Wine Talk with Alice Swift
A Walk Down Memory Lane During COVID-19
Here we are, another month has passed, and still going through a crisis we never thought was possible. The devastating COVID-19 virus has practically halted the hospitality and food & beverage industry since mid-March, and the unemployment rate has reached sky-high records. Just in March alone, Nevada saw over 200,000 unemployment files. In Hawaiʻi, where I reside, unemployment claims were 250,000+, with reports from mid-April showing more than 37% unemployment.With so many hotels, casinos, sporting arenas, entertainment venues/shows and restaurants all being forced to close, it’s hard to imagine how our hospitality will ever recover.
Interestingly, as I explore my social media feeds, I have been seeing many photos and posts centered on one common element: beverage. From scheduling a social “Zoom happy hour” session, to talking about needing to “stock up” on the beer, wine and spirits, it makes sense that people are needing a little vice to survive quarantining 24 hours a day.
Although many food and beverage establishments are not open for dine-in services, many businesses are starting to either expand or adapt their services and offerings to explore new ways to generate revenue. Some cities have been able to grant temporary permits to allow stores like Lee’s Liquor (from select Las Vegas, Mesquite and Reno locations) to accommodate home delivery of online orders.
Having had lots of time to reflect on the “good times” when we had the freedom to go out in public, and socialize with friends, I decided to look back to one of my first beverage-focused jobs in the F&B industry.
I was born and raised in Southern California in the city Walnut (towards inland L.A.). During the latter half of my high school years, I moved to Claremont, California, most well-known for its reputable Claremont Colleges. It wasn’t the typical “bustling” college town, as it was somewhat peaceful and kind of mellow. Businesses were closed very early and weekends were fairly quiet, with no semblance of social or nightlife. At that time, the “downtown” of Claremont referred to the Claremont Village, with various businesses and “mom and pop” food and beverage establishments.
Fun Fact! Did you know that the city of Claremont has a city ordinance that does not allow conventional drive-thrus, a.k.a. fast food restaurants? Directly across the borders to other neighboring cities like Pomona and Upland are where you will find most of your high traffic fast food chains, like McDonald’s, Jack In the Box, etc.
Across the main street (Indian Hill Blvd.) is the historic Claremont Packing House (CPH). This building was home to The College Heights Orange and Lemon Packing House (circa 1922), which after a long period of decline beginning in the 1970s, eventually closed and was renovated and re-opened in 2007, with a multipurpose space housing lofts, offices, galleries, boutiques, food and beverage, and entertainment venues. What I love about CPH is its experiential history and walk down memory lane of the different materials and structural components retained from the days as a citrus packing house, along with display exhibits.
Fast forwarding to 2007, after returning home to finish my schooling at Cal Poly Pomona, I was impressed to see that Claremont has picked up its social spirit and vibe over the years, including in the Packing House. Today, CPH boasts almost 100 occupants, with boutique shops, café/eateries, art galleries and many fun special events year round.
After discovering my passion for beverage education, I obtained a job working for Sal Medina and Ev Sauceda Medina, owners of Packing House Wines (then known as Packing House Wine Merchants), where I was able to learn so much about wine while working there.The wine shop has since expanded to a full kitchen to enhance the beverage experience with wine dinners and other special events. With hundreds of wines to explore, plus the many wines by the glass available, it was the perfect beverage classroom to study beverage and food service!
Packing House Wines recently celebrated its 13-year anniversary on April 8, and is still going strong. Due to the temporary setback of COVID-19, Packing House Wines decided to close their food service. However, during this stay-at-home period, Packing House Wines is still open for retail purchases and curbside pick-up. To help get everyone through this period, they are also offering free local delivery within 48 hours.
Next time you head to the Inland Empire, or on your next trip from Vegas to L.A. (or L.A. to Vegas), why not take a detour to Claremont for a history lesson paired with some amazing food and wine?
Visit the links below to learn more:
• Packing House Wines Website - packinghousewines.com/
• Claremont Packing HouseWebsite -
• Bonus: Watch the Claremont Packing House episode of visiting with Huell Howser - youtu.be/Fjj-bAOwYqU
Take care and stay healthy everyone! Until next month, Cheers~!