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English Wineries Rise to the Challenge of Lock-Down

Since lock-down began the world and its businesses have seen wholesale change, and have had to adapt to the new “Coronavirus Normal”. Here at South Downs Cellars our On-Trade business dried up overnight, only to be replaced by exceptional demand for deliveries, and as we closed the doors to our shops the business transitioned online, creating a range of new challenges for us to face as a team. Whilst we continue to evolve in this ever-changing environment, with Click and Collect and service at the door, we are not the only aspect of the Drinks Industry facing these demanding times. For English Wine Week we thought it would be a great idea to see how our winemakers are meeting the challenges of Covid-19 and what are they doing to ensure their businesses succeed.

 

One of the biggest issues that our wineries have faced is the reduction in sales to pubs and restaurants. Tamara Roberts explained that at Ridgeview they had found ‘sales to the Hospitality sector stopped with the closure of this sector’ and although ‘Sales to the off-trade have been maintained and our direct (and) online sales have increased... overall we expect to see a drop in sales this year.’ The Hospitality sector is an important part of the market for sparkling wine sales, which have seen a drop off during the pandemic.   This is particularly problematic for sparkling wine specialists such as Ridgeview. Still wine specialists have noticed the same issue with Stopham Vineyard’s Simon Woodhead reporting that although they have had a significant reduction in trade sales, this has been ‘somewhat mitigated by improved direct sales’. If English wineries can maintain this new market of increased direct sales once their old ones return, this could prove to be a boon in the long run.

 

Another issue facing UK wineries is the reduction in tourism receipts. With tourism having the potential to be up to half of a winery’s income, the collapse of the tourism trade has been felt across the sector. Mark Driver at Rathfinny noted that ‘The main effect of the pandemic has been on our Tasting Room restaurant and Flint Barns accommodation, which sadly remain closed until further notice.’ Albourne Estate has recently had a new tasting room built that was due to be opened last month but the lock-down has meant it still awaits its grand opening whilst Ridgeview have had to cancel their events relating to their 25th Anniversary later this year. There is, however, hope that as the economy opens up, the UK’s vineyards will be able to welcome back visitors. Both Rathfinny and Albourne are planning to welcome picnickers to their grounds, and tours in the vineyards, where social distancing is easy, will also return even if visitors may not be able to go into the winery buildings and cellars.

 

As with many other sectors, the pandemic has resulted in staff being furloughed, especially in winery hospitality and tourism businesses but also in the vineyard and winery teams. Alison Nightingale at Albourne Estate pointed out that her daughters have had to become more involved in the family business. They have been called in to help in the vineyard, label bottles and aid in developing their social media presence, even if Alison has had to cajole them along at times. It would seem that it is not only her family who are getting involved. ‘I get calls from friends who are parents begging me to take their teenagers on to work in the vineyard’ says Alison. ‘They are stuck at home and need something to keep them busy, so they come and do some jobs in the vineyard and get out from under their parents’ feet for a while.’ Who knows - maybe some of these helpers will be inspired go on to become leading lights in our wine trade.

 

With tasting rooms being shut, the industry has looked to innovate with virtual tastings. We are becoming used to socialising via video, meeting using WhatsApp, Facebook and Zoom. These spaces are now being used by wineries so that they can talk directly to their customers and guide them through their wines, so whilst you may not be able to go inside the winery buildings you can still taste the wine with the winemaker and have a shared experience. These have the potential to reach anyone in the country or even internationally. Earlier this month South Downs Cellars joined forces with Hollick in Australia to host our first virtual tasting, and are hoping to expand our offerings with events being planned with English producers, as well as our first in-house virtual tasting taking place on Friday 26th June.  Despite all the challenges that this pandemic has thrown at the UK wine industry, they are finding innovative solutions that will hopefully change their businesses for the better and, with all our support, will continue to thrive and make great wine.

Enjoy our range of over 90 English Wines today: to view our English Sparkling range click here, to view our English still white range click here, to view our English still rosé range click here, to view our English still red range click here.

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