Two Wilsons, two approaches to handling coronavirus outbreak

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Danae Wegner
Peltzer Winery’s Danae Wegner holds up a bottle of wine while surrounded with disinfectant products at the winery recently. Most wineries in Temecula Wine Country are open to bottle sales and wine club pickups. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

While most wineries in Temecula Wine Country have stayed open to a limited degree since California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a hard closure of bars and wineries in the state, some others closed immediately.

Wilson Creek Winery was one of those wineries until Friday, March 27.

“We just want her to see how it would go today cause this is the first day that we’ve been open for a week plus now,” Bill Wilson, CEO of Wilson Creek, said. “We did a hard shutdown unlike everybody else that kind of stayed open with bottle purchases and drive up. We are trying drive-up, and we’ll see what happens.”

On Friday, Wilson Creek had a stand set up in the circle area of the parking lot with staff handling transactions.

“The people that have come in are just awesome; they’re just so happy and being very gracious,” Bill Wilson said. “Some are wearing masks; some are not. They’re all keeping their social distance from each other and they get to talking with each other. It’s fun to see.”

With the hard shutdown at Wilson Creek, it meant that of the 252 people that were employed at the beginning of March, only about one-third were still on the payroll. Two weeks ago, employees were offered the opportunity to take home six bottles of wine to quarantine with. Last week, employees were trickling back into the facility as needed. Others worked from home.

Hart Family Winery sign
Signs tell visitors to Hart Family Winery the schedule for wine pickups and sales. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

“The hardest thing I did was to completely shut it down so that nobody was in harm’s way so to speak, because nobody knew what the heck was going on 10 days ago,” Bill Wilson said. “Now we have a little bit more control. We got some things in place, some protocols in place, so we decided to try this drive up now for the last couple of days.”

Still, it’s difficult for Bill Wilson to walk around the winery that is usually bustling with patrons and activity.

“You could tear my heart out, throw it on the ground and stomp on it and it would feel better,” he said. “This is just breaking my heart and what breaks my heart is seeing the beautiful grounds and flowers in the spring and everything’s coming back to life and not one person to enjoy it other than me.

“It feels like the ‘Twilight Zone’ is what it really feels like. We’re going through an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone,’” Bill Wilson said.

Peltzer Winery’s Danae Wegner was sitting by herself recently waiting on wine club members to swing by and pick up their shipment and sell bottles to anyone who came for a visit.

Peltzer is another winery that normally would be extremely busy on a late Friday afternoon heading into the weekend. Even so, another unrelated wine country Wilson, Fred Wilson said Peltzer is doing its best to hang in during a tough time, but also said they were on solid ground.

“We are going to take advantage of the stimulus package to give our employees full pay because they are on a furlough right now and being servers, most of their income is tips,” Fred Wilson said. “Our goal is to sign up for that and bring all of the servers back. We still have a skeleton crew of about 14 that run everything because we do a lot of weddings and we’re trying to keep the brides calm and be able to postpone, move around and make sure it’s all good.”

Fred Wilson, along with owners Carrie and Charlie Peltzer, was fortunate to put a plan in place to set aside some cash for a rainy day, which has arrived.

“If we kept spending, spending, spending and you get caught with your shorts down, what is our recourse?” he said. “I kind of think we had ourselves in maybe a little better position.”

Fred Wilson said they are learning some things during this period.

“One thing that we have noticed as good for us is we implemented our delivery service and that actually saves us money,” Fred Wilson said. “Local customers that maybe can’t get to the winery and want their wine club delivered. It’s a little cheaper than sending UPS. We’re offering that free just to kind of try to stay alive.

“Our overhead is cut by a bunch right now so we’re offering bigger discounts. We started the virtual tasting, a quick Q&A yesterday. We are going to have a virtual tasting on (April 8) and we used that Q&A to see how we’re going to run it, but it’s trying to stay creative.

“I would say the only thing that we should continue to do is stay creative,” he said.

He said he thinks the handling of the situation has been appropriate by the government.

“I study economics, so if they didn’t do something we were going to leap frog a recession right into a depression,” Fred Wilson said. “I think it’s a good plan. With the best plan sometimes end up having flaws here and there. But I think if they can keep things normal it probably will be an easier turn on once we get a green light to start business again.”

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.