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'Your heart kind of sinks' | Growing Lodi wine industry dealing with closures due to coronavirus pandemic

There are 85 wineries in the Lodi region. According to Visit Lodi, the latest numbers show in 2018, there were 990,000 visitors spending $211 million.

LODI, Calif. — At Oak Farm Vineyards in Lodi, the signature wines are still on display, but the crowds who flocked here are gone.

Oak Farm grows 14 varieties of wine on 70 acres. The tasting room and property attracts on average 400 to 500 visitors a weekend. But there are no more visitors for now, and the local wine industry is bracing for the unknown.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced that all wineries should close amid the coronavirus pandemic, which could mean a big blow to Lodi's up-and-coming wine tourism.

"Your heart kind of sinks, but at the same time you, also understand the whole flattening of the curve thing," said Dan Panella, co-owner of Oak Farm Vineyards.

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There are 85 wineries in the Lodi wine growing region.

The volume? According to Visit Lodi, the latest numbers show in 2018, there were 990,000 visitors spending $211 million.

"My immediate response is we need to get the word out to our community," said Stuart Spencer, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission upon hearing of Newsom's call for all wineries in California to close their doors to the public. "It makes me concerned for all the people that work in our industry and all those that rely upon it to put food on our table and how are they going to continue to do that."

High volume popular wineries like Michael David Winery on Highway 12 already had a closed sign on its front door. But Stama Winery in Lodi remained open for tastings.

Meanwhile, Oak Farm Vineyards will remain open for wine purchases, but not for pouring.

One silver lining is the winery are seeing an increase in wine sales on line, Panella said. Oak Farm has 22 employees, including 16 full-time, so the increase in sales helps.

To help keep his workers with an income, Panella vows to continue paying his salaried workers their full pay for two weeks. He says hourly workers will also get paid for the next couple of weeks — 30 hours of work per week.

"We're going to watch everything closely and heeding whatever warnings and all that kind of stuff, but we're just hoping to get back on our feet hopefully in April," said Panella.

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Kurt Rivera.

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