across the United States and Western Europe this past weekend, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to grow, spurring leaders to impose new restrictions to attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Less than a week after Italy's government shut down almost all schools and businesses, asking citizens to self-quarantine, France and Spain followed suit.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, and state and local leaders took aggressive steps to prevent large gatherings that could spread the disease. On March 15, California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked restaurants to trim occupancy by 50 percent and requested that bars and winery tasting rooms and event spaces close their doors for now. Washington's governor followed suit shortly afterwards, announcing he would order restaurants, bars and entertainment and recreational facilities to close as well, including winery and brewery tasting rooms.

That was just one instance of a wave of city- and state-wide restaurant closings that began over the weekend, with businesses limited to takeout and delivery. (See more details below.)

As of March 16, there were more than 174,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, including 24,747 in Italy, 9,407 in Spain, 5,397 in France and 3,813 in the U.S. There have been 6,705 confirmed deaths.

France's government ordered most businesses to close March 14. Groceries, pharmacies and gas stations were exempted; restaurants and bars were not. Officials had asked people to stay indoors a few days earlier, but warm weather brought thousands to Paris parks on Saturday. "We are just at the beginning of this crisis," French President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation. "In spite of all our efforts to break it, this virus is continuing to propagate and to accelerate."

Bordeaux vintners had already been dealing with the cancellation of their annual en primeur tastings. Now the region is turning all visitors away. "Our family, who is proud to be ambassador of l'art de vivre à la française, is seriously impacted," said Florence Cathiard, co-owner of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte and several other wineries. "Hotel, restaurants and spa closed, [wine] boutique closed. Only the people in the vineyard and in the cellars are working."

The situation is similar in Spain. Just a few hours before France's lockdown went into effect, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez imposed tight movement restrictions on his 47 million citizens as part of a 15-day state of emergency. All schools, universities, restaurants, bars and hotels have been closed, along with non-essential stores. Spain now has the fifth-highest number of confirmed cases.

Flattening the curve

In the U.S., state leaders are imposing similar restrictions. Health experts are encouraging social distancing to protect people, slow the spread of the virus and reduce the stress on the health care system.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued an order closing all bars and restaurants in the state at 9 p.m. on March 15. In New York, Mayor de Blasio had originally encouraged restaurants and bars to limit occupancy by 50 percent, but changed course late on March 15 and ordered all to close, permitting only takeout and delivery from March 17. "Our lives are all changing in ways that were unimaginable just a week ago," he said in a statement. "We are taking a series of actions that we never would have taken otherwise in an effort to save the lives of loved ones and our neighbors."

That timeline was accelerated the next day as New York state coordinated with New Jersey and Connecticut to switch all restaurants to takeout and delivery only as of the evening of March 16. Likewise, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an order on Monday, asking all bars to close after that evening and for all restaurants to switch to takeout and delivery only. Governors in Massachusetts, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Maryland did the same.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered that restaurants close in four counties with multiple COVID-19 cases. Philadelphia quickly followed suit, and ordered all dine-in service suspended until March 27.

In Las Vegas, Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts both announced that they would close their casinos and hotels for at least two weeks starting March 17.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a proclamation on March 16 shutting down all bars, restaurants and "entertainment and recreational facilities." That includes winery and brewery tasting rooms. Restaurants will be able to offer delivery and takeout.

Newsom's announcement was not an order, but a request. He called on older Californians to stay home if possible, asked restaurants to cut occupancy in half and requested that bars, breweries, winery tasting rooms and winery event spaces close. As of Sunday night, some wineries had already begun notifying their customers of the closures while encouraging them to take advantage of their retail sales and wine club pickups.

While restaurants and wineries face uncertain times and lost business, several wine retailers have reported an uptick in sales as people self-quarantine and face the prospect of weeks with their kids out of school.

In Pennsylvania as elsewhere, consumers are stocking up on beverage alcohol. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) has been seeing dramatically increased sales volume—both at its stores and its web portal, FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com. “We had lines outside many of our stores yesterday morning when they opened, and we’re trying to keep up with a traffic flow that rivals or exceeds holiday shopping volumes, though we’re challenged to keep shelves stocked,” PLCB Chairman Tim Holden told Shanken News Daily, a sister publication of Wine Spectator.

On the negative side, the PLCB announced that by Tuesday it will close all 107 stores in the southeastern counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery, where the coronavirus has been reported. At press time, stores in all other counties were operating on normal schedules, the PLCB said, but added that it’s monitoring the situation. The PLCB plans to continue operating its e-commerce fulfillment center, and orders at FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com can be shipped directly both to home and business addresses in Pennsylvania. “Due to unusually high volume, however, order processing and deliveries are expected to be delayed,” Holden noted. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in online orders over the last few days, with the vast majority of online shoppers opting for delivery to homes and addresses, not stores.”

In New Orleans, where schools are closed and city officials have cancelled all festivals and imposed restricted hours on restaurants and bars, Mayor LaToya Cantrell made clear that wine is still for sale. "Let me tell you what we are not doing," Cantrell said during a joint press conference with Gov. Edwards. "We are not limiting the sale of alcohol. That was something that seems to have been misconstrued based on the declaration that was made yesterday."

—with reporting by Robert Camuto and Augustus Weed

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