Wine Tasting in a Covid World
There’s no denying that COVID 19 has changed the world we live in and that many of the changes we’re experiencing now may never revert to the way things were done pre-COVID. One of the industries that has been most heavily affected by COVID is that of the wine industry.
Following on from a range of challenges including drought, bushfires, COVID and now Chinese trade issues, our local wine industry has had to pivot hard to survive and will need domestic support to flourish. Despite all this gloom and doom, however, it’s not all bad. COVID has enabled wineries to assess their business model and make necessary changes that bring them more into line with international practices and inspire innovations that in the long run, it is hoped will improve the bottom line.
Wineries have relied on their cellar doors to provide the face-to-face tasting experience for consumers with the intent to initiate sales. We’ve been lucky in Australia, that we’ve been able to enjoy this experience, for the most part, completely free of charge. Free wine tastings are not as common internationally and have been gradually declining in Australia over recent years. In 2019, 50% of Australian wineries were charging for wine tastings, but COVID has accelerated the trend out of necessity.
Cellar doors are hospitality venues and are bound by the same laws as restaurants and bars. This means that the number of people is limited to the space's size and the current COVID space restrictions. Hygiene and contact tracing requirements are paramount and required by law. Each cellar door now has to comply with the following:
Have a COVID safety plan
Have a Service NSW QR code for contact tracing purposes
Comply with current social distancing requirements
Have a COVID safe hygiene marshall dressed in distinctive clothing to oversee all aspects of the requirements
Comply with current mask requirements
Provide signage reflecting all COVID safety information
Separate entry and exit doors
Floor markings to provide direction and spacing requirements
Tables, counters and stools to be cleaned after each use
All glassware and utensils to be cleaned by commercial-grade dishwasher between use or disposables provided
Hand sanitisers freely available
Water can only be provided as take-away water bottles
No shareable items including menus, buffets, condiments
Tasting sheets to be laminated for easy cleaning or disposable
Electronic payment preferred
Staff to clean all surfaces regularly
To manage the new rules, bookings have become almost essential, and most wine tastings now come at a small charge.
Local winemaker Ken Sloane of Mistletoe Winery has had to make significant changes to his venue to accommodate a new normal. They no longer use the bar anymore and have had to extend the space to create more seating, enlarge the licensed area, and cater to more customers.
NSW Health has complimented Mistletoe Winery as one of the most COVID-safe cellar doors, and Ken is proud of his wife Gwen and daughter Cassandra who run the facility.
“My wife is an ex-nurse and is totally on top of the COVID safety requirements. They’ve created a ‘Pandemic Pack’ which is handed to each cellar door visitor and contains a high-quality disposable glass, cheese, biscuits, water bottle and disposable spittoon. The customers love it. The whole experience has created a better relationship with our customers, and their support has been quite humbling. We’ll be continuing these protocols in the future and have no plans to revert to the old way of doing things,” says Ken.
Some wineries have introduced virtual tastings whereby customers pre-order a tasting pack and then log in to an online video conferencing event at home, where the winemaker takes them through the process and answers questions. This opens ups international tastings like never before without the need for travel. Hunter Valley wineries that are offering virtual experiences include Ben Ean Winery, Brokenwood, M&J Becker Wines, and Keith Tulloch Wines.
Our Hunter Valley wineries need our support more than ever before, and the best way you can do your bit is to book ahead and be on time. Be happy to pay for your tasting because it helps your local winemaker cover their costs. Some of the best wines and wineries in the world are on our doorstep and with international travel now restricted, it’s a great time to enjoy what’s available in your own backyard.