Wineries happy to put cork on COVID
Prince Edward County wineries are still struggling to recover from the effects of the global pandemic, despite getting the green light to begin welcoming visitors.
Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association (PECWA) chairwoman Caroline Granger said the pandemic could not have come at a worse time for the industry.
“So, everything gets shutdown in late March about a week before our season starts,” she said. “We’re coming out of the winter season and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done – work that requires money – but typically we have people starting to visit the wineries at the same time and they provide that much needed cash flow. Well the work didn’t go away, but the visitors certainly did and that put a lot of our members in a very difficult position.”
Granger, who owns The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery on Closson Road, said a survey done in early May paints a bleak picture for a number of the PECWA members.
“The survey showed that between 14 and 20 per cent of our members were already severely at risk and those numbers are consistent across Ontario,” she said. “I think people here were expecting a flood of people to come, but it’s been far from that. More like a trickle and I’d estimate we’re getting about 20 per cent of the numbers we were expecting.”
PECWA executive director Duarte Da Silva said almost all of the association’s members were ready and willing to open their doors when the move to Stage 2 was announced.
“Most of our members were ready and they’ve simply moved their tasting rooms outside to accommodate their visitors,” he said. “A few aren’t ready yet and have chosen to continue with curb side pick-up and internet orders. It’s their choice and I think they’re just taking their time to make sure they have everything in place.”
Da Silva said the transition to outdoor tasting is fairly simple for most of the County facilities.
“You have to have five acres of land if you’re a winery or cidery to get a production license, so there is plenty of space and most of it is included under the liquor licence,” he said. “So if you’re somewhere enjoying a glass of wine, it should not be difficult to stay two metres apart – heck, you can easily be an acre apart. All you need is two barrels and a plank or piece of plywood and you have yourself an outdoor bar.”
Both Da Silva and Granger agreed safety of staff and visitors alike has to remain the priority for the foreseeable future.
“We have to remain very diligent because the last thing we want to do, is put anyone at risk,” Da Silva said. “That means staff wears PPE gear and a lot of sanitizing. High-touch areas have to be disinfected with sanitizer continuously.”
Granger said winery operators are aware the community at large is nervous about an influx of tourists to the region.
“The wineries are anxious because they know people in the community are anxious about the visitors,” she said. “We have to manage the risk and are always looking at ways to do things differently— ways to establish a new normal.
“People can’t move around in large groups, so our tours and events are gone for now, so we have to be creative in an effort to maintain our business, making sure we do it safely.”
Wineries have been creative since most of the province went into hibernation on March 27. They’ve concentrated on improving online sales, offering free home delivery, all in an effort to generate much-needed cash flow.
“We’ve had to be very creative, but what worries me, is for those wineries at risk right now, it’s going to be a super-restrictive summer that likely won’t address them being at risk,” she said. “Then you have to wonder how they’ll get through the next dry spell when it comes.”