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Owners are wary about scheduling events, not knowing when customer limits could change.

COURTESY PHOTO: DION VINEYARD - While local wineries like Cornelius' Dion Vineyard are starting to see the return of wine tourism, it's still too difficult to plan long-term events as numbers of customers allowed inside are constantly changing.Westside winery owners are hoping that as the peak season kicks off, lower rates of COVID-19 and vaccinations will help ease restrictions on the numbers of Oregonians who want to visit and sip selections of their famed pinot noirs, Rieslings and chardonnays — and provide winemakers with a "normal" summer like 2019, when the Oregon wine industry added $7.2 billion to the state's economy, according to the Portland Business Journal.

But while local winery owners are pleased that Washington and Yamhill counties have not been forced back into the highly restrictive "extreme risk" category by the Oregon Health Authority, to curb the spread of COVID-19, many wineries have still had to postpone or cancel summer events. That's mainly due to being unable to guess what number of visitors the OHA will allow at any given date.

"In a normal year, we start out in January and February with 'date nights' on Friday," said R.J. Lint, owner and operator of Plum Hill Vineyards near Gaston.

That is traditionally followed by a Valentine's Day dinner, a Mother's Day brunch, a Father's Day pig roast, a Fourth of July watermelon event and more.

"All of these events have been canceled at this point because of COVID restrictions and the yo-yo rules on the number of people allowed indoors and outdoors," Lint wrote in an email about his vineyard, which was planted in 2003 and began operating in 2007.

Still, wineries around the area are still open but to much smaller groups.

"Nothing changes for us as we are already asking for reservations, cleaning, seating people outdoors and no larger than groups of 6," Beth Klingner of Dion Vineyard said last week. "We continue to clean everything constantly, keep good air flow going and keep groups from each other."

The Cornelius-area vineyard even hosted a small Mother's Day tasting over the weekend, which featured the winery's pink methode champenoise sparkling wines.

Sarah Horner, director of consumer experience at Montinore Estate south of Forest Grove, said the winery does not have plans for upcoming events because "we can't predict any future capacity limits."

Having said that, Horner said the business recently invested in a huge tent that covers a large section of the winery's lawn, making for comfortable service even in inclement weather along with tables that are socially distanced.

"We are hopeful that with increased vaccination rates, cases will go down and we can provide a summer experience that resembles life before COVID," said Horner. "But we have prepared enough to offer experiences regardless of any future restrictions."

Dion Vineyard's Klingner, who is also president of the Chehalem Mountains Winegrowers, said her organization is planning to move forward with its annual consumer event, "Magic in the Mountains," which was canceled last year due to the pandemic. At the event, set for July 31 in Newberg, Klingner said the winegrowers' group is expecting 20 wineries to bring two wines each.

Magic in the Mountains will be held at the Allison Inn and Spa, 2525 Alison Lane in Newberg.

And despite the downturn in vineyard patrons due to the pandemic, Klingner said she's optimistic for the future of the small winery and tasting room that opened in 2015, saying Oregonians have "done us well by supporting local businesses and wineries, and we really appreciate it.

"We are starting to see some tourism again as well — mostly friends and family visiting," Klingner added. "Going outside is a great way to enjoy time together. Bring a mask, get vaccinated and respect other people's comfort zones. It's all good."


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