Australian winemaker Savannah Peterson at her cellar door in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia, October 19 2020. Picture: REUTERS/STEFICA NICOL BIKES
Australian winemaker Savannah Peterson at her cellar door in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia, October 19 2020. Picture: REUTERS/STEFICA NICOL BIKES

Pokolbin — Faced with sluggish sales to top export markets, virtually no foreign tourists, and decreasing restaurant sales due to Covid-19, Australian wineries are increasingly looking to locals to secure their livelihoods as coronavirus curbs ease.

With overseas holidays out of bounds, locals are hitting cellar doors — or the part of the winery where visitors can sample drinks — like never before, said vintners in the Hunter Valley wine region, 160km north of Sydney.

“As far as our average sale is concerned, that has doubled [in recent months],” said Bruce Tyrrell, MD of Tyrrell’s Wines, adding that it adapted its wine tasting service to comply with social-distancing rules.

It comes as exports to China, which buys 40% of Australia’s wine exports, have been hit by worsening diplomatic relations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, top Australian winemakers have reported profit slumps in the US as they have had to heavily discount products to compete in a market in which supply is outstripping coronavirus-hit demand.

Australian wine exports declined 1% to A$2.84bn ($2.02bn) in the 12 months to June after several years of rapid growth, according to government-backed industry body Wine Australia. This was led by a sharp slowdown in Australia’s sales to China over the same period — up only 0.7% compared to the previous year’s 18% growth — while exports to the US fell 0.4%.

Local appetite for wine, meanwhile, has risen sharply, with domestic sales up 7.1% to A$4.9bn for the year to end-August, according to market researcher IRI.

Colin Peterson, director of Petersons Wines, said cellar door sales and China exports both dived during the shutdowns of early 2020, but now customers are “sick of being locked up so our sales are going up”.

“I don’t think it will make up for what we lost in that 12-week period but we’re certainly well on the way to getting back to where we were,” he said.

Savannah Peterson, winemaker at Savannah Estate Wines, said her cellar door has seen a 200% spike in sales since lockdowns in the region eased in mid-2020.

“It’s really good to be able to support in our own backyard and give all those producers as much of our support as we can,” said local tourist Ben Sweeten during a visit to Savannah Estate Wines.

Reuters

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