Local wineries question new Phase 1.5 rules as health officials tell them to close again

YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima County wineries and breweries are questioning new rules by local health officials after they were allowed to reopen last week, then told days later to close again.

The county transitioned July 3 into Phase 1.5 of the governor’s Safe Start plan which — among other things — allows restaurants to open for outdoor seating only, under the stipulation that customers eat only with members of their household and use proper social distancing.

The Yakima Health District published a news release Tuesday clarifying that the county is not in the same Phase 1.5 other counties have gone through, but a more specific “Roadmap to Recovery.”

While wineries and breweries were allowed to open in Phase 1.5 in other counties, health officials said the roadmap for Yakima County specifically excludes them from opening until a later phase.

However, local wineries previously were approved to reopen after submitting their applications to the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce, including Paradisos del Sol Winery and Organic Vineyard in Zillah.

“We had no problem being shut down for a while; that’s what we needed to do,” owner Paul Vandenberg said. “Like many businesses here in Yakima County, we are absolutely struggling to survive.”

Vandenberg said he doesn’t understand why they were approved and allowed to reopen, just to be told days later that they needed to close again.

“We’re trying to seek clarity,” Vandenberg said. “We’re trying to find a rational, science-based approach to doing this.”

According to health district officials, tap houses, breweries and wineries are not allowed to operate unless they provide full meals to their customers. Restaurants are allowed to be open for outdoor seating with proper social distancing.

Vandenberg said he doesn’t understand why it’s okay for people to go to a restaurant, order an alcoholic beverage and stay for a length of time, but it’s not okay for people to do a brief wine tasting to figure out what wine they want to purchase.

“They’re not going to buy it if they don’t have the opportunity to taste it,” Vandenberg said. “That’s what wine is all about.”

Vandenberg said his and other local wineries are suffering financially and need to reopen if they intend to keep in business.

“Like most small businesses, we are slowly bleeding to death,” Vandenberg said. “Being open isn’t going to make us profitable, by any means, but it’s going to be pressure applied to the bleeding to slow it down.”

Vandenberg said he hopes state and local officials will provide more information and clarity as to how the decision was made and what it means for businesses like his going forward.

“We’re going to have to figure these things out because this isn’t going away next month, it’s not going away this year,” Vandenberg said. “We’re going to be dealing with this for a long time.”

The Yakima Health District said the change came after it, “received further clarification after discussions with the Washington State Department of Health on what is currently allowed to be open during Modified Phase 1.”

However, in a statement provided to KAPP-KVEW state health officials said, “The only guidance that was recently released by the state relates to bar top service. This did not specify wineries and breweries, however counties can choose to be more restrictive if they would like.”

KAPP-KVEW reached out to the Yakima Health District on Tuesday for clarification on this issue, but did not receive a response.