The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt businesses around the globe.

And a local business owner says poor communication with small business owners and the public by state and local governments has exasperated an already trying situation.

“With all the challenges that 2020 has thrown at Bruzzi Vineyard, we have pivoted, strategized, and toiled to stay open serving the community and visitors from around the globe,” said James Bruzzi, owner of the family-owned and operated winery in Young. “Strategy and grit can only go so far when there are literal barricades blocking guests from visits.”

Poor signage during the current closure of Tonto National Forest has added to the vineyard’s financial hardship and tested the remote vineyard’s owner.

“The pandemic has coincided with a number of closures that have impacted the usual flow of outdoor enthusiasts in the area,” Bruzzi said. “Forest Road 512, also known as the Young Road, was shut down with a very intimidating sign: Road Closed, Stop No Entry, All Activities Prohibited. And other statements on the barricade turned guests around who had already driven most of the way to the vineyard. Local, state and federal authorities have had a communications breakdown by not informing residents of the actual function of the closures.”

He said the sign has created confusion as visitors to the vineyard can still use the road.

Bruzzi Vineyard was the last wine tasting room open in the western U.S., he said.

“This was a unique challenge of independent research while following government’s guidelines,” he said.

Bruzzi said the vineyard instituted safety and sanitation protocols even before the announcement of formal guidelines.

When Gov. Doug Ducey shut down bars in March and prohibited indoor dining in restaurants, Bruzzi committed to keep his staff working.

“Although the future was uncertain, keeping the staff employed was non-negotiable,” he said. “We pivoted to a takeout only menu and began offering wine sales with complimentary contact-free deliveries, anywhere in the state. Even though this model added expense and considerably more labor, the move made it possible to keep the team working and keep the business afloat. Delivery also made it possible for Arizona residents to enjoy their favorite wines without leaving the safety of their homes.”

When restaurants could reopen their dining areas with limited capacity, Bruzzi took a conservative approach.

“We invested in property modifications to keep people distant, only allowed limited patio seating, served all guests with disposable dishware, and turned away large groups,” Bruzzi said. “While this decision had a sizable impact on profits, it was the right decision to keep everyone healthy.”

Bruzzi pointed to several examples of poor communication from authorities.

“As Arizona became the fastest growing state for COVID-19, the second shutdown began restricting all bars,” Bruzzi said. “This was another example of the communication issues coming from state and local authorities. Is a vineyard a bar, restaurant, or farm?

“Unclear expectations and governmental orders created an environment where Bruzzi Vineyard had to do independent research to be sure they are following the law.”

As if COVID-19 and the restrictions that came with it weren’t enough, the business took another hit because of last month’s Bush Fire.

“The smoke from the fire was so intense that it would blot out the legendary sunsets of Young,” Bruzzi said. “This fire coincided with the Bruzzi Vineyard Summer Solstice event.”

They’d planned to seat guests outside to keep guests safe and physically distant, but the smoke created an additional hazard, so the vineyard team modified their indoor tasting room to keep the guests distant and safe from the smoke outside.

“Keeping the event going provided the Bruzzi Vineyard guests a much-needed physiological reprieve from the stresses of the spring months,” Bruzzi said.

Some people across the country have complained and even reacted violently to requirements to wear face coverings. And the vineyard has seen its share of customers unhappy with the rule.

“Several guests have taken to social media complaining about Bruzzi Vineyard’s adherence to the mask guidelines, limiting the number of guests, and the use of disposable dishware,” Bruzzi said. “Others have elected to stage their protest on the staff.

Bruzzi Vineyard remains open. It’s located at 47209 N. Hwy. 288 in Young. For more information, call 928-462-3314, visit bruzzivineyard.com or their Facebook page.

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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