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Cheers! Lodi tourism, wineries poised for comeback after COVID closures

The CDC is lifting travel restrictions for those fully vaccinated, but San Joaquin County remains in the COVID purple tier

LODI, Calif. — For the first time since March of 2020, Gabe and Debi Hererra have ventured out from their home in Stockton.

"So this is exciting. It's a beautiful day. it's right before Easter," said Debi Hererra.

Fully vaccinated, the pair stopped at Intercoastal Winery in Lodi off North Highway 88 for wine tasting.

It just so happens the pair was also on the Grand Princess cruise ship, the first ship at the epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak. 

Today, they enjoy a much different time.

"Enjoying the day, which [we] haven't been able to do for quite a while," said Gabe Hererra.

For winery owner, Rachele Spaletta, a boon in tourism can't come soon enough. Her family closed on their brick-and-mortar winery last April. So far, they are surviving with 13 varieties of wine, an online business and tasting outdoors.

They farm 500 acres of vineyards. Their winery was just awarded a Gold Medal from the 2021 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for their Petite Sirah.

Spaletta hopes that will draw in more tourists.

"We're hopeful. We're staying positive and encouraging people to come out. We're super busy on the weekends where everybody is enjoying this outdoor space," said Spaletta.

In 2018, Lodi tourism had nearly one million visitors who spent a total of $211 million.

No numbers are available for the losses during the pandemic, but Lodi is poised for a comeback.

"Our wineries and our hotels and our restaurants have done a phenomenal job of being open in a way that allows travel safely. And, we have seen increases in travel," said CEO & President Nancy Beckman of Visit Lodi! Conference & Visitors Bureau.

But of course, what continues to hold up tourism here are the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and being stuck in the purple tier.

COVID-19 cases have been on an uptick.

"Our case rate is still a little bit higher than any of us want, but out testing positivity and our health equity positivity rates are really into the orange tier. So that's what's helping us move. We're hoping that our case rate comes down enough," said Tiffany Heyer of San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services.

For now, it's all outdoors, but Lodi's 85 area wineries hope soon tourists will be toasting indoors, too.

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