Covid-19 the ‘perfect storm’ for local wine industry

Visitors are being discouraged from coming to the Clare Valley, all cellar doors have closed and for the first time in 35 years, the Clare Gourmet Weekend has been cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clare Valley Wine & Grape Association general manager Lucy O’Brien said despite initial hopes that cellar doors could remain open for tastings, the situation had changed dramatically in the past week and anyone now caught operating for tastings faced fines of up to $75,000.

Ms O’Brien said online sales and takeaways were still permissible and encouraged the community to continue to support the local wine industry.

“All cellar doors have had to close for tastings.  We no longer are encouraging visitors to Clare Valley. We are however encouraging locals to support locals through online sales and takeaways etc,” she said.

“Initially the cellar doors thought they may be able to remain open but the clarification came from South Australian Wine Industry Association (SAWIA) last night (Monday).

“A direction made under the Emergency Management Act 2004 in regard to non essential business (and other gatherings) clearly covers general and hotel licences, on premise licences, club licences and production and sales licences (the majority of winery licence types).  It will also cover outdoor spaces associated with these venues where that outdoor space is licensed.

“Public access is prohibited. The direction requires these licensed premises to prohibit access to the members of the public and any member of the public is not to enter into the licensed premises.

“Wine sales can continue – on-line or postal sales. Beverages can be provided to be consumed away from the licensed premises.

“To avoid doubt, sales are okay for consumption away from the licensed premises but no tastings or gatherings within the licensed premises.

“Penalties for not following the direction is $75,000 for a body corporate and $20,000 for a natural person.”

Ms O’Brien said the initial cancellation of Gourmet Weekend had been a difficult one, but it was necessary to “ensure the health of attendees and our members”.

It was a decision that was to be ratified this week by the Government’s new regulations amid the pandemic crisis.

“The event attracts 7000 plus attendees over the weekend so it will have a huge impact on the wineries and related business,” Ms O’Brien said.

“One winery, for example, makes as much revenue in the two days (of Gourmet Weekend) as they do in three months.

“Knowing this is what made the decision very difficult, however there is no doubt that we have made the responsible call.

“The impact will extend to pubs, restaurants, accommodation, transport, main street traders etc so it was important to know we had RDA’s (Regional Development Australia) support with our decision.”

Ms O’Brien said at this stage the event had been cancelled, with the hope that some smaller events could be held later in the year.

Coming off the back of low-yielding vintages over the past few years, wineries will feel the impact of COVID-19 beyond the cancellation of Gourmet Weekend.

However, Ms O’Brien said local industry was a ‘resilient bunch’ and measures were being adopted site by site to help them through.

“The wineries are dealing with the effects of drought, low yielding vintage and now Coronavirus,” she said.

“You could say it is the perfect storm.

“COVID-19 of course affects the export market and visitation. Many of the wineries are certainly concerned about how long this will last.

“They are also concerned about the future of their employees. In the meantime, they are showing great resilience, they are being responsible and being adaptive by offering delivery, take-aways and online offers.

“It is important that the locals get behind all the wineries and local businesses and show their support.”