Coronavirus closures continues to impact region as wine strip feels pinch

COONAWARRA’S wine strip continues to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic with around a dozen wineries closing their cellar doors, while Penola’s two pubs have been forced to close until further notice.

New regulations swept in by the Federal Government prevents wineries from hosting wine tasting, with any ongoing service to be conducted similar to a bottle shop.

Announcing tough measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus on Sunday night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed licensed venues such as pubs and clubs, places of worship, gyms and indoor sporting venues and cinemas would be forced to close the following day.

Cafes and restaurants will be closed to dine-in patrons with only takeaway or delivery options available.

Coonawarra Vignerons president Peter Balnaves said the new restrictions may lead other cellar doors to close their shopfront and work predominantly online.

“This all depends on how businesses are going online because if they are fine it will not have a major effect,” Mr Balnaves said.

“But the inability to showcase businesses to visitors will not be able to happen.”

Mr Balnaves believes industries which rely on the region’s tourism economy face the most significant impact.

“The situation is very much a moving feat, daily there are new requirements brought in and it is a matter of people having to work with those limits such as those who work inter-state,” he said.

Fruit and wine freight does not seem to be affected as of yet, according to the vignerons leader, who encouraged the community to stay informed.

“The reality is that because the borders are closed visitors will be limited and will have a major impact on those industries reliant on tourists,” he said.

“We are reasonably isolated in comparison to others but the main concern is how long we will shut down for.”

Royal Oak Hotel owner John Rymill said the business would retain its bottle shop service.

“The Royal Oak is now completely shut and given the government’s messages we expect that could be for at least six months,” Mr Rymill said.

“While the drive-through is remaining open most of our team are now without a job.

“I worry about our staff who are now without work and without an income and although some measures have been announced by the government to support people who lose their jobs, the impacts of the business closures are going to be very widespread and I hope the government puts more in place to support people who have lost their jobs very soon.”

Mr Rymill said the closures would have long-lasting impacts on country pubs, with not all venues equipped to cater for takeaway or delivery services.

“Given many are in small communities with limited demand we do not deem takeaway as a sustainable option at the moment,” he said.

“Whether or not businesses will be in a position to reopen in some months when the bans are hopefully lifted remains to be seen and could be a big issue too.

“Looking around our community there are so many businesses which benefit from a vibrant tourism and local trade who will be affected and with cellar doors closing, and tourism operators, motels, restaurants and cafes all going to scale down or close, there are a bunch of people without a way to pay their bills.”

Mr Rymill hoped Penola’s “strong agricultural base” would help support the community.

Among the wineries which have closed its cellar doors includes Brands Laira which announced last week its closure for a week.

Brands Laira cellar door and administration manager Sam Flint said it has been a difficult decision for the company with the health and well-being of staff and the community the primary consideration.

“It is too early to tell what the impact will be at this stage, but producing our wines in an environment that’s safe for all staff has to be the number one priority,” Ms Flint said.

“We hope that by taking precautionary measures and doing our part to mitigate the spread, it will enable the industry and businesses in the region to recover as quickly as possible.

“Vintage 2020 is well under way and our wine making and viticultural teams are committed to producing excellent quality wines, despite these challenging times.”

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