Chilean wineries allowed to operate under Covid-19 lockdown

1st April, 2020

Chilean wineries have been given dispensation to continue operating and harvesting grapes after a curfew was imposed on the country due to Covid-19 on 22 March.

According to information sourced by Wines of Chile, the country’s wine industry has been able to harvest “under normal conditions” while production facilities are allowed to operate as usual, but with specific healthcare measures in place.

On 18 March, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera announced that the country would enter a 90-day ‘National State of Catastrophe’. Four days later, he imposed a nationwide curfew between the hours of 10pm and 5am.

Beginning on 26 March, the government announced a seven-day quarantine in areas around the capital including Santiago Centro, Las Condes, Lo Barnechea, Vitacura, Providencia, Ñuñoa, and Independencia. Residents are only allowed to leave their houses for medical reasons and to access basic services. Total quarantine was placed on Chillán and Osorno for seven days on 30 March.

Agriculture was identified as a “critical sector” for the country and industry workers have been issued with special permits that give them the right to move around Chile and attend their workplace. There is currently no governmental restrictions on ports in Chile.

Speaking to the drinks business in the middle of last month, Diego Rivera, winemaker of Garcés Silva, which is based in the Leyda Valley, said that thankfully the harvest had been “very early” meaning that he only had 8% of the vintage left to pick.

“I hope we finish soon with the ferments so we can stay home until the worst is over,” he said.

It was a similar situation for Miguel Torres Chile, which was founded in Curicó but now has vineyards across the country. Winemaker Eduardo Jordan told db that optimal ripeness had come between 10 days to almost a month earlier than the previous vintage. There was also 76% less rainfall in Curicó during the growing season, with spring frosts and a hot summer, meaning that he was having to “run around picking a lot of grapes now”.

The latest figures from Wines of Chile show that 75% of grapes have already been collected.

Eduardo Alemparte

Head of viniviticulture at Santa Rita Estates, Eduardo Alemparte, said that the estate had completed 55% of its harvest.

“It is a very early season with some varieties being picked up to one month earlier than the historical harvest dates,” he said, echoing the sentiments of Rivera and Jordan.

“The yields are about 15% less than last year which is mainly as a result of two frosts in Casablanca and Colchagua and the lack of rainfall during the winter period.

“Berry sizes are smaller this year as a consequence of a lack of wáter. The harvest is early as a result of one of the hottest summers recorded.

“We expect to finish the harvest by mid -April but this may change depending on the coronavirus situation. So far the quality is good and all the grapes for the icon wines have been harvested.”

Ricardo Baettig, enological director of Morandé, which has vineyards in Casablanca and Maule, said that the vintage had been “warm and dry” with temperatures over 28°C enabling grapes to be collected quickly.

“We are working like monkeys and are fortunately picking early and hoping we can finish before things become serious,” he told db on 16 March.

The Drinks Trust launches Covid-19 emergency fund

1st April, 2020

The Drinks Trust (formerly The Benevolent) has launched an emergency fund to support those in the drinks industry left in financial straits as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The charity has so far fundraised over £400,000 with the support of leading industry businesses which will be made available from Monday 6 April, with successful applicants being awarded a £250 grant to assist them with buying essentials.

“Substantial” donations have been made by companies such as Concha y Toro and Pernod Ricard through the ‘Your Round, Our Industry’ campaign, while other companies such as Sipsmith, risky Auction, Fox and Fox and Asterley Bros have also raised funds through initiatives of their own.

More businesses have also stepped forward to donate to the Trust.

The fund will be used to support those in the industry in the following ways:

Ongoing beneficiaries – The Drinks Trust will support over 350 vulnerable beneficiaries, many of them retired drinks industry staff and in the ‘at-risk’ categories with severe critical illnesses and mental health concerns.

Ongoing grants currently total £30,000 a month, historically paid by industry donations. Not all the usual contributors are able to continue as they normally do, however, so the fund is crucial to keeping up with these payments.

Wellbeing services – There has been an increase in individuals contacting the Trust with anxiety and depression concerns and to help in tis regard the Trust is keen to expand its helpline services.

Financial Support – From 6 April, those who have los their job as a result of the pandemic will be able to apply for a grant.

This initiative is targeted at the following two groups:

1.Those who have been made redundant and subsequently not been reinstated, meaning they are unable to benefit from the salary grant scheme set out by the Chancellor

2. Those on zero hours contracts who will receive only small levels of financial benefit from the salary support measures outlined by the Chancellor

Additionally, these individuals will have worked in one of the following establishments;

On-trade; bars, pubs and those who worked with drinks in restaurants and hotels, such as sommeliers and beverage managers

Off-trade; those who worked in alcohol retailing businesses

Distribution; those who worked in businesses supplying the above   

Qualifying individuals will be able to access a one-off financial grant of £250, payable directly into their bank account. The Drinks Trust will apply its expertise in assessing hardship and will prioritise individuals who have health conditions, and also those caring for dependents.

The Drinks Trust said: “We anticipate a high level of demand, therefore, the window for applications under this scheme is limited between Monday 6 April and Friday 10 April 2020.”

Visit https://www.drinkstrust.org.uk/cv19-fund for more information

English winery Gusbourne launches new reserve Pinot Noir and single vineyard Chardonnay online

1st April, 2020

English winery Gusbourne Estate has released its latest still wines, and is listing a limited number on its online shop.

Gusbourne has launched new vintages of its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Guinevere wines, with new additions to the collection such as an 809 clone Chardonnay and a Barrel Selection Pinot Noir due for release this year.

The estate has also released the second vintage of its Cherry Garden Rosé, which is made from parcels of Pinot Noir hand-harvested from its vineyard in Kent.

Priced at £25 per bottle, the rosé is said to have a nose “dominated” by wild strawberry and stone fruit with “subtle hints of floral violets and wildflowers.” It is due to  be released later this spring.

Meanwhile, Gusbourne’s 2018 Pinot Noir, which is first allocated to Gusbourne Reserved customers, before being available for purchase from the cellar door, will be sold online for the first time for £35 per bottle, after Gusbourne was forced to close its cellar door due to the UK’s coronavirus lockdown measures. The 2018 is described as having “classic aromas of ripe strawberry, morello cherry and earthy spiciness.”

Alongside this, the estate has also launched a more expensive reserve Pinot Noir Barrel Selection 2018, priced at £45 per bottle, displaying notes of blackberries, blackcurrant, blueberries and violets, according to the producer.

As well as listing its Chardonnay Guinevere 2017 online, this year, Gusbourne has also produced a single vineyard Chardonnay from the 809 “musque” Chardonnay clone.

“This is the first crop of this clonal variety that we have used in our wine since it was planted in our Bottom Camp vineyard in Kent during 2015,” the estate said in a statement, adding that the wine displays a “truly interesting and unique profile of flavours more commonly associated with the Muscat grape,” with aromas such as white orange blossom flowers, melon, peach and white pepper. Both the 809 Chardonnay and Guinevere 2017 will be sold online for £25 per bottle.

Last year, the estate revealed plans to plant an additional 57 acres of vines in West Sussex. The new plantings will boost the West Sussex vineyard to 136 acres and Gusbourne’s total plantings across its West Sussex and Kent sites to 288 acres.

Snow hits Portugal’s Douro during spring

1st April, 2020

In sharp contrast to the usual springtime conditions in Portugal’s Douro, the wine region is covered with snow, as captured by Adrian Bridge, CEO of The Fladgate Partnership.

A dusting of snow at São João da Pesqueira in the Douro

Bridge, who heads up the producer of great Port brands from Taylor’s to Fonseca, sent footage to db this morning showing the famous Port-producing region under a blanket snow at a time when residents would normally be witnessing the blooming of springtime flowers.

Using an image of the entrance to one of the group’s wineries at São João da Pesqueira in the Douro, which was taken yesterday, he told db that the last day of March brought the Douro snow down to 700 meters above sea level – something that is almost unheard of at this time of year.

He said: “It is not uncommon to have Easter in the Douro with Spring sunshine and wild flowers. It is not normally a skiing destination.”

He also used the unseasonal weather conditions in Port country as a reason to remind the drinks trade that the threat of climate change still exists, even though the most immediate challenge is of course the coronavirus.

“It is a reminder that beyond Covid-19 we still face the massive challenge of Climate Change,” he commented.

He added: “The world’s cities may be less polluted, but it will take a decade of home isolation to reverse alterations in climate! No one could cope with that.”

Meanwhile, he assured db that he and his staff were “fine”, and that his group was still producing Port and supplying the market, although “slowly”, which he said was “due to the special measures that we have in place.”

Later this week, db will be bringing a fuller report on the state of The Fladgate Partnership’s Port production as well as Adrian’s tourism projects in Porto.

But for now, please enjoy Adrian’s pictures of a snow-covered Douro in spring, which he insisted, where not an April fool.

Flat-roofed houses in the Douro aren’t designed for snowfalls

Halewood forced to close US office due to Covid-19

1st April, 2020

Drinks manufacturer and distributor Halewood Wines & Spirits has said it will introduce voluntary redundancies, close its US operations and downsize its Australian business as Covid-19 hits the company “very hard”.

Stewart Hainsworth

Stewart Hainsworth, group CEO of Halewood, said the company had been “hit very hard financially by the impact of Covid-19”. In particular he singled out the collapse of the on-trade and also the “sizeable downturn” in export sales.

In order to safeguard jobs and secure the company’s future, he said that maker of Whitley Neill gin and Lambrini has been forced to make some tough decisions.

Hainsworth said: “As a business, Halewood Wines & Spirits remains committed to its successful strategy of building a range of artisanal spirits brands with strong provenance. However, like many companies, we’ve been hit very hard financially by the impact of Covid-19. We’ve lost important sales revenue from bars, restaurants and pubs across the UK and the duty-free trade, while also experiencing a sizeable downturn in export sales.

“We’ve taken immediate steps to safeguard jobs and attempt to secure the long-term future of a business founded over 40 years ago. Senior management are taking significant pay cuts and operations have been adjusted to reduce working hours and overheads.

“Regrettably the Covid-19 outbreak does mean we are introducing a scheme of voluntary redundancies and the closure of some sites. This includes closure of our operations in the US and downsizing our Australian business.

“We are looking at government measures to attempt to minimise the financial disruption caused by Covid-19 and will continue to take any steps we can to protect jobs and help steer the company through this difficult and uncertain period.”

It follows similar moves by companies such as BrewDog, which has announced that founders James Watt and Martin Dickie will forgo their salaries this year as part of a plan to protect the business against the impact of coronavirus.

Distell to consolidate core wine brands

1st April, 2020

South African drinks group Distell plans to consolidate its “core wine brands” and sell some of its “ultra-premium assets”.

The company made the announcement on Monday (30 March) this week, saying that while it forsaw a future for its Nederburg, Durbanville Hills, Fleur du Cap, Zonnebloem, Chateau Libertas and Pongrácz brands in the wine portfolio, the Alto and Paisir de Merle brands would be put on the market.

The Libertas Vineyards and Estates will also be reintegrated back into Distell.

CEO Richard Rushton said in a statement: “These iconic, ultra-premium brands compete and focus in the super-premium categories and would be sold to owners more focussed in this segment, to make them thrive.

“Managing our wine brands collectively will bring significant synergy to the business locally and internationally, further enhancing our ability to meet customer’s needs.”

Distell’s recent results noted that: “A decline in wine exports and Premium Wine business were reflective of the portfolio strategy to refocus the wine portfolio on higher margin products. The strategy is starting to pay dividends as revenue per litre in premium wine improved by 6% despite challenging industry dynamics and consumer sentiment.

“The Venture Business division will continue to evolve and focus on key brands and markets, strategically positioned for partnerships and to unlock value where appropriate in line with the Group’s wider strategy.”

Distell buys around 35% of South Africa’s grape volume each year and its wine business represents around 36% of total wine sales by value in the domestic South African market and it is the biggest wine exporter to other African nations.

Errazuriz Wine Photographer of the Year 2020: Places

1st April, 2020

Grape expectations by David Nash

Online wine retailer launches canine courier service

1st April, 2020

As retailers struggle to fulfill the increased numbers of online orders, one UK wine supplier has scrapped its usual delivery fleet and launched a canine courier service.

Founder of newly-established Brix and Mortar, Avril Smith, said the move was inspired by a winery in Maryland that has been using an 11-year-old boxer called Soda to deliver bottles to punters. 

Smith said she was hoping to set up local canine delivery hubs and was calling on members of the public to donate their dogs for the day.

She added that Brix and Mortar would pay the going rate and would offer weekly bonuses in the form of dog treats and toilet roll.

The wine supplier has enforced strict safety measures in light of the current health crisis. Each dog will be washed before beginning its duties, and will also be weighed to calculate how many bottles it can safely transport.

Jagger from South London is one of the first dogs to be cleared for delivery duty.

This will be followed by a one hour training and health and safety briefing before the dogs are ready to begin their work.

It follows news reported last month that the UK government has added off-licences to the list of businesses deemed “essential” and therefore allowed to operate during the lockdown.

The World Health Organisation has said there is no evidence that pets can be either a source of infection or become infected with Covid-19.

For more information on how to donate your dog, and how the deliveries will be coordinated, please click here. 

Best drinks-based April Fools of 2020

1st April, 2020

Pinkster Gin’s £1,500 gin teapot

Never ones to shirk a bit of tomfoolery, pink gin producer Pinkster has unveiled a sleek temperature-controlled G&T “faux teapot”.

The new vessel is said to be perfect for “surreptitious sipping” at “all acceptable tea drinking hours”.

Will Holt, director at Pinkster Gin, said: “We stand by the mantra that no matter what is happening in your life, you always offer tea. Admittedly, with a £1,500 price tag, this limited release beauty is firmly at the collector’s end of the market. Our recommended serve, as per all Pinkster products, is with no added sugar.”

The brewery bosses taking salary cuts to protect their business

1st April, 2020

James Watt and Martin Dickie, the founders of Scottish beer giant Brewdog, will forgo their salaries this year as part of a plan to protect the business against the impact of coronavirus.

Brewdog founders James Watt and Martin Dickie will not take a salary this year.

“In order to protect as many jobs at BrewDog as we can many of our senior team have volunteered to take pay cuts,” Watt said in a Tweet on 31 March, adding that chief operating officer Dave McDowall also volunteered to take a 50% cut.

“Myself and my co-founder Martin are forgoing all salary for 2020. But we have not started sleeping the brewery (yet).”

In a letter to shareholders last month, Watt said Brewdog has seen a 70% drop in revenue “overnight” after lockdown measures were imposed in the UK.

“The reality is our business, and the vast majority of businesses, now face a fight to be able to survive and make it through this crisis,” he said.

Other brewing bosses have also said they will take home a smaller salary this year, including Greene King CEO Nick Mackenzie. Mackenzie announced last week that he will take a 50% drop in pay for the duration of the coronavirus crisis, while executive board members have also reduced their pay by 30%.

The board and senior team at Cornwall’s St Austell Brewery, which makes Tribute, Proper Job, have “all committed voluntarily to salary reductions of up to 20%, until it is safe for normal trading to resume,” a spokesperson told the drinks business. The brewer, which has seen a 90% fall in sales since UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked pubs and bars to close their doors last month, has also furloughed more than three quarters of its staff across its pub estate, St Austell Brewery and Bath Ales’ Hare Brewery – which it acquired in 2016.

Last month, AB InBev’s chief executive, Carlos Brito, announced he would not receive a bonus for the second half of 2019 as the world’s largest brewer by volume saw its worst quarter of sales in a decade.

Arne Sorenson, the chief executive of hotel group Marriott, has also announced he “will not be taking any salary for the balance of 2020 and my executive team will be taking a 50% cut in pay.”

Smaller breweries are also pooling their resources to weather the storm. Paul Jones, the owner of Cloudwater in Manchester, told the drinks business he is using the brewer’s online store to list beers from local producers who don’t have their own e-commerce platforms, charging them a 10% commission “which essentially just about covers postage and packaging.”