COVID-19: Winemakers, distillers kept the drinks flowing during virus lockdowns

SURVIVOR: Stone Pine Distillery owner Ian Glen feared his business wouldn't survive the coronavirus lockdowns. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK
SURVIVOR: Stone Pine Distillery owner Ian Glen feared his business wouldn't survive the coronavirus lockdowns. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

WHEN bars, restaurants and cellar doors were slammed shut during coronavirus lockdowns, ingenuity helped winemakers and distillers to survive.

Prior to COVID-19, talking face-to-face with customers at farmers markets and cellar doors had been vital in getting their products sold.

Stone Pine Distillery owner Ian Glen feared his business wouldn't survive the lockdowns.

"I thought the business was doomed, were were about 90 per cent down on the previous April ... I was certainly worried that it was all going to be over after 13 years," the Bathurst man said.

Thankfully people adjusted.

His customers may not have been able to buy his gins, vodkas and rums in person from their favourite bar, restaurant, farmers market or cellar door in Orange so they went online.

"People are actively looking for it because they can't get it from their local bar," Mr Glen said.

"Since tourism's opened back up in the Central West our cellar door has had unprecedented demand.

"We've never seen this kind of demand, not even at Christmas."

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bell River Estate were not set up for online purchases.

GOING ONLINE: Bell River Estate was not set up for online purchase prior to COIVD-19, but owner Sandra Banks quickly changed that. Photo: SUPPLIED

GOING ONLINE: Bell River Estate was not set up for online purchase prior to COIVD-19, but owner Sandra Banks quickly changed that. Photo: SUPPLIED

The husband and wife team of Sandra and Mick Banks specialise in fortified wines (port) and until then had sold at their cellar door and farmers markets in Bathurst, Orange, Tarana, Well, Cowra, Dubbo and Millthorpe.

"We've never advertised, it's always been word of mouth, but because a lot of the markets closed we decided to go online," Mrs Banks said.

"We got an order the fist day which was great, I nearly fell over."

While not wanting to divulge just how low sales became during the "worst two weeks of COVID", Ms Banks said takings were just three per cent of the same period time last year.

However, things are slowly picking back up and the cellar door, located an hour from Dubbo, Mudgee and Orange, has remained open to customers.

Orange Region Vignerons' Association vice president Justin Jarrett said many winemakers were forced to go online in order to survive.

NEW MARKETS: Orange Region Vignerons' Association vice president Justin Jarrett said winemakers have doubled their online sales. Photo: CARLA FREEDMAN

NEW MARKETS: Orange Region Vignerons' Association vice president Justin Jarrett said winemakers have doubled their online sales. Photo: CARLA FREEDMAN

Prior to coronavirus, only 5-6 per cent of wine form Orange was sold online, but these days that's jumped to 10-12 per cent.

"There's been a really strong support from Sydney and Canberra," Mr Jarrett said.

Mr Jarrett, who also owns See Saw Wines, said while lockdowns in April and May were very difficult, things have improved.

"Sales went down 60 per cent for See Saw, but since then we have seen a fantastic recovery. We're almost back at 90 per cent," he said.

We're worried about the health risk. Opening and closing on a constant basis will not only crush the spirit but the confidence of people.

Orange Region Vignerons' Association vice president Justin Jarrett

"Overall cellar door trade has certainly recovered and it's doing very well."

However, with increasing virus cases in NSW and Victoria, these producers admit they are worried.

"We're worried about the health risk. Opening and closing on a constant basis will not only crush the spirit but the confidence of people," he said.

"I spoke to one winery who said they're going to take a year off."

Mr Glen while the Central West may only have one virus case, "you can see from Victoria it doesn't take much to get out of control".

"We deliver Australia wide and Melbourne is our biggest market ... we're just lucky that the local trade has balanced that out," he said.

Mr Jarrett said Orange winemakers appreciated all the support they've had as businesses have struggled through the downturn.

"The way we get through this is to care for the community on all levels," he said.

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This story Top tipples and good reputations keep wine makers, distillers going first appeared on Lithgow Mercury.