Tastings back on the menu

Cellar door operators are toasting their return in time for the Queen’s Birthday weekend following pressure on the state government to ease COVID-19 restrictions on the sector.
Yesterday wine tastings returned to the menu but doubt hung over the industry until Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes threw a lifeline on Friday.
Ms Symes announced cellar doors could “offer free samples of produce to a seated customer to help the customer choose what to buy”.
Under the proposed plan, cafes and restaurants will be able to resume dine-in service with up to 20 patrons per enclosed space.
Those wineries with a restaurant or cafe will be able to sell alcohol by the bottle and glass, or sell a wine tasting experience if they are serving with a seated meal. They can also sell full bottles from their cellar doors for consumption off the premises.
Cellar door operators like Hanging Rock Winery were among those to welcome the news, back up operating at about 80 per cent capacity.
“To enable wine tastings is fantastic. Operating the cellar door is a huge part of what we do,” said general manager Ruth Ellis.
“Over a long weekend, such as the Queen’s Birthday, we’d typically see 100 people a day. Being able to offer tastings is completely different to just selling bottles of wine in a shop setting.”
Ms Ellis said cellar doors operators felt they were being lumped in with bars and clubs under the earlier government restrictions.
“It’s just not the same at all,” she told the Express. “For a wine tasting we may only have two or three people in the room and it’s pretty easy to social distance.
“Visiting the cellar door is about making a connection to the brands and to the people who create them and tastings are an important part of selecting a wine for new customers. Without doing tastings it’s like having one hand tied behind our back.”
For Hanging Rock Winery sales have seen a 60-70 per cent drop since the coronavirus hit, reducing the business to two of six revenue streams.
Ms Ellis said many distributers had halted orders as their operations had also slowed but local residents had continued their support through retail sales.
Ms Ellis said government initiatives like JobKeeper had enabled the winery to keep their staff “who are like family”.
“Without JobKeeper we would have had to drop half or more of our staff and that’s something we really did not want to have to consider,” she said.
Details and industry guidance is available at business.vic.gov.au

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