In the coastal town of Northport, Long Island, is Del Vino Vineyards, one of the closest wineries east of New York City. Fred Giachetti opened the vineyard in 2018, along with his wife Lisa, whose family has been making wine in Italy for more than 100 years.
After the Giachettis purchased land in Northport with the intention of developing houses, they had a change of heart and decided to open a vineyard instead. However, since the pandemic, they’ve had to close down for a few months and change the way they run their business.
In March, Fred Giachetti made the decision to close Del Vino Vineyards right after St. Patrick’s Day. It reopened in late June, but with some noticeable changes. Giachetti implemented new protocols that he believes makes the vineyard run better and keeps employees and customers safe. And not only is the vineyard safe, but it’s doing well.
“We’ve restructured our business model to be reservation only, two and a half hours at the facility, where they can enjoy themselves and have an opportunity to be with friends and family and then they depart,” said Giachetti.
Del Vino operates at 50% capacity and follows strict safety measures between parties, including disinfecting tables, chairs, door handles, and anything else. Del Vino also no longer has a valet service, rather, customers park their own cars. Additionally, they sell bottles -to -go, so that customers can continue the party after their allotted time is up.
From the moment they arrive, regulars at Del Vino will notice the difference. All customers have their temperatures taken at reception and given hand sanitizer, before they’re seated at their tables where one menu is provided to prevent the spread of germs. The tables follow CDC guidelines and are more than 6 feet apart. Customers wear their masks until they get to their tables, and the waiters and hosts wear theirs all the time.
The rustic touches of the vineyard are still in place, like the fireplaces on the main floor. But taking strict safety measures has come at a cost. “The tasting room has been shuttered,” said Giachetti, who added that they kept it open for as long as possible, but eventually had to close it down. “There is no longer live music, and people can’t just sit at the bar and come up for a tasting. They have to have something to eat and sit,” he said.
Although Del Vino is not located in the what’s considered the “wine country” of Long Island, in the North and South Fork, where there are 90 vineyards, Giachetti said his vineyard is doing well because of its close proximity to New York City and the fact that customers can walk around the village of Northport either before or after their visit to Del Vino.
Del Vino is not the only vineyard that has been affected by the pandemic. The other wineries further east in Long Island have had to make adjustments to their tours and business hours, as well as safety protocols recommended by the CDC. Similarly to Del Vino, many wineries and vineyards canceled their events, limited their tastings, or shut down entirely at the start of the pandemic. However, by summer, most of them were up and running again, with outdoor seating available for customers on days with good weather.
According to Long Island Business News, online wine sales and wholesale business through liquors stores increased for vineyards, during the start of the pandemic, but in-person sales have taken a hit, since wineries had to close for a while.
Pindar Damianos is the owner of Pindar Vineyards in Peconic, Long Island. The vineyard, the largest family-owned winery in Long Island, just celebrated its 40th anniversary. It closed down its in-person hospitality in March, but kept its online store open, offering curbside pickup.
“Our distribution in wine shops is very strong because liquor stores and wine shops were essential businesses,” said Damianos. “We saw growth in the distribution of our wines and growth in the online and curbside pickup options.”
Several vineyards also saw city residents much sooner.
When the pandemic first hit New York City, more people moved into their summer homes in Long Island earlier than usual, fleeing urban congestion. According to Damianos, who lives on the North Fork, many “second homers” tend to arrive close to Memorial Day and leave around Labor Day. But he saw many of these people open their second houses as early as March, staying into the fall.
Theresa Vogel, a teacher from Long Island, visited Pindar Vineyard in early September. “I felt safe, we sat outside,” said Vogel. “When you went inside to order or buy wine, you weren’t allowed to stand around the bar like you normally would, you ordered and took your drinks outside.”
It’s too soon to determine what the winter months will bring business-wise, but Damianos is hopeful. “We are doing a lot of holiday packaging right now, so I think it will be a good December. But I don’t know how January and February will turn out,” he said.