Winemakers' plea to buy direct amid COVID-19

OPEN: Michael Unwin says many cellar doors, like his in Lucas, were open for takeaway trade but few people realised this amid nationwide lockdowns. Picture: Lachlan Bence
OPEN: Michael Unwin says many cellar doors, like his in Lucas, were open for takeaway trade but few people realised this amid nationwide lockdowns. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Victorian winemakers want to reassure they are surviving a tough growing season that has stretched into coronavirus restrictions on their livelihood.

Grampians' winemakers say the best way you can help them is to think local and buy direct.

Easter is usually a big sales time for Blue Pyrenees Estate in Avoca, particularly for wine club members.

Blue Pyrenees chief executive officer Andrew Koerner said stop in tourism, coupled with pubs and restaurants closing their doors, had been a hard blow - and was likely to have hurt the Pyrenees' smaller wineries more. His team's focus was on what they could do.

The Italian-made cross-flow filtration equipment arrived at Blue Pyrenees just in time for harvest, allowing greater recovery and improved quality recovery in processing.

They have tested this against their old filtration and Mr Koerner was confident was they did have from their small crop was far superior.

"We're really looking forward to getting back to normal and having visitors again," Mr Keorner said. "A big part of any winery is enjoyment in life and sharing that enjoyment with others."

A big part of any winery is enjoyment in life and sharing that enjoyment with others.

Andrew Koerner, Blue Pyrenees Estate

Wine Victoria chairman and Mount Langi Ghiran viticulturist Damian Sheehan said the impacts on this year's harvest - no matter how good - would not likely be felt until some of these wines were released next year.

In the meantime, there was a lot of wine to sell in the region without being able to rely on the usual major sales channels.

Mr Sheehan said cellar doors have always been able to operate a takeaway model, without tastings. After a cluster-like COVID-19 outbreak in South Australia's Barossa Valley, many wineries in Victoria opted to shut their doors in what was the middle of the vintage .

Now harvest was complete, Mr Sheehan said many wineries were re-opening their cellar doors but in regional Victoria travel restrictions amid the pandemic were forcing wineries to try every online platform they could.

"Grampians winemakers are looking into what they can do and establish a platform together," Mr Sheehan said. "It's not necessary they have to do it alone."

It's not necessary they have to do it alone.

Damian Sheehan, Mount Langi Ghiran

Michael Unwin's Lucas base means it is in the proximity for Ballarat residents to call in to the cellar door as part of their shopping during isolation - just not many people seemed to realise they were open.

Mr Unwin said it was a little frustrating to try and juggle normal hours, seven days a week, with few customers.

Fellow Ballarat and District Vignerons Association members Nintingbool, in Smythes Creek, and St Anne's in Myrniong are also offering takeaway and deliveries.

"We understand people are doing the right thing and staying home, but they can come in and buy their wine," Mr Unwin said. "Some people are trying to call up and order but not realising they can actually go in and look."

We understand people are doing the right thing and staying home, but they can come in and buy their wine.

Michael Unwin

Mr Unwin said it was hard for the industry to predict what might happen to exports in the fall-out from the pandemic, or how much Australians might be prepared to pay for a bottle of wine.

"I've been around a long time and know in the GFC (2008 Global Financial Crisis) we still did well when people stayed at home," Mr Unwin said. "Australian might take a break from international travel but they still go out and travel with friends and family and eat and drink - it's part of the culture."

Mitchell Harris Wines has dropped prices on its product in a bid to keep up turnover and keep part-time staff employed. The business quickly pivoted to a takeaway food model.

John Harris said this year's small harvest had a silver lining with less fruit bills and processing costs. While there was still a "mountain of bills" to pay, Mr Harris said there were plenty of hospitality owners doing it far tougher in Ballarat.

When this is over, and it will be over, Ballarat can be a destination for food and booze but we want places to still be there.

John Harris, Mitchell Harris

Mr Harris urged people who had loved Ballarat's vibrant, growing foodie scene to get online and support small business because this was important now more than ever. He said such business was the fabric of the community and we would miss them if they were gone.

"We're seeing good success in what the community has created, all part of the wonderful support for what we're all doing," Mr Harris said. "We're going okay but it's not easy hanging in there.

"You can help by buying a box of veggies from a farmer who can no longer sell to restaurants, grab a takeaway coffee from our small little cafes.

"When this is over, and it will be over, Ballarat can be a destination for food and booze but we want places to still be there. We built a culture in Ballarat and don't want that to be lost."

This story Winemakers doing it tough say you can help first appeared on The Courier.