Spring has arrived in idyllic Napa Valley. The buds emerging from dormant vines signal the beginning of a new vintage. The scene looks normal, except that vineyard workers are careful to stay 6 feet apart. Despite the global pandemic of Covid-19, there will still be grapes for this year’s cabernets.

That’s the good news.

But the novel coronavirus is having a huge impact on this tourism mecca, with wineries to restaurants to hotels suffering. The glitzy Auction Napa Valley, held annually since 1981, has been canceled for the first time.

“It’s the cloud of unknowing. I’m not even sure that I’ll have all the supplies needed for bottling in four months,” says winemaker Philippe Langner, owner of Hesperian winery on Atlas Peak. In 2017, Langner lost his house in the wine country fire.

The big worry is how the region’s almost 500 wineries will cope financially. Most depend heavily on visitors—3.9 million in 2018—to stop by their tasting rooms, snap up bottles, and join their wine clubs. California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered tasting rooms closed on March 20, though the wineries themselves are classified as essential businesses.

“Normally on a spring day, we’re bustling with guests. But now it’s a ghost town,” says Diana Hawkins, owner of Pope Valley Winery.

Many vintners have discovered that their insurance for business interruptions, meant to replace lost income to cover operating expenses, has a fine print clause that specifically excludes damage due to viruses and infections.

The spill out for wine lovers: good deals and rare wines directly from the source and, even better, the chance to support the wineries you love and forge a more personal connection with them.

“People still want to drink,” says Rob McMillan, senior vice president of Silicon Valley Bank’s wine division, “but now online sales and social media are critical for Napa wineries. Most don’t have a lot of cash, only enough for 90 to 120 days.”

He points out that Napa vintners sell about 30% of their wines through tasting rooms and 20% to restaurants, but those channels have dried up.

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