Up to a third of Australian wineries in peril

Australian wineries have been hit by bushfires, extreme weather and coronavirus restrictions, all in quick succession.

Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash
Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

Australia could lose up to 780 of its wineries as a result of restaurants and wine tourism shutdowns, according to ABC News, Australia’s national broadcaster.

The ABC report quoted Tony Battaglene, chief executive of Australia Grape and Wine, as saying, “We’ve got 2,600 wineries at the moment and 30 per cent of that we could lose. “That’s anything up to 700 or 800 businesses.” He added that he was, “very worried”.

While wine production has continued as normal, as wine is considered an essential agricultural industry, cellar doors and other wine tourism activities were shut down in South Australia on 30 March, after a cluster of coronavirus cases were detected in the Barossa Valley.

However, the restrictions were relaxed this week, to allow wineries to sell wines to take away. It’s not, however, only South Australian wineries suffering, as tourism has collapsed across the country. 

The Australian wine industry is already reeling from the impact of the recent bushfires, which damaged the overall tourist industry. While most of Australia’s 60 wine regions were left untouched by the fires – less than 1% was burned – the ABC also reported this week that grape yields could be down by as much as 80% in some of South Australia’s top regions, which were variously affected by bushfires and extreme weather.

There are private initiatives going on to help out wineries, such as the Cellardoor Challenge, created by Junovate, which specialises in digital technology for the wine industry. The idea of the Challenge is to encourage wine lovers to digitally share the wines they’re drinking with friend; to participate, wine lovers post a video or photograph to social media, via the Cellardoor Challenge Facebook or Instagram page, and then challenge their friends to do the same.

The goal is to feature more than 500 Australian wineries and 1,000 ways within 180 days.

“It’s been heart-warming to watch the Cellardoor Challenge take off online,” said Emily Hay, marketing and communications officer of the Barossa Grape & Wine Association in a statement. “The wine community is truly embracing this opportunity to show their support to the people behind the wines.”

In theory, wineries can also apply for stimulus packages offered by the Australian government but Battaglene told the ABC that such initiatives won’t work for smaller winemakers. Worse, the effects will be felt throughout the production chain, if grape growers don’t receive payments.

One possibility is that small wineries could turn to selling directly, though Battaglene said the field is already crowded.

“I think there are going to be some dramatic changes that come out of this crisis,” he added.

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