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Sonoma’s Panel Wine Lounge to close

The Panel Wine Lounge on West Napa Street is closing its doors in January — but with any luck, the owners will be moving their wine shop operations into a new nearby storefront early next year.

Owner Darlene Rhodes described it as a tough decision but said that like “so many of our fellow small business owners, we have spent the last nine months trying to pivot and re-pivot in this ever-changing 2020 business climate.”

“It was impossible to overcome the serious challenges of unprecedented ever-changing state and county regulations—no matter how much hope and optimism we held in trying to weather the storm that resulted from COVID-19,” Rhodes said in an email to the Index-Tribune and in a subsequent social media post.

Darlene and Charlie Rhodes, together with daughter Zoe Colaso, purchased the business in 2018 and found early success, hitting their four-year business plan projection after just two years, said Darlene.

“Then the 10-ton truck fell out of the sky,” she said about the pandemic.

Darlene Rhodes expressed frustration that neighboring counties allowed similar businesses to serve indoors, while businesses in Sonoma were forced to remain closed or convert to outdoor service.

“We watched so many of our fellow businesses (including us) go to great lengths and expense to create outdoor spaces only to be shut down again and again,” she said. “With so many stops and starts it was almost impossible to continue to pivot.”

Rhodes said that after setting multiple financial trigger points, they decided change was inevitable. They would either sell the business, downsize, move to another state or walk away.

‘We watched so many of our fellow businesses (including us) go to great lengths and expense to create outdoor spaces only to be shut down again and again,’ ǀǀǀ Darlene Rhodes

In a stroke of much-needed good luck, the Rhodes discovered a "perfect“ vacant retail space immediately across the street from their 535 W. Napa St. location in the Valley Mart Shopping Center.

The family met with the Sonoma Planning Department, the state Alcohol Beverage Control bureau and the County of Sonoma and was given the green light to move forward.

The new iteration of The Panel will no longer offer a lounge but will focus on wines and champagnes bottle sales and the Panel Wine Club. Darlene expects their inventory to continue to focus on small-production bottles with new shop sections dedicated to organic and biodynamic wine, wine from local winemakers without tasting rooms, and an entire wall of wine from women in wine.

The Panel Wine Shop will open in the Valley Mart Shopping Center in Suite 522 (across Mamma Tanino’s and Vinny’s shoe repair) beginning in mid-January. panelwines.com

Contact Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

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