Photo credit Prohibition Liquor Co.
On the surface, the alcohol industry doesn’t seem to have been hit as hard by these uncertain times.
After all, everyone seems to be home enjoying a glass of wine, or a home-made cocktail using products from their favourite producers, however, SA businesses are in need our support more than ever.
There are numerous parts of a business that have essentially stalled due to COVID-19 restrictions, and the entire supply chain, from producer to restaurant to the consumer, has been affected, meaning these producers need extra support in reviving their businesses.
It’s also resulted in some of the greatest pivots we’ve seen from businesses, where many alcohol producers have moved from alcohol to providing health products.
We spoke to three alcohol producers on the ins and outs of their industry during COVID-19.
“We were only open for five weeks before we closed which was challenging, so much investment in the building and fit out and the team and then having to close so soon afterwards was tough,.” says George Georgiadis, Managing Director of Never Never Distilling Co. on their newly opened distillery door in McLaren Vale.
Like many other producers, Never Never’s wholesale channel evaporated overnight when bars and restaurants shut their doors to operate exclusively on a takeaway or delivery basis.
While bottle shops have seen an increase in sales, this rise has not been felt by producers.
Never Never did move quickly with their facilities to create and bulk sell hand sanitisers, as did Prancing Pony Brewery however, as a result of two different factors.
“Number one, beer gets old and number two, without us knowing when we’re likely to reopen, we have to pay rental on kegs,” says Corinna Steeb, CEO of Prancing Pony Brewery.
Prancing Pony’s beer is described as hop forward, and which has a drinking recommendation of 2-3 months.
Corinna says that by focusing on growlers, which hold 2 litres of beer, they emptied the kegs to then use them for hand sanitiser creation.
While Corinna says that everyone in the alcohol industry is thinking quicker, it’s just the beginning of a few uncertain months for any business.
For others, the COVID-19 pandemic followed an already difficult summer.
Renowned winery, Henschke was one of the wineries severely affected by the devastating Adelaide Hills bushfires.
“The implications of COVID-19 have been really tough on the entire food and wine community with restaurants having to close. On-premise has been a focus for Henschke since the 1950s,” winemaker Stephen Henschke says.
For Henschke, it’s a matter of adapting to the different version of normal.
With their winemaking team split into two and working in isolation, Henschke ensured that they still provided a 2020 vintage of fantastic quality, if a small yield, with standout varieties of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Shiraz, Mataro and Grenache, on the market.
“On a more positive note, we are finding ourselves supporting our local producers more, as well as our independent retailers, who are able to provide diversity of choice and personal service, and that’s important.” Stephen says.
Most importantly for them, is their need for local support when restrictions ease.
“We’ve found ways of staying engaged with our audience, and we have wholesale nationwide distribution, but how you modify your business and snap it back out of it, that uncertainty is a challenge for any business to deal with.”
George, who is also the President of the South Australian Spirit Producers Association (SASPA), says that we can expect a slow reversal of restrictions.
“There won’t be a moment where it all comes back, our whole site capacity was down to 80 from 500, a normal Saturday had 200, so at the start we’ll make sure that distancing is firmly in place,” he says.
“While there’ll be a rush for people to get out the house, people will still be quite careful with hygiene, and financially, they certainly won’t be able to keep it up if their income has been affected.”
“The borders will be closed for a while, so it’s a case of people heading out and about within the state.”
That’s a sentiment that we can all get behind.
Until venues can fully reopen, we need to provide support to our quality South Aussie wine, craft spirits and beer producers by purchasing local from bottle shops.