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COVID-19 Temporary Guidance for Wineries, Breweries, and Distilleries in Unincorporated Sonoma County

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Temporary Guidance


The purpose of this guidance is to assist wineries, breweries, distilleries and similar businesses to safely reopen under the Sonoma County Health Order (C19-014, dated June 5, 2020, and any future amendments) (“County Health Order”) while complying with their land use permits and local land use regulations.

State and County Health Orders

Under Stage 2 of the State’s Roadmap and the County Health Order, brewpubs, breweries, bars, pubs, craft distilleries, and wineries may only operate if they offer sit-down, dine-in meals. Alcohol for on-site consumption can only be sold in the same transaction as a meal. Stand-alone tastings are not allowed. Entertainment events remain prohibited. Alcohol-only retail sales may only occur after the meal, and the County Health Officer still encourages establishments to provide retail sales by curbside pick-up, deliver, or shipping.

Use Permit Conditions

For conditional uses such as winery tasting rooms, the use permit conditions of approval dictate what uses are allowed, including whether and what types of food sales and service may occur. The example condition below and discussion here is for illustration purposes only, and does not modify what is allowed in any particular use permit.

Many use permits allow for samples and tastes of prepackaged non-potentially hazardous foods, such as crackers and nuts, in their tasting rooms. For some, this is the only food service allowed. For others, there are additional food service allowances. Food preparation and service of prepared meals (such as catering) are generally only allowed for agricultural promotional events and industry wide events. Food and wine pairings, if allowed, must be small appetizer-like portions with no menu service and are often limited by floor area, number of guests, number of seatings, and time of day. Retail food sales are often limited to pre-packaged local food for onsite consumption during tasting room hours. Use permit conditions require businesses to obtain appropriate food facility permits, unless exempted, as discussed more in the Food Facilities section below.

Example Condition (actual conditions vary)

A restaurant, café, delicatessen or any other food service offering cooked-to-order food is prohibited. Table service, retail sales of cooked or prepared food or menu items are prohibited in the tasting room. The following types of food service are allowed under this permit:

  1. Tasting Room: Samples or tastes of pre-packaged non-potentially hazardous foods, such as crackers, nuts or other palette cleansers, featuring local foods and food products offered in conjunction with wine tasting.
  2. Agricultural Promotional Event Meals: Prepared meals or appetizers featuring local foods and food products offered in conjunction with agricultural promotional events. [Onsite preparation may be allowed.]
  3. Food and Wine Pairing: Food and wine pairing may occur in accordance with the following:
    1. Food and wine pairings shall be selected by the winery with no menu options allowed.
    2. Such pairing shall be limited to small appetizer-like portions, are limited to no more than four days per week and no more than twice per day at specified times.
  4. Retail Sales: Retail sales of pre-packaged food not associated with the activities described in a) and b) are allowed in conjunction with wine tasting subject to the following limitations:
    1. Retail sales of pre-packaged food featuring local foods and food products shall be permitted only during tasting room hours as approved by this Use Permit.
    2. Retail sales of pre-packaged food available for on-site consumption only.
    3. No indoor seating area or table service is permitted in conjunction with retail sales of pre-packaged food. Outdoor seating areas are permitted for use as outdoor picnic areas.
    4. No off-site signs advertising retail sales of pre-packaged food is permitted.

Food Facilities

“‘Food facility’ means an operation that stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption at the retail level.” (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 113789(a).) A food facility does not include a winery tasting room if food sales only include crackers, pretzels, and prepackaged foods (less than 25 feet) that are not potentially hazardous. (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 113789(c)(5).) A winery tasting room is considered a food facility if it sells, for example, cheeses, meats, prepackaged salads and sandwiches, and other refrigerated goods. Wineries preparing or serving food as part of an agricultural event or a food and wine pairing are also considered food facilities. For any business to operate a food facility, it must obtain appropriate permits from Environmental Health of the Sonoma County Department of Health Services. For businesses that have food facility permits, permits may require modification if food offerings or practices change.

Operations Allowed Under Health Orders

The following activities qualify a business as a food facility and will be considered compliant with the County Health Order:

  1. Service of prepared meals and appetizers as part of an agricultural promotional event or industry wide event. Meals may be prepared onsite by the permittee, a hosted restaurant/vendor, or food truck, or be provided by a catering service.
  2. Food and wine pairings.
  3. Retail sales of pre-packaged foods only if potentially hazardous (perishable) foods are available for sale. Establishments are encouraged to sell pre-packaged foods in sufficient quantities to qualify as a meal, such as pre-packaged sandwiches, salads, or charcuterie plates.

Any of the activities listed above must comply with all applicable requirements, including the following:

  1. The business’s use permit conditions or legal non-conforming use allowance. This measure includes offerings featuring local foods and food products.
  2. Health code requirements.
  3. County Health Order.
  4. California Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Industry Guidance: Dine-In Restaurants: https://covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-dine-in-restaurants.pdf.
  5. Social Distancing and Hygiene Requirements, including completing, posting, and implementing Appendix A: Social Distancing Protocol.

Samples or tastes of pre-packaged non-potentially hazardous foods, such as crackers, nuts or other palette cleansers without any of the food service activities listed above does not comply with the County Health Order and businesses only offerings these food items cannot be open to the public at this time.

Timeline for Guidance

The administrative guidance contained in this document is in effect unless and until the Board of Supervisors directs that this guidance be revoked or issues a different interpretation of or guidance for any of the use permit conditions or terms discussed in this document.