COVID-19: BC wineries seek public support to help weather the storm

Most local wineries are offering free shipping; some are supporting frontline workers and people in need

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      Along with so many other sectors, the B.C. wine industry is fighting to survive amid the financial wreckage of COVID-19.

      “COVID-19 is affecting the wine industry at every level of sales, marketing and production,” says Gene Covert, owner and winemaker of Covert Farms Family Estate, an organic winery and farm in Oliver. “With tasting rooms closed, there are layoffs and loss of sales. The industry is trying to adapt by increasing online sales; it still remains to be seen if it will make up enough.”

      Although the provincial government is allowing wine to be purchased with take-away and delivery food orders, the closure of most restaurants means that a key sales channel has diminished substantially.

      Gene Covert, proprietor and winemaker at Covert Farms Famliy Estate, says layoffs and loss of sales are just some of the ramifications of COVID-19 on the province's wine sector.
      Covert Farms Family Estate.

      “On the production side, many wineries are in bottling season, and global supply chain disruptions have meant that some may not have received their bottles, labels, and corks,” Covert tells the Straight. “In the vineyard, social distancing, quarantine periods, and delays to foreign agricultural work are challenging the vineyards to keep up with operations.”

      According to the BC Wine Institute, the COVID-19 crisis highlights the importance of free interprovincial trade. This would allow people to support small businesses and local farmers and growers by legally receiving direct wine shipments from across Canada.

      “With 282 wineries and 923 grape growers, the B.C. wine industry is doing what it can to protect the more than 12,000 jobs BC wineries support and that are essential to maintaining operations during a potential lockdown,” BCWI communications director Laura Kittmer said during a recent industry webinar. “The good news is that we have an amazing community that is willing to support local.”

      As of March 24, 86 percent of BC wineries are offering free shipping on orders, according to the BCWI. (Some have minimum orders in place; some don’t.)

      Covert Farms, for example, is offering free shipping on six bottles or more until the end of April. (It has just released four certified organic wines spring: 2019 Rosé, 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, 2019 Pinot Blanc, and 2019 Méthode Ancestral Sparking Zinfandel.)

      Penticton's Upper Bench Winery and Creamery is offering free shipping on all orders of wine and cheese anywhere in B.C.; no minimums or maximums.

      Mission Hill Family Estate and CedarCreek Estate Winery are offering free shipping on orders of any size all across Canada.

      West Kelowna’s the Hatch Wines is offering free shipping on orders of six bottles or more. (And what gorgeous bottles they are, adorned with artwork by Vancouver’s Paul Morstad.) Plus, if you order a case, you get some “additional liquid love”.

      Several B.C. wineries are also reaching out in support of people in need.

      Township 7 Winery & Vineyards, for instance, is donating $10 to the BC Hospitality Foundation for every online order of a minimum of four bottles with its Support, Ship  & Sip campaign. A registered charity, the BCHF helps hospitality workers facing financial hardship due to medical circumstances and provides scholarships to up-and-comers in the field. The foundation has had to postpone all of its signature fundraising events due to the spread of novel coronavirus.

      Rust Wine Co. is donating a portion of sales of every magnum of its 2019 Gamay Noir to the BCHF. Fermented in stainless steel, the wine boasts what are known as the “Similkameen Classic” notes of cracked pepper, red fruits, and tobacco. 

      Until May 31, Corcelettes Estate Winery in the Similkameen Valley will donate $1 from every bottle of wine sold in the province to the BCHF. 

      A boutique Naramata Bench winery specializing in premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Foxtrot Vineyards is donating 10 percent of online sales to restaurant workers who are experiencing "a threat to their livelihood" because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shipping is free throughout the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island on orders of six bottles or more.

      Cawston-based Vanessa Vineyard is offering free shipping on purchases of 12 bottles or more. It’s also donating meals towards the Meals on Wheels program at the Lower Similkameen Community Services Society, which delivers food to seniors. Its winemaker, Howard Soon, was honoured with an Order of Canada last year for his role in shaping, expanding, and elevating British Columbia’s wine industry. 

      This is just a handful of B.C. wineries that have put offers and special efforts in place in response unprecedented times while producing some of the world’s best wines. For more information and updates, visit BC Wine Institute.