As you might expect, in the current Level 4 Emergency status, your club has effectively gone into adjournment, albeit your committee continues to communicate and make plans for the year ahead.
Our April tasting with The Crater Rim has been deferred and we are considering the Level 4 impact on the whole AGM process. Our club rules require us to give 3 weeks’ notice of our AGM which we will do as soon as it is practical to do so. However, if this means we will be holding the meeting after May [a possibility] then that will breach the time requirements set out in our constitution/club rules. Whilst we don’t do that lightly, there is no way we can comply with those rules in the L4 environment. We can’t even conduct a Special AGM to change the club rules so we are between a rock and a hard place and just need to be practical.”
We are considering if there is some way we could have a remote AGM. Your committee has held a meeting on Zoom but there would be too many for that approach. We continue to think through options and will keep you in touch.
With tasting rooms closed for the COVID-19 crisis, wineries are dealing with slumping sales; meanwhile, spring is arriving in the vineyards.
Germany and Austria have not been immune to the ravaging effects of the coronavirus pandemic. As of March 31, Germany reported 68,180 confirmed cases, fifth highest in the world, while Austria had confirmed 10,038 cases. Neither country has imposed a complete lockdown, instead opting for strict social distancing measures for now.
For vintners, the shutdowns have added new challenges as they ready the vineyards for the growing season and tend their young wines, all while following strict social guidelines. Meanwhile, they confront a devastating business situation, as many of their sales channels close.
On March 22, the German government banned public gatherings of more than two people except for families and people who live together. Exercising outside is still allowed if there are 5 feet between participants. Schools and “nonessential” businesses are also closed. Restaurants can only offer food-to-go.
“Everything is closed, and group events are not allowed. Only grocery stores and pharmacies are open,” said Gernot Kollmann, winemaker and proprietor at Immich-Batterieberg in Mosel.
Although agriculture is considered essential, the current rules, in place until at least April 6, are affecting the normal workflow for most wineries. “The rules affect two areas in particular: sales and work in the vineyards,” said Sophie Christmann of A. Christmann in Pfalz. “The fact that the gastronomy is closed everywhere will certainly hit us hard,” she warned.
“Around 50 per cent of our sales are exported in more than 40 countries, and of course, it’s getting calm in the last two weeks,” said winery owner Philipp Wittmann in Rheinhessen.
Indeed, most wineries are reporting little to no sales. Tasting rooms are closed to the public, but they can still make sales—either in person or online. “Wineries who have a good online concept and a decent number of private customers can still do business,” said Andrea Wirsching of Hans Wirsching in Franken.
Johannes Hasselbach of Gunderloch in Rheinhessen has started online tastings. “We send out a box of wine to private customers, and then we taste them together in a video conference,” he said. “It is quite funny to have 25 people who don’t know each other in a virtual tasting room.”
However, for most wineries, private client sales account for a small percentage of income. “We only have 3-percent private customer business,” said Kollmann.
The hardship of not having enough cash flow is already manifesting. “I have no idea what happens next, said vintner Eva Fricke in Rheingau. She sat down with two of her employees and they collectively decided that they are better off filing for unemployment. “The German social system is strong and safe, so while it is shitty, in the end it, seems better for them—less salary, but safe.”
“Some wineries are filing for Kurzarbeit, which means short work,” explained Andreas Spreitzer, referring to a government-funded program where companies keep employees, who agree to temporarily work for less pay and lower hours but stay in their jobs. The government helps make up for some lost income. First employed in 2009, the program saved more than 300,000 jobs during that recession, according to the German Federal Employment Agency. Spreitzer is fortunate to have 30 percent of income coming from private sales, so he will continue to pay his workers for now.
Restaurant closures affect outstanding bills, too. Many wineries are still awaiting payments. “We see the big customers struggle,” said Wirsching. “We have given all our restaurant clients time until the end of the year to pay their bills. They need support now since we still have business, and they don’t.” But not all wineries can afford that without government aid.
Worsening the situation is the fact that nature doesn’t stop. Work in cellars and the vineyards must continue. Social distancing only complicates things. “We work in five teams in the vineyard and the cellar, and the teams don’t meet,” reported Sebastian Fürst of Rudolf Fürst in Franken. “In the vineyard, it is no big problem to keep 2 meters distance. In the cellar, sometimes it is more complicated.”
Work in the vineyards will only get more hectic as the temperatures rise and days get longer. And most wineries rely on the help of foreign seasonal workers, who are now not allowed to cross the border. “We hope that foreign workers will be available again from May, at the latest June,” said Hansjörg Rebholz of Ökonomierat Rebholz in Pfalz.
There might be some solutions. Sophie Christmann shared that some restaurant workers who would like to help have contacted her. Since the restaurants are closed, sommeliers and other food industry staff are looking for work.
As the torture of an unknown future continues, the fear rises. “The situation is quite scary, especially because there is no end in sight, and we might not even have reached the peak yet,” said Franziska Schmitt of Koehler-Ruprecht in Pfalz.
The situation in Austria is not much better. Since March 16, Austrians are not permitted to enter public spaces except for pharmacies, grocery stores and places with ATMs. Only supermarkets and food delivery services are open for those looking for food. Groups of more than five people cannot gather in public. Those who do not comply face fines of up to €3,600.
The borders with Italy and Switzerland have been shut, with train and air travel significantly cut back. Some cities are completely closed. “The situation in Austria is getting worse. There are more and more positively tested people in our immediate surroundings. Many places, such as Tyrol, are completely closed,” said Theresa Pichler, daughter of Rudi Pichler, renowned Wachau winemaker.
“Last weekend, there was the apricot blossom in the Wachau valley,” said Josef Fischer of his eponymous estate in Wachau. “It is usually the busiest time here. People from all over Austria, especially Vienna, come here to see that, take pictures and visit restaurants and wineries. This year, there were barely any tourists.”
Vintners are facing the same difficulties as those in Germany. “Sales have come to almost a complete halt,” said Dr. Bertold Salomon of Salomon-Undhof in Kremstal. “But we intend to hold on to all our employees.”
“Many people are applying for government benefits or Kurzarbeit,” said winemaker Martin Nittnaus. “I think the Austrian government is doing a fairly OK job.” He added that most wineries are selling their wine online, but that the retailers complain. “We also have been sending out orders, but it’s just a drop in the bucket, because most of our sales are to ski resorts and high-quality restaurants,” he concluded.
Sattlerhof and Tement started doing online tasting series from their tasting rooms, where they allow customers to virtually taste together.
One fortunate thing is that some foreign workers are still allowed entry. “Our Hungarian workers are still allowed to cross the border for the vineyard work,” said winery owner Judith Beck in Burgenland. Pichler added that their Slovakian employees stayed with the family so that the vineyard work can go on. “Nature knows no COVID-19,” she said.
Winemakers are trying to remain optimistic. “For the wines, some more time in the cellar or in the bottle before sale is for sure very positive,” said Ewald Tscheppe of Werlitsch in Styria. “Personally, I hope people can stay positive in these times and use the time to realize what really matters.”
The issue of the missing coat remains unsolved. Can I ask those who attended the Dinner to check their wardrobes? Someone has mistakenly taken Mary Taylor’s coat and left their own. If you have the wrong coat please let me know and I will arrange a transfer.
Regional Wines newsletter
Members might be interested in the Regional Wines newsletter. This is really a low key weekly prompt about their tastings and specials, rather than a full-blown newsletter. Members who may be interested in some of the events that Regional run can go online to Regional’s website – the prompt comes out mid-week each week.
A reminder to members that we are keen to attract new members. With this in mind, we have two membership deals. 1) If a member brings along a guest the member gets 50% of the door price. 2) if two guests come to the meeting then they pay one door price. Bring along friends etc who are interested in wine.
Report back from Saigon Van Grill
Many of you will have attended the Saigon Van Grill dinner last year. The servings were somewhat disappointing and there were complaints. Your committee has been in contact with the restaurant over a period of time resulting in an eventual small refund. Not enough to share around those attending so we used it to purchase the Prosecco for this year’s July dinner. Went down well we thought.
See you on Wednesday for yet another great tasting.
We are negotiating with a very well known wine personality in NZ to present at this meeting. There are still a couple of matters to resolve and consequently, we will not make any announcement at this time. We have other options so you may be assured that whatever the result you will be treated to the usual high standard of tasting. Watch this spot.
We would be grateful if you could give Anne an indication as to whether or not you are likely to be attending the tasting. This will ensure that we can share out the very nice cheeses as evenly as possible. You wouldn’t want to miss out now, would you? Anne’s email address is email@example.com.
Local beer over NZ wine
As I prepare this newsletter our President is also trying for some balmy weather, though in Bali rather than France. What he will not be doing though is matching the warmth with some good New Zealand wine. He reports that at a restaurant a bottle of Matua Sauvignon Blanc (generally available for about $13 a bottle on our supermarket shelves) was on offer for the NZ equivalent of $80.00 phew. He and Dinah have been reduced to drinking the local beer.
We will be visiting the wines of France, Australia and Portugal over the latter part of the year. Much to be enjoyed.
It wasn’t overwarm in Sydney while we were there but I must say I don’t think I have been warm since our return. Never mind the tasting this month should go some way to warm the cockles of the heart. I have it on good authority that the AGM went well in my absence, and it is a pleasure to have Cecilia join in the ranks of our life members.
Please find attached a PaymentAdviceforJune2018 for this month’s meeting. The form provides an opportunity to pay your membership subscription, entry fee for the June tasting and the July Dinner. Please bring this with you next week (completed of course) or contact Wayne by email.