What is next for the wine industry? That’s a big question, but some advocates in the business say things have improved – from the grim outlook that existed just a few months ago.
Traffic is returning, staff have been hired back, and despite changing expectations from New York State through executive orders – business is happening.
Sam Filler is the executive director of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, which serves as an outspoken advocate for the wine and grape industries in the region.
“Fortunately, since ‘Day #1’ of the State’s COVID response wineries have not had to entirely shut down,” he said. “There tasting rooms had to close for on-premise consumption, but they were allowed to continue off premise. Several wineries were able to adapt their business to accommodate more online sales and curbside pickup.”
He says that it all happened during a typically slower time for on-premise sales anyway, which gave wineries a bit of lead time in dealing with the economic realities of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
“They were able to make up some of those lost sales,” he explained. “The State’s phased reopening has been appropriately timed and coincided well with when wineries typically see increased visitation.”
Filler says that despite the bumps and nuances in reopening, wineries have done a good job adapting to them while ensuring a safe environment for employees and guests.
That said, it’s not all good news, and there is some concern on the horizon. For example, a second wave weighs heavily on Filler’s mind. “The threat of a second wave is real and regressing back to limited operations would be difficult for wineries to endure. Wineries are also cutting back on production so there also could be an issue during harvest with grapes finding buyers,” he explained.
For many industries the COVID induced shutdown has meant less staff. However, Filler says increased winery visitation in the summer has allowed for temporary staff to be rehired.
“New York Wineries have done a tremendous job adapting and think that many have discovered new ways to organize their tasting rooms and elevate the hospitality experiences for their guests,” Filler added.
Still though, there are advantages that many tasting rooms have. Especially those that operate in the Finger Lakes. “Tasting rooms function to education the guests about wine and encourage purchase for off-premise consumption either by buying a case of wine or becoming a wine club member,” Filler added. “Winery tasting rooms are generally in rural areas where social distancing can be effectively implemented, whereas the bars and restaurants not appropriately following the COVID-19 protocols are found in urban areas where space is more limited and communal transmission of the virus has the highest potential.”