Our tasting room is still under construction but a portion of it became the backdrop for a photo session when our nephew and his fiance came for some engagement photography. Indoor shots featured the newly installed spiral case and Grandma Bernice’s famous basement booth. Outdoor shots were very snow-covered! After a little wine tasting, we snapped this – the first of many photos joining two families. For many years, we have prayed for the little boys and girls who would grow up and marry our nieces and nephews. It’s so nice when we can finally meet them!
For five Saturdays this summer, we were open for wine tasting and tried to establish a new normal in operations. This included my wearing of a face covering (as Brian demonstrates above) and gloves during the preparation of a disposable self-contained set of wine selection samples. Limiting our table seating to outdoors was already normal for us and adding a one-way traffic flow was easy enough. A few of these days had a heat index approaching 100, but we were happy to be open and provide an opportunity to distance in a social setting.
Then the governor’s plan to reopen in stages stalled out. Instead of proceeding to Stage 5 on July 4th, the governor inserted Stage 4.5 that held us at 50% capacity and then issued a mask mandate for all visitors of public places. His order was in response to an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations across Indiana. In more detail, the Indianapolis mayor retracted the opening of bars and nightclubs, restricting a few wineries in the process.
I am not being critical of the leadership. In fact, I appreciate their courage to make the hard decisions, but this left us in an awkward position.
Adjacent to Marion County, we could still operate…so that’s good. But we are just a few miles from Indianapolis – an area determined to be high risk…so that’s bad. After much consideration, we decided to take a step backward and again suspend our tastings and outdoor table service starting July 25th. Our current compromise includes party hosting under the new mask mandate plus a few other restrictions. Curbside pick-up continues on Saturdays for customers who call ahead. We feel having an appointment helps us guarantee a safe setting for an expected number of people. For now, this compromise is where your safety, our own comfort level, and the diminished demand for our services all meet. We look forward to better days!
On Saturday, June 20th we resumed wine service as Indiana moves into Stage 4 of the Governor’s re-opening plan. It’s been 100 days since we first sheltered-in-place back in March. Then we started the curbside pickup, but finally now guests can again order a glass or bottle of wine and enjoy it in our outdoor seating. Aside from the social distancing requirements it all feels nicely back to normal.
Our wine tasting, however, has undergone some changes. It was decided the interaction time needed to be reduced at the tasting bar. This speeds up the wait time for those distancing in line, and our individual packaging ensures the server is not coming in contact with used cups. So now until further notice, the “Pick 4 Sampler” is your wine tasting and sells for $5. You can make their selections from a list of 11 wines, receive your sampler and be on your way to the seating area. A one-way traffic pattern asks guests to circle back to original line for additional purchases. Yes, it’s a little awkward and it gets hot under those masks and gloves but this is our new normal. We hope you know that your safety is important to us and also hope you have confidence to get back out to the Indiana wineries and enjoy the rest of the season!
A robin laid her eggs just off the patio in the low boughs of a juniper tree. With our frequent trips to the vineyard this spring, she is likely regretting her decision. As much as we try to cut a wide path around, she almost always jumps off the nest with much squawking.
This little nest inspires us in many ways. Despite the virus lock-down, the elements of spring have continued full-steam ahead. Soon these baby birds will have to awaken to the world and face the challenges it holds.
Our Facebook page featured the photo above with the same caption. We needed to finalize our decisions on how to re-open the winery after two months of having no public hours. The end of April, the governor revealed that his plan would unfold in 5 phases. The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC) also advised the wineries that we fell in the 4th of the 5 phases as “Bars, Nightclubs…Tourism.” We were okay with that, but there were still some decisions to be made.
The release for phase 4 is June 14th and then at 50% capacity. Focusing on Saturday hours still, that puts our first possible day to serve wine on June 20th. That’s a long time from now. So we are sensing it is prudent to institute the curbside delivery used by other wineries during the stay-at-home order. May 16th will be our first day to operate in this fashion. I was hoping that the robin’s nest would again serve as our graphics for the announcement, but the week has gone on with no change. Resorting to some bad photo enhancement, the following image accompanied today’s posted schedule for curbside pickup, outdoor tasting, and finally party hosting.
It’s April 25th, the 44th day of the “Stay-At-Home” Order, and thankfully we are still healthy. So are all of our extended family members. In fact, we have only heard of one person we know that has had the virus and they contracted it in another state. But we are NOT in any hurry to turn things loose! The winery remains closed for public hours as we await the governor’s word expected in a few days. The curves for the state and the nation still seem to be climbing straight up.
Do not harm the oil or the wine
With no other complications, our challenges remain all about the food. I’m actually starting to enjoy doing some baking with a goal of always having a sweet treat available and some form of bread. Many things we were “saving” for some future purpose are now fair game; this includes soda mixers, cheese trays and crackers from the winery inventory. It’s been fun to open some bottles of wine from other sources put aside for a “special occasion.”
There is much to learn about what works and what doesn’t work and we will be more prepared next time, heaven forbid there is a next time. In our “emergency” supplies, the canned goods have proven sufficient, and other dry staples have stored well. The biggest spoiler was oil. Both olive and canola oil in storage have turned rancid making some cooking and baking difficult without it.
We have tried ordering online for shipment with only partial satisfaction. One order was missing an item. Another order of 4 items was delivered in 3 separate boxes. This was guilt-producing on our end, feeling like the delivery services are already hard-pressed. Exploring the Order/Curbside Pickup scenario, we were disappointed as earlier expressed. We have made only one venture into the grocery store during the quarantine so far, but plan a trip next week.
A land flowing with milk and…eggs
By observation, it seems the more processed a product is, the longer it takes for inventory to recover. Stores seem to have plenty of fresh farm products like milk, eggs, butter, meat and poultry. They may need folks to buy these things to keep things flowing. Paper goods tend to be a problem still as well as sanitizing products. Fresh fruit and vegetables have been avoided and I’m not sure why. It may be their openness to touching and squeezing that bothers me. Ice cream is also off the table since the package is difficult to sanitize or change, it can’t be “timed-out” at room temperature, and we’ve heard the virus is not killed in the freezer. It’s also observed that everyone has a different comfort level and people draw their lines in different places. I’m thankful for the freedom to have various opinions.
With the “Stay-At-Home” Order it would seem we have a little extra time. Actually we have more than enough to do both indoors and outdoors, but I have allowed myself to finally indulge in some things which were pushed aside. These things seemed less urgent but are still important, like reformatting our Vineyard Journal archives to the new WordPress website, organizing tax file drawers, and creating a vision board for the business.
Vision boards are a Millennial remake of those cut-and-glued posters we made back in school. I had no shortage of magazine clippings collected over the years. They were kept in folders labeled, Decor, Displays, Merchandising, etc. – all for the purpose of inspiration. A basement wall was previously poised with rigid foam and black flannel as a quilt photo background. I thought creating the board would be a project Brian and I could enjoy together but I was wrong. He did find one picture of a fire pit before losing interest. (I believe he shares the vision, but he’s not going to sit in the basement and cut out pictures.)
Remnants of my quilt life remain in the mix mostly because I could not bear to take them off the wall. One little quilt represents the vineyard surrounded by corn and beans and the other the night sky; I found they blended well with other elements of our TASTE, GATHER, EXPERIENCE theme. Many of these things have become a reality such as the vineyard, butterfly garden, fire pits, shade sails and new tractors. Others lie on the horizon as we begin work on finishing the interior of our winery building. We look forward to having merchandising space and party hosting indoors. Things like logo glasses are also nearing reality.
The board may have felt a somewhat juvenile effort at times, but I can say it has truly renewed my vision. I remember now the purpose of the soaring ceiling and its cathedral impact. Amidst the pressure of vine-tending I’m reminded of perennial flowers needing planted and experimenting with wine mixer recipes. Most importantly, the smiling faces of happy strangers make me look forward to meeting the wonderful assortment of folks still headed our way.
Raiding the refrigerator
Fortunate to be able to work at home, we were also fortunate to not be sick, neither did we urgently need any emergency items like prescription refills or cleaning supplies. Also being blessed with electricity and clean water made this crisis an easy but unique challenge. Our main concern hunkering down was using the food we had in an efficient manner. The fresh fruits and vegetables needed to be eaten first so I created meals that used up the last of those things. A solitary Granny Smith apple added zing to chicken salad. A little lettuce and an open bag of chips become a southwest plate. Finally the tomatoes and the last half of a cucumber blend with staple goods of pasta and canned ham. I can’t explain why I took photos of these things but here they are.
What’s hiding in the cupboard?
Trying to avoid running out to the grocery, it was fun to see what I could find in the back of the cabinets. One pleasant surprise was an assortment of morsels purchased in December for a cake decorating project but never used. These things are still going far to perk up some ordinary recipes. Stale marshmallows worked just fine in a crispy rice treat featuring three kinds of breakfast cereal. The stock of canned goods, pasta, rice, pancake mix, and instant oatmeal are holding out just fine.
Digging a little deeper
The longer this goes on, the more stubborn I am about going to the store. We have placed a very small shipment order from a restaurant supply; this was mostly about buying baby food for an ailing cat, although we added peanuts and iced tea bags as luxury items. Getting more creative, I discover still more items willing to help our at-home menu. A fancy wedge of wine-soaked cheese was a guilt purchase from a store sampler, and given that we are not fancy cheese people, this dry wedge was ripening further in our refrigerator. Turns out it is fabulous when shredded over pizza or pasta. Fresh wild chives add a spark to mashed potatoes and egg salad. Handfuls of take-out packets spike up canned tomato sauce for burritos. Even a shocking expiration date on a gelatin package did not stop me from making a nice dessert with some canned pears.
Shopping in Zombieland
Finally at 22 days in, today (April 3rd) we made a real trip to the grocery. We had placed an online order several days earlier for curbside pickup today. Of the 7 items on our list, we received only 5. No breakfast cereal and no coffee…but there was milk. Actually if there had been no milk, I would have accepted that but having milk and no cereal was just wrong. We broke down and entered the store armed with masks and gloves. Once inside we splurged a little and purchased chips, pop and frozen pizza. Arriving home we stripped some items of their outer “contaminated” packages and set others off to “time out” in 3 days. Then we promptly stripped our own packaging, threw our clothes in the washer and took showers. Feeling a little freaked out.
Yesterday was a warm day with temps in the 60s. We were able to work a good long time in the vineyard with a couple of breaks. The forecasted storm traveled a path farther north than expected and an unusual bank of clouds captured our attention. What must have been a space between two systems resulted in a light band running coincidentally horizontal from our perspective. Given the current circumstances of corona virus shut downs, the message was clear. Flatten the curve.
On March 12th, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the novel corona virus a worldwide pandemic. We had been hearing the news for many weeks now, but this declaration felt like a turning point. The upcoming weekends then would have Indianapolis as host for several basketball tournaments with spectators coming here from all around the world. It is not unusual at all for these type of events to bring visitors to our winery, just 20 minutes north of the city. On the evening of the declaration, we knew we had to make a decision. We certainly did not want to worsen the problem. One last trip to the grocery would shore up our normal emergency supplies with some fresh milk, eggs and bread. The “french toast kit” we call it, often what people buy just before the snowstorm. Oh, and cat food too.
The next day we posted on our Google page and outgoing voice mail the fact that our public hours would be temporarily and voluntarily “suspended” until things settle down. We were fearful of using the word “closed” because of possible misunderstandings and rumors that we were out of business. It felt very against the grain at the time. We kept an appointment the next day with our accountant who had our taxes ready for filing. The winery, as an LLC, is required to file a report by March 15th and that deadline was never extended. We are grateful to Penni who graciously received us as we signed the necessary forms for her to file online. No trip to the post office.
By the next day, all of the basketball tournaments in Indianapolis had been cancelled. This was a great relief and validated our personal decision. A few days later, restaurants and bars were requested to stop indoor seated service. Then it became mandatory. Then came the threat of license removal if businesses continued to serve indoor patrons. Currently, the governor has a “stay home order” in place for all who do not have jobs considered essential services. Many restaurants have restructured into drive-thru only, delivery service, or curbside pick-up.
The Indiana wine industry, voiced by the Indiana Winery and Vineyard Association, has instructed its members to close tasting rooms and pursue curbside pick-up. Those who have Direct Shipper permits can utilize that revenue stream, but we do not have that permit. Home delivery is not something any winery would be permitted to do. Although we could do curbside pick-up, we feel that would encourage more travel in general than is essential. A lack of wine is not an emergency, in my opinion. In fact, if a person would drink in response to extreme anxiety this could trigger (in my opinion) the brain’s association of alcohol with stressful situations and develop a future bad habit. (Again, this is not medical advice, just my opinion.) So until things improve (or get much much worse) we are committed to staying closed to the public. We, on the other hand, have lots of work to do. The whole vineyard needs pruned this time of year, so that works out. And we have a building permit now to begin construction on the interior of the winery structure. Lots of work to do.
So this is life on Day 14 and I’m a little wordy today for not talking to folks in so long. We apologize to the bachelorette party bus that we had to cancel. A big thanks to the guy who was working at Lowe’s at 7:01 am when we needed a new sump pump. And thanks to the staff at the Indiana State Laboratory who handled our quarterly water sample for required testing. We truly appreciate all of you who have stayed home or continued to carefully work an essential task for the hopes of flattening the curve. We look forward to seeing you all on the other side of this thing!
…but I prefer to read from top to bottom. More specifically, I prefer to start at the beginning of the story and not the end. Therefore my brain has rejected the concept of blogging and its end-at-the-top format. But it is 2019 and my old-fashioned preferences are in the cyber minority. Today I venture into WordPress to redesign what I considered perfectly good html pages into something they call mobile-friendly. Again another battle lost. Maybe I can learn how to salvage 7 years of online journaling designed the old-fashioned way and make them part of the new site. But for now I just need to get a homepage up!