GRAPE EXPECTATIONS

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Amato Vino operator Brad Wehr and colleague Sharon Batley.
Camera IconAmato Vino operator Brad Wehr and colleague Sharon Batley. Credit: Picture: Supplo, Supplied

Wine industry leaders believe most of the region’s wineries will weather the storm and survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

The unprecedented disruption caused by travel restrictions stemming from the virus has shut cellar doors and restaurants, and forced many winemakers to turn online to continue trade.

The easing of restrictions last week on wine purchases and hopes for the domestic travel market were key to the future, vignerons said.

“We’re pretty used to hard times,” Fraser Gallop Estate owner Nigel Gallop said. “It hasn’t been easy for the past 20 years.

“We know survival mode.”

Mr Gallop said winery operators had become more sophisticated with online sales in recent years — though he hoped WA’s border closures would end soon.

“I don’t personally know of any wineries that will go under,” he said. “The ones I know will struggle through.”

Winemakers were buoyed by an online campaign run by the Margaret River Wine Association.

Chief executive Amanda Whiteland said wine sales had refocused for at-home consumption.

“With bars, hotels and restaurants around the country closing, wine sales to on-premise disappeared overnight, triggering a channel shift from on-premise to off-premise consumption,” she said.

MRWA has created a list of the region’s wineries offering online sales through the MRWA portal and run promotions through social media, with more than 200,000 views in the first week.

Amato Vino owner Brad Wehr said the pandemic had hit his operation’s main customer base of bars and restaurants.

“We have not usually been aggressive sellers in the local region, but we have now increased our social media presence and we’re offering more flexible deals direct and online,” he said. Amato Vino has cut costs and minimum purchase requirements and added free deliveries and bonus add-ons. Mr Wehr said WA’s wine restrictions helped east coast wineries and bottle shops for major supermarkets, at the expense of the region.

Preveli Wines operator Greg Home said he believed up to a quarter of local wineries could fold because of intense online competition.

“The Margaret River industry is really vulnerable,” he said.

“You’re competing against Dan Murphys and the big retailers. A lot of smaller wineries down here don’t have the volume to get into a Dan Murphys or BWS or Coles.”

Voyager Estate chief executive Chris Furtado forecast “a long road to recovery”. Mr Wehr said the disruption should trigger more State and Federal action to relax hospitality restrictions, and Cape Grace Wines owner Karen Karri-Davies echoed his call that local support for Margaret River wine brands would be key.

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