Checking in with some of the Piedmont’s wineries, breweries, and distilleries as they climb out of Covid
Story by Jennifer Waldera | photos by Camden Littleton and Jody Carbone
While many businesses have suffered immensely during the pandemic, certainly the hospitality industry has been hit hard. From restaurants and hotels to wineries, breweries, and distilleries, there are a multitude of establishments that have felt the pain of the pandemic. Yet, still, entrepreneurs and business owners have persevered through the pandemic and found creative ways to pursue their passion and entice locals and travelers while keeping workers and visitors alike safe and healthy.
In and around the Piedmont, wineries, breweries, and distilleries have been working hard to reinstate or recreate their events while finding creative solutions to ensure safe environments conducive to social distancing as well as adherence to recommendations and guidelines. We’ve rounded up a few of the local spots to sip with events, activities, and music this spring and summer, and talked to some of the owners about their approach to creating safe spaces to visit.
At Stable Craft Brewing in Waynesboro, owner Craig Nargi immediately began to make changes at the very beginning of the pandemic, using the time during the government-mandated lockdown to craft company policies and structural changes to accommodate new needs.
“First, we grouped together on our company policies and how we would divide up our staff to remain safe, and put in place protocols for daily monitoring of individual health. We installed a touchless temperature reader and blood oxygen monitor and recorded the data. We found these procedures allowed us to take the next steps to operate”, Nargi says.
In addition to policies that would help to protect staff, new protocols were developed for guests for safety as well as to enhance the experience at the brewery and its restaurant.
“We are adding more covered outdoor seating areas, we built a covered heated stage on the back of a 1952 Diamond T Truck. We added an outdoor cooking area. We also added additional fire pits and outdoor heaters. The winter months are in our fourth year with Igloos offering more seating time slots.
“We also designed one way foot traffic to our bars, require masks of all patrons regardless, installed plexiglass at our bars, provide automatic hand sanitizer dispensers, and we have also opened an outdoor bar. We separate our kitchen staff and food runner staff from our bartending staff on each shift by dedicating teams to prevent cross over.”
All of these changes have allowed Stable Craft to not only remain in operation as a destination for beer, cider, wine, and food, but also to begin to offer events again, including an oyster roast, events for Earth Day and 4/20, and ongoing Friday and Saturday night events featuring live music. Additionally, Stable Craft’s overnight suites remain operational with Covid cleaning protocols in place as well as a new reservation system that promotes contactless check-in.
“We’ve not only endured, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and how to best improve our facility to be a friendly, relaxing safe place to visit,” says Nargi.
In Crozet, Pro Re Nata Brewery also moved into high gear to make modifications necessary to provide a safe space for workers and guests alike.
“We have pivoted during this time in our best efforts to provide a place where our customers can spread out, relax and feel normal; and musicians can get back to work. Coming out of this pandemic successfully required that we encourage and make possible outdoor opportunities for those looking for a just a great place to visit, to experience live music again or to celebrate life’s milestones,” says General Manager, and part owner, Gena Greer.
“We have enlarged our outdoor seating options throughout the summer and fall and that continues into spring. In the last month, we have built an outdoor stage and restyled our Farmacy Lawn space. The beer, cider and wine are on tap in three different locations and Hops Kitchen is on-site 6 days a week with two different food truck options: Hops Kitchen and Za Spot Pizza,” she continues.
The brewery is also working with local event company Justin B Productions on a Thursday night concert series beginning April 22. Additionally, they are in the process of landscaping a new beer garden with hopes of completion by mid-April.
Devils Backbone, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Nelson County, reopened with a number of COVID-19-safe protocols, as well. Now, the venue that houses the brewery, restaurant, and distillery is eager to return to providing opportunities to enjoy live music.
“Devils Backbone is uniquely positioned to safely host an outdoor concert series during this time when live music has been sorely missed. Last year, we utilized our wide-open, 90-acre property in Nelson County to safely host our first ever Walk-In Concert, implementing COVID-19 protocols and using our 10+ years of experience producing festivals to deliver a safe and exciting experience for fans. Like last year’s event, every detail of our 2021 spring concert series has been evaluated and adjusted through the lens of safety and guest experience. We’re pumped to welcome guests back to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains for more beer, live music, and a one-of-a-kind concert experience unique to fans and guests of Devils Backbone,” says COO Hayes Humphreys.
The concert series, running from May through July features bands including Mt. Joy, Galactic, Mood Taxi with Josie Dunne, Big Something, Too Many Zooz, Twiddle, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and more to be announced.
Additionally, those who have frequented Devils Backbone that loved the ambience of the outdoor fire pit with rings of chairs will appreciate the ability to reserve their own fire pit pods in a nod to social distancing.
In Charlottesville, North American Sake Brewery has been following the recommended protocols as well, but was also fortunate to be able to substantially increase their outdoor seating options.
“COVID-19 has been a difficult time for all breweries and restaurants. We are very fortunate to have been able to expand our patio in the IX Art Park which gives us lots of open-air seating in a beautiful setting located near downtown. We pretty much moved most of our operations outdoors, but we also offer spaced indoor seating as well,” says head brewer Andrew Centofante.
The sake brewery introduced individual heated tents and a fire pit for guests to enjoy the space comfortably in the winter, but going into spring the brewery intends to take advantage of that outdoor seating as well as the popularity of their “now famous” Sake Slushies introduced last summer. Visiting North American Sake Brewery is an experience all on its own, offering the unique ability to try and learn about award winning sake in the heart of Virginia.
“We worked really hard to maintain a safe and most importantly fun environment and we plan to keep rocking out on the patio all summer long,” Centofante says.
Not far from Charlottesville, in Earlysville, Chisholm Vineyards is, like others, upping its live music game, but substantially so, by partnering with Festy, the annual music event known for featuring emerging artists and bands spanning the genres of rock, blues, bluegrass, indie, reggae, and folk.
Festy boasts that last year’s 14 shows returned no COVID-19 reports and they have even expanded this year to include shows in Charleston and Asheville. With contactless food and drink service, along with tickets sold in two-, four-, and six-person sized “boxes” with buffer zones, the event at Chisholm promises to be a festival style event in a safe environment.