Yesterday, as South Australian Premier Steven Marshall announced a six-day “circuit breaker” COVID-19 lockdown, the state’s wineries were forced to put the corks back in the bottles, and prepare to shut up their cellar doors, shops and restaurants.
For the small businesses in the wine regions around Adelaide, it’s a painful step to take. But, in the long run, it might just be worth it.
Justin White is cellar door manager at Chapel Hill Winery in McLaren Vale. He and the team had been keeping an eye on the news, and were “semi-prepared” for a shutdown, he tells SmartCompany.
Some restrictions had been coming through earlier in the week, he adds. One minute he was planning for a COVIDSafe weekend trade, the next he was planning to shut up shop for a week.
The biggest challenge for him has been taking care of staff. This week’s roster has been thrown out the window, of course.
Most of the staff members are casuals, he notes. But, the winery has a policy in place to “look after them financially in the short term”.
That means one staff member is working on the mailing list from home, for example.
“It’s about finding jobs, being productive,” White adds.
Still, White sees this as the right thing to do, to get this cluster under control. He considers a hard lockdown to be a positive thing because it should be short-term.
“If it wasn’t so hard, it might drag out, just like we’ve seen in Victoria.”
January is the busy season for McClaren Vale, as well as the period between Christmas and New Year. By then, he’s hoping to see this cluster long gone.
“We’re looking forward to hopefully having lots of people visit then, and hopefully, some ‘interstaters’ as well.”
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Short-term pain for long-term gain
McLaren Vale is unquestionably its own wine region. But, White says he wouldn’t consider it to be regional South Australia.
While there are other regions — Coonawarra, for example — where it’s hard to see the threat of an Adelaide COVID-19 cluster, areas such as McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley and Adelaide Hills are actually particularly vulnerable.
About 90% of Chapel Hill’s staff live in the city.
“That’s the biggest positive of McLaren Vale,” White says.
“It isn’t far away.”
But, that also means people visit the cellar door on day trips from the city all the time. The various wineries, restaurants and cellar doors are also pretty close together, so customers visit four or five in a day.
One person taking a day trip while infected with COVID-19 could be catastrophic for an area like this.
“It is short-term pain, and it’s stressful and difficult and concerning,” he says.
But, again, he points to the situation in Victoria, where restrictions were ramped up slowly, allowing the virus to continue spreading.
“It is what it is. You can’t control it, you’ve got to go with it,” White muses.
“If you unpack the decisions and think about it logically and in the long-term — which is more important than short-term for any business — it is better for all of us to take the hit now and hopefully get back to some sort of normality.”