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Cellar Doors Rising to the COVID-19 Challenge

To say 2020 has been a terrible year for most of Australia’s wineries and cellar-doors must be the understatement of the century. But, despite fighting some of country’s worst fires in living memory, losing crops to smoke taint and surviving an historic drought, winery owners and operators are still finding the strength to meet the challenges of COVID-19 head on.

Keith Tulloch Wines armed with a plan

Like most of the country’s wine producers, the Hunter Valley’s Keith Tulloch Wines had to act quickly as Amanda Tulloch explains. “In response to the emerging COVID-19 situation in Australia, on the 23rd March we closed our estate to all customers and split our small team in two. Some of our team continued to work from home whilst others stayed in the vineyard, warehouse and winery as they were deemed essential services.”

“We reached out to our wine club members by phone and email, enjoying some memorable conversations about isolation with many people staying safe at home, often struggling to juggle home schooling and work. These chats kept us going even though the front doors were closed,” says Amanda. “I learnt one thing during this time, we all needed a glass of wine at the end of the day!”

“Armed with a plan, a tape measure and blue marking tape, we reset our cellar door to reopen on the 23rd of May with a whole new protocol on cleaning and safe customer contact. We revisited how we handled everything - water, spittoons and tasting notes became single use only, whilst every surface from our entry foyer to the wine glass on the table is rigorously and consistently cleaned. Bookings for all tastings are now required in advance so that maximum body number limits in each room can be adhered to. It's been a huge challenge to say the least, but we’ve made it work.”

De luliis, David Hook and Andrew Thomas Wines getting creative 

The forced closure of cellar doors earlier this year and the absence of face to face tastings called for wineries to come up with new ways of presenting and marketing their wines and many have risen to the occasion. Online sales have increased, virtual tastings have emerged as a fun and interactive way to communicate, and the social media platforms of Facebook and Instagram are buzzing with activity. Regional wineries have also joined forces as is the case of De Iuliis, David Hook and Andrew Thomas with their #wineflixandchill series.

Australia-wide, many have turned to local home delivery of wine orders and some cellar-doors with restaurants are offering ready-to-eat take-away meals and food kits to finish cooking at home. Others have redirected resources to produce much-needed hand sanitiser.

Chateau Tanunda making changes 

Château Tanunda Manager Director, Michelle Geber, says she really feels for the winery’s staff and customers, and fellow wineries in the industry, and agrees that the change in the status quo and uncertainty has created many challenges, plus a general rethink and refocus about their entire concept of cellar door visitation. 

“The main thing for the Barossa has been the cut back of visitation from the large population bases of New South Wales and Victoria. It, however, has also meant a double down on our focus on inviting South Australians to get out and re-discover our winery which has been amazing for us,” Michelle explains.  

“While we contest with that change in visitor numbers until borders reopen, we have had many positive changes fast-tracked which were touted at some stage soon: we have moved to seated tastings which allows more time to connect with customers, we have raised tasting fees on a series of flights which has generally been accepted by visitors, and limited visitor numbers for guest safety has led to a greater reliance on our online booking platform.” 

“We had already introduced a range of bookable experiences, including our flagship “Old Vine Expressions” tasting of rare and collectable wines from 50, 100 and 150-year-old vineyards, but the changes with COVID-19 have seen our online booking platform become a major hub for visitation,” she said.

Michelle explains that outside the cellar door, their focus on connecting with new and present customers via social media and emails has ramped up considerably. “As many wineries are reporting, we’ve seen a considerable increase in online and club sales, and in our direct engagement with customers far and wide.”

And looking to the future? “Even when borders re-open, we see many of these new processes staying as the new norm for cellar door visitation, and I personally see this as a win-win for both wineries and the visitor experience,” she said.

Which States have cellar doors open? 

While virtual tastings are a novel approach, for cellar door staff and winemakers, it’s not quite the same as sharing their wine and stories in person. So, with cellar doors again allowed to welcome guests, it’s time to show your support and head out to our fantastic wine regions.

New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia cellar-doors have reopened to local visitors from their own state. However, due to the ongoing crisis in Victoria, some cellar-doors there remain closed.

Before heading off for your next wine tasting adventure, there are a few things you need to know about the ‘new normal’ cellar door experience:

  1. Like restaurants, cellar doors must control numbers and be able to track visitors, so book ahead and do your research on which kind of wine experience you’re looking for.
  2. Expect that there will be a per person charge for your tasting.
  3. If you’re travelling with a group, check with cellar doors that they can accommodate your group size – winery cellar doors are not able to take bookings greater than 10 people.
  4. Register on arrival, use appropriate hand-sanitiser and adhere to social distancing laws.
  5. If you have children with you, please check that children are allowed, or if there are activities for them to do while you are tasting.
  6. Arrive on time to your pre-booked tasting experience.
  7. If you are unavailable to make your booked time call in advance to cancel so others can enjoy the limited spaces.
  8. Allow the time recommended to best enjoy your tasting experience.
  9. Follow signage in high-traffic areas like wine payment and pick-up points.
  10. Use payWave to minimise contact.
  11. Most importantly, if you are unwell please stay at home.

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Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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