Editor’s note: This content was written before new COVID-19-related restrictions were enacted in Washington state. Check with individual wineries regarding their Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend plans.
Bundle up! Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend is just around the corner.
This annual event is held on the first weekend of December, Friday to Sunday. It’s a festive time when local wine lovers come out to get inspired by the holiday spirit, even donning ugly holiday sweaters.
Winemakers and tasting room staff pour new releases and especially pour their future releases right from the barrel. It’s also the time when wineries offer their guests a variety of entertainment spotlighting art, music, food trucks and other amenities.
However, 2020 brought some new twists and turns to the Walla Walla Valley’s wineries with Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy mandate, which was brought on to curb the novel coronavirus pandemic. The order that was enacted just before Spring Release Weekend in April.
Wineries got creative with virtual tastings and incentives with online deals and even curbside service and home delivery. And again, the wineries will show their creativity with a new type of hospitality during Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend.
As of October, the wineries in Washington are now following the state’s Safe Start plan for restaurants, taverns, wineries, distilleries and breweries. The plan specifies limited seating for indoor and outdoor, six feet social distancing, bar seating closed, and face masks are required upon entering except when eating or drinking. Wineries that do not serve food are not allowed to seat people indoors, in Phase 2 of the plan, which is where Walla Walla County sits as of writing this story.
Unlike other years, reservations are encouraged to guarantee seating. For more information check with the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance at wallawallawine.com or the individual wineries.
Regardless, winemakers were busy making plans for the festive weekend.
Annette Bergevin, a fifth-generation Walla Walla native, general manager and a founding partner established Bergevin Lane Winery in 2002. It was the fulfillment of a long-time dream that had started with her father. For 17 years they have hosted Holiday Barrel Weekend with barrel sampling, held their favorite holiday sing-a-long and celebrated the holiday season with cheer.
This season, Bergevin and her staff are excited to sample barrels and taste new releases at their new tasting room located at 70 N. Colville. Bergevin Lane will have a designated area for wine club members and will also welcome new guests as space is available.
“This year looks to be a bit more challenging,” Bergevin exclaimed.“We will still be full of cheer, however, we will be six feet apart, wearing masks when not seated, wiping down all surfaces with disinfectant and air hugging all of our guests and wine club members.”
Saviah Cellars was founded in 2000 by Richard and Anita Funk, both natives of Montana, who moved to Walla Walla in 1991. The winery, located on JB George Road, is the perfect destination when wanting to discover the countryside and the vineyards of the valley — no matter the season.
Like other wineries, Saviah Cellars are currently in Phase 2 which allows them to have a maximum of six persons per table and at 50% capacity. Tastings will be seated by reservation only.
“The winery will be decked out for the holidays and we will be pouring a beautiful flight of wines, along with a special barrel selection,” Anita Funk said.
“During the mandatory closure earlier this year, we remodeled our tasting room to expand our space to accommodate seating tastings rather than serving from a tasting bar, which is currently not allowed.”
With six generations of family history in the Valley, dating back to 1858, Kontos Cellars understands the unpredictability of travel conditions for tourists in December, therefore Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend has taken on more of a local flavor.
The Holiday Barrel Tasting is the last of Kontos Cellars’ three wine club release weekends. For members who wish to grab-and-go while avoiding the crowds, a pickup station will be available.
The tasting experience will be seated flight tastings concluding with a barrel sample only released to the wine club members. To eliminate the communal grazing table, each tasting will come with a box of provisions from neighboring catering businesses. Their goal is to create a festive weekend while still keeping safety measures. Tasting reservations, wearing face masks and having patience are the only things Kontos Cellars ask of their customers.
“This year, I see us embracing the holiday spirit a little more than normal,” said Chris Kontos, one of Kontos Cellars’ founding partners.
“Everyone is exhausted from the past year and we could all benefit from a bit of nostalgia, warmth, and friendship — and hugs, but that will have to wait.
“One thing we have found is it is difficult to plan too far ahead because public service during a pandemic is a moving target. While it has been a productive year of wine sales, we have missed the personal connection that means so much to us.
“It goes without saying. Some of that gets lost behind the mask, but we are all getting better at it.”
So make a list and check it twice: Make your reservations, dress for the weather and wear a holiday face mask to get you in the spirit. Not only will your face mask keep your friends and others around you safe, but it will also keep your nose warm!