Wineries, breweries told to shut back down in Yakima County

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — After being allowed to open last week for limited outdoor seating, Yakima County wineries and breweries are now being told to shut back down.

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.

Several wineries and breweries applied to open up under that rule, submitted their business pledge and application to the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce, and were given the go-ahead to reopen.

“Last week, they all filed their pledge and their safety plan and they were accepted to be open for business,” said Barbara Glover, Executive Director of Wine Yakima Valley.

Glover said area wineries saw an uptick in sales and were excited to see their customers again, but the excitement was short-lived; over the weekend, they received a notice from the Yakima Health District telling them to close back down.

The notice said that wineries and breweries did not fall into the “restaurant” category of the plan and that, “any establishment primarily for drinking
alcohol, such as wine tasting rooms and breweries that do not serve meals, are not permitted to provide on-site service at this time.”

Glover said the quick change has been difficult for wineries that reopened last week.

“You’re told you can open for business and then you get a letter that says you can’t,” Glover said. “That was an incredible amount of staff time and money to go through to have somebody come back 4 or 5 days later and say, ‘Well, yeah, no, you need to be closed.'”

Yakima Health District spokesperson Lillian Bravo said the health district was notified by the state Department of Health that, “they wanted to further clarify that outdoor seating in restaurants does not apply to wineries or brewery settings where there is not already dining options available.”

“There is well-documented increased risk of COVID-19 transmission in establishments primarily providing alcoholic beverages, and at this time these businesses are not permitted to operate in Yakima County,” the notice said.

Bravo said this was not a decision made locally, but one that came directly from state health officials and applies to Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties.*

However, when KAPP-KVEW reached out to clarify the issue with state Department of Health representatives, they said the Safe Start plan does not exclude wineries and breweries from opening in Phase 1.5, providing reporters with the following statement:

“The Safe Start plan does not distinguish between breweries, wineries, and restaurants/taverns. If they serve beverages and/or food they can be open but must follow the restaurant/tavern guidelines and occupancy restrictions. A jurisdiction can choose to be more restrictive, however they cannot have their bar top seating open, regardless of phase. I would recommend reaching out to the Yakima Health District as they may have more specific guidance for their jurisdiction.”

KAPP-KVEW has reached out to health officials again for further clarification.

Wine industry officials said the change in policy for Yakima County — and potentially Benton and Franklin counties — is inconsistent with the state’s previous Phase 1.5 requirements for other counties.

“Every single county that has opened has moved breweries and wineries along with restaurants,” said Josh McDonald, Executive Director of the Washington Wine Institute. “What it’s doing is picking winners and losers, right? It’s saying, ‘Restaurants, you get to open. But wineries? You do not.'”

The Washington Wine Institute and other groups representing wineries and breweries are asking state and local officials to clarify what the change means for local businesses.

*KAPP-KVEW reached out to the Benton Franklin Health District for clarification on whether wineries and breweries would be allowed to stay open under Phase 1.5. An update will be made when that information is available.