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By Angela Kurysh


February 24, 2021 (Ramona) -- Virtual happy hours are among the innovations that wineries like Vineyard Grant James have rolled out during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely impacted the Ramona wine region in San Diego’s East County. 

With San Diego being in the state’s tier 1, or purple tier, businesses are currently being allowed to slowly re-open while following strict guidelines. Currently, wineries that serve food are allowed to offer outdoor tastings with social distancing, as well as takeout or curbside pickup, but not indoor service.


Susanne Sapier, owner of Vineyard Grant James in Ramona, California, and President of the Ramona Valley Vineyard Association, said, “I mean, you're open you're closed, you're open you're closed, so that's a really hard way to run a business.” 


Early in the pandemic, restaurants were allowed to operate while wineries were shut down which makes owners like Sapier question fairness of the rules. Now both can be open outdoors, but many restaurants are serving customers illegally indoors.  Sapier has been forced to choose to fully open to make a profit and risk the reputation of the business or follow the mandate and suffer financially. 


“At this point, there are a lot of things open. There are a lot of restaurants and people in defiance so it's not equitable,” Sapier said. “Oftentimes doing the right thing is harder and it takes longer.” But she adds, “We want to be known as doing the right thing. We were closed when we were supposed to close. We didn't fight it in any way. We followed protocol.” 


Shipping and deliveries have increased and as soon as the county has given the green light, Sapier has opened right away. “My husband and I are literally tethered to this place because now we've got a store open seven days a week.” 


The pandemic has harshly affected Vineyard Grant James and the entire winery community because they are considered a luxury business as well as a vacation destination. “It’s definitely impacted tourism and hospitality,” Sapier said. “No wine tours, so we've got a shuttle company that's part of our Ramona Valley Vineyard Association…they took a 98% hit because nobody is going to the airport and booking wine tours.” 


To stay afloat, Sapier has struggled to find ways to attract business while operating safely and by the book. She created a virtual happy hour where she hosts a zoom meeting. The Ramona Valley Vineyard Association has been able to maintain some business by coming up with innovative ideas like Sapier, spreading the word beyond their community.

Luckily, according to Sapier, all the wineries within the Ramona region have managed to pull through and are very excited to open up indoor tasting rooms and tours as soon as the county allows it. Vineyard Grant James is happy to announce they have re-opened their outdoor tasting room and will have live music within the next week.


Sapier wrapped up our talk by explaining the importance of the small business community in Ramona and how spreading the word for all these businesses is what keeps them alive. “Small business is a big fabric and it's a big part of the identity of the town. There are 45 wineries out here and a lot of good people doing a lot of good work.” 


Sapier is grateful that among the many businesses that have had to permanently close during the pandemic, Vineyard Grant James has not been one of them. Her mindset throughout this rollercoaster of a journey has been to have hope. “I think people right now … are hanging on to hope, but you’ve got to hope for something and hope that there’s a glimmer.” 


For more information about the services/products offered at Vineyard Grant James, visit their website at https://www.vineyardgrantjames.com/


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