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'Just happy to be able to get out' | Virginia wineries reopen with added safety measures

Hundreds flocked to the Potomac Point Winery in Stafford Saturday for reopening.

STAFFORD, Va. — With most of Virginia entering phase one of reopening this weekend, customers flocked to wineries that could seat them for the first time in months.

“We’ve been cooped up for too long," April Scott said. "It’s time to get out and enjoy this beautiful weather and what better way to do that than with our friends, wine, and our dogs.”

Scott and two of her friends brought their dogs from Arlington to enjoy an afternoon at Potomac Point Winery in Stafford. She said it was the closest one they could find.

Governor Ralph Northam ordered Northern Virginia to remain in Phase 0 of reopening for another two weeks, so Stafford County was the northernmost to begin to Phase 1 of reopening.

“We are getting so inundated, because we’re one of the only wineries, especially in Northern Virginia, we’re the most northern county that can open," Sales and Marketing Director Chelsea Sparaco said. "So, everyone’s flocking and everyone’s interested, and we’re so thankful that we have that interest.”

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The reopening drew in new customers like Scott and her friends looking to escape their apartment as well as long time members like Ken and Laura Deutsch, who made the trek from the Chesapeake Beach area.

“It was about the closest thing to previous normalcy as we can find, so it felt nice to have a destination to go to," Ken said.

This destination has, of course, changed a bit, due to the coronavirus pandemic--starting with no tastings. Sparaco said the Virginia Winery Association decided tasting was too close and personal to continue for the time being.

She said staff members are also wearing masks whenever they're serving or entering the building, and they're rearranging their spaces to make sure tables and chairs are six feet apart.

"We’re blessed that we have this big amazing space that people can be socially distanced, but for us, we have to manage that, so we went immediately to a reservations-only policy for now for us to be able to control that," Sparaco said.

She said they're requiring customers to make reservations online for a two-hour window. Then, they've scheduled an hour in between each reservation to clean and sanitize the space.

Sparaco said they booked about 150 tables Friday and close to 200 on Saturday. She said 300 amounts to about 50% capacity.

Customers noticed the precautions.

“I feel very comfortable," Laura said. "We got here very early, and they wouldn’t allow us to sit down, because they were still sanitizing the seats.”

The question on everyone's minds is: how long is it going to be this way?

“I feel like that’s going to be the new normal for a while, even if it’s not legally required," Sparaco said.

For now, customers are happy to take what they can get.

“I’m just happy to be able to get out and among people again," Laura said. "And hopefully things will slowly get back to normal. I’m kind of looking at this as a baby step.”

Sparaco said plans change weekly, so they're listening to the Governor's guidelines and adapting accordingly.

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