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How coronavirus is disrupting the drinks industry

As tastings and trade shows worldwide have been scrapped or pushed back to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, we’re keeping tabs on the latest news from the drinks industry.

The virus


Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed a national quarantine on 9 March, restricting the movement of the population in response to the growing outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. More than 100 million Europeans are now living under lockdown as Spain joined Italy in imposing a national quarantine last weekend.

The historic home of Rioja is the latest area of Europe to face quarantine. The virus, which has broken out in the village of Haro, part of Rioja Alta, was traced to a funeral held in the neighbouring city of Vitoria-Gasteiz in the Basque country two weeks ago, with 60 cases reported among those who attended the service.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson held an emergency meeting with the UK’s cabinet on Monday morning (9 March) to decide whether the country will undergo a similar lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus. However, a spokesperson confirmed that the UK will not pursue any stricter measures for the time being.



UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday (16 March) the government was giving “very strong advice” that public venues such as theatres, pubs, bars and restaurants should “not be visited.”

Pub, bar, restaurant and hotel bookings in the UK had already plummeted due to the public fear of coronavirus, according to trade body UKHospitality. Ahead of UK chancellor Rishi Sunak announcing his first budget on 11 March, it has asked the government to freeze business rates for three months to provide relief to the sector, and cut VAT for hotels to “incentivise bookings”.

The Irish government has also advised that all of the country’s bars and pubs should shut this week due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the US, President Donald Trump released coronavirus guidelines for the country, urging Americans to avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts.

But in news that will provide some relief to the on-trade, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the State Liquor Authority will change its rules to allow bars, restaurants, wineries and distilleries to sell their products off premises.

Trade shows

Wines from Spain has announced it will postpone its annual trade tasting in London. The event, which was meant to take place at London’s Sky Garden on 31 March, will be moved to a later date.

The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux will also suspend its en primeur programme that was due to take place at the end of this month.

The Society of Independent Brewers’ (SIBA) BeerX, went ahead as normal on 11 and 12 March, but with extra precautions in place.

James Calder, SIBA’s chief executive said: “We’re taking extra steps to ensure the risk of passing on infection remains low. We are working with our event partners, the Liverpool ACC and closely following Government guidance on a day by day basis. We would encourage all brewers, suppliers, judges and delegates to stick to their plans and take sensible measures.”

The measures included:

  • A ban on handshakes
  • A ban on sharing beer glasses with anyone else
  • Hand sanitizer stations placed throughout BeerX and on every bar
  • Exhibitors to use hand sanitizer on all stands
  • Encouraging everyone to stick to the NHS latest guidance on hand washing and sneezing into tissues

During the show, servers were asked to wear latex gloves, while attendees were told to not re-use their beer chalices to reduce the risk of contamination.

JC Tetreault, the founder of New England-based cult craft brewery Trillium, was due to attend the conference on 12 March and deliver the keynote speech. However, Tetreault instead delivered his speech via a live video stream ahead of the conference’s AGM on Thursday 12 March.

On Thursday (5 March), Messe Düsseldorf, the organiser of trade show ProWein, has revealed that the show will not take place this year. The group plan to host ProWein as scheduled in 2021.

On Tuesday (3 March), London’s wine trade had its first casualty. The RAW Wine Show, which was due to take place this weekend, has been postponed. Founder Isabelle Legeron MW said: “With so many producers flying in from all over the world this seems like the right decision for such a large gathering of people and such an international event.”

At the same time, the bi-annual Grands Jours de Bourgogne tasting, due to take place between 9 and 13 March, has likewise been called off.

And the organisers of the leading Italian wine show, Vinitaly, have announced the 2020 edition will be postponed until June.

On Monday (2 March), we learned that the London Wine Fair will still go ahead, but attendees have been told to proceed with caution. The organisers have pledged to supply extra hand sanitisers and face masks to curb infection at the mammoth wine tasting in Kensington Olympia in May. Hannah Tovey, the head of London Wine Fair, told db why it’s “business as usual” for her team.

Also set to go ahead as normal is the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux’s annual primeurs week, which takes place at the end of March.

Arguably the biggest event in the drinks trade calendar, ProWein, has also been pushed back. Messe Düsseldorf said on 29 February it was postponing a series of trade fairs set to take place in the exhibition centre, including ProWein, Wire, Tube, Beauty, Top Hair and Energy Storage Europe.

A number of shows have also been cancelled altogether in China, while the dates for Vinexpo Hong Kong and ProWine Asia in Singapore have also moved to later this year.

According to roving reporter Roger Morris, Vinexpo New York opened as planned on Monday 2 March, but a degree of uncertainty hangs over the event as to whether travel restrictions and mounting caution over contact with European visitors will dampen the mood.

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