Mainland tourists in summer crucial for winemakers after horror 2020

Wine Tasmania chief executive officer Sheralee Davies says the industry is facing some tough years and months ahead. Picture: Paul Scambler
Wine Tasmania chief executive officer Sheralee Davies says the industry is facing some tough years and months ahead. Picture: Paul Scambler

Tasmanian winemakers see the upcoming summer tourism season as crucial to offsetting some of the losses from the closure of the hospitality industry and cellar doors due to coronavirus.

The industry has suffered setbacks on a number of fronts this year, with the 2020 vintage producing significantly reduced yields due to cooler temperatures, but the quality of wine is above average.

International export markets have also been greatly impacted, although this accounts for a small proportion of overall output with 95 per cent sold in the domestic Australian market.

Wine Tasmania chief executive officer Sheralee Davies said it had been one of the toughest years for winemakers.

"It was already a challenging year and then coronavirus came along, so if you talked with some of the wine producers around the place they would tell you they will happily look to the end of 2020," she said.

"The story is that we've had some really good quality wines that we've been producing out of 2020, but there won't be very much of it, so our yields have been impacted by those weather conditions we have experienced this year."

Cellar doors are one of the main methods of connecting with new customers by offering a unique wine experience. It relies heavily on interstate tourism.

Ms Davies said the loss of the cellar door experience would take some time to recover from for Tasmanian winemakers, and bringing mainland tourists back as soon as it was safe would be critical.

"For us, if we were able to pick up interstate visitation and be able to entertain interstate visitors at our cellar doors over the summer period, that for us would be the most important thing," she said.

Primary Industries Minister Guy Barnett and Sheralee Davies at Tamar Ridge vineyard at Rosevears. Picture: Paul Scambler

Primary Industries Minister Guy Barnett and Sheralee Davies at Tamar Ridge vineyard at Rosevears. Picture: Paul Scambler

"Yes, having a date so as we have some notice to be able to prepare for that visitation, but for us really summer is the most important time."

Stoney Rise Vineyard at Gravelly Beach had just introduced a cellar door when the coronavirus hit, and they have been unable to open it.

Winemaker Joe Holyman said all that winemakers could do at the moment was show resilience and prepare for when tourism and hospitality could return.

"There's been some online selling and a little bit of local support and support through retail around the state and through the mainland, but pretty much with cellar door shut and no restaurants open, it's affected us quite a lot," he said.

"For our industry, it's not necessarily what's going on right now, it's the future.

"Not having potentially interstate visitors over the Christmas period is going to be a significant hit to everyone. We've all got to find a way to work through it.

"We're resilient farmers I guess, we just have to roll with the punches."

Industry leaders from the wine, seafood, forestry and other sectors have been meeting weekly with Primary Industries Minister Guy Barnett as part of an agricultural roundtable during the pandemic.

Business owners in the Tasmanian tourism sector have been urging the government to provide a date for the state's borders to reopen to interstate travel, but health advice has maintained that a date could be announced in early July.

Mr Barnett said the wine industry had been understanding of the restrictions.

"So many people have made sacrifices to ensure that we keep people safe, that is our top priority," he said.

"The wine sector is no different. They want to keep people safe, so they will be following the guidelines and doing everything they can to ensure people remain safe.

"We want to help them through that process as the restrictions lift over a period of time and provide that map on the way forward."

Funding to help producers adapt

The Tasmanian Government has provided $50,000 to Wine Tasmania to assist winemakers in adapting to changing circumstances due to the pandemic.

Ms Davies said the funding would be used to improve industry resilience, rather than being directly offered to winemakers in the form of a loan.

"What we're looking to do with this funding is to make sure we can support our Tasmanian wine businesses to focus on their own businesses, so looking at things like their vineyard management, their sustainability practices, their actual business practices as well, this is what this funding will focus on so we can continue to support them while not actually adding any additional financial burden on them at this point in time," she said.

Businesses have been forced to rapidly develop online sales and investigate ways of marketing their product without customers having access to cellar doors.

Mr Barnett said the industry needed to be given the support to adapt to the changing circumstances, and the funding would assist medium, small and micro enterprises which employ about 2000 Tasmanians.

He said Tasmanians should buy local to support producers.

This story Tourists in summer crucial for Tasmanian winemakers first appeared on The Examiner.