A Glass Half-full | COVID-19 and the Wine Industry
by Joanna Fox
For many people in the wine industry—who depend on a global market, international distribution, travel, tourism, restaurants, and of course, farming, to survive—COVID-19 put their businesses on hold and created a series of obstacles they could have never imagined. But instead of seeing it as a wine glass half empty, this handful of producers saw it as half-full, adapted and persevered.
We spoke with Joan Kautz of Kautz Family Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills of California, Bill Holloran of Holloran Vineyard Wines in Dundee, Oregon, and Andrés Bastida of Familia Bastida in Spain and, about their experiences over the past few months.
Kautz Family Vineyards
For Joan Kautz, production continued, but sales also went down. “We have two wineries, so it affected us differently. Our production winery is considered an ‘essential business’, so operations continued as normal—somewhat. Our employees had the option to work from home or continue at the winery, with extra safety measures throughout, but our Ironstone Winery had to close as it’s all about hospitality.”
Kautz says that despite continuing to make wine, COVID still had a drastic impact on the business. “We were off to having an incredible year. The last few months have seen a big decline in shipments, especially to markets that focus on restaurants. We are starting to see shipments improve, but it will take a long time to get back to normal. All we can do is be supportive to our distributors, as they are our partners. I am optimistic in the long term because of our incredible relationships, but it will take some time”.
Thankfully for the wine industry, confinement meant still trying to enjoy the small pleasures in life, including purchasing and consuming wine. Kautz’s online wine sales reflected this and increased quite a bit—a silver lining for the Family Vineyards.
As Covid swept through Europe, it drastically affected Andrés Bastida, whose family has been making wines throughout Spain since the 1870s. “In terms of health, no one from the winery or close family members were affected, which was the most important thing” says Bastida. “But in terms of work operations, national sales dropped 90-percent. In the short term, sales were largely paralyzed, and in the long term, for now, hospitality is still very slow.”
Spain was particularly hard hit early on, so to cope with the new realities, Bastida had to re-think the company’s strategy. “We had to reinvent ourselves by strengthening our online store and supporting our clients’ e-commerce with events like online tastings.” As Spain reopens and the industry learns how to cope, Bastida is hopeful. “Little by little, life is returning to the ‘new normal’, restaurants are gradually buying wine and online sales have gained weight” he explains.
Holloran Vineyard Wines
For Bill Holloran in Dundee, Oregon, his winery was able to continue daily production operations with social distancing safety measures and outdoor work, but their tasting room had to close for several months. “We sold quite a bit of wine to-go, and shipping to consumers direct via FedEx” says Holloran. “Personally, I just kept focused on what we could do (don’t stress on things you can’t control!), and did the best we could. Make lemonade when the lemons arrive.”
Bastida is also staying optimistic. “The philosophy of our winery is always positive. We believe that we must reinvent ourselves and adapt to the new ways of life, and now, more than ever, we must enjoy family. What better way than with a glass of wine?” Our sentiments exactly.
Joanna Fox is a Montreal-based food, wine and culture writer and editor who contributes to various magazines and newspapers across the country. She’s currently working on her own cookbook with Appetite Random House, to be released in 2021.