B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

Amid widespread economic uncertainty, online sales have been a saving grace for B.C. wineries.

A B.C. wine expert, weighing in on the current economic state of the industry, said the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for some wineries, but not all.

Master of Wine, Rhys Pender, one of just a handful in the country, believes you can’t paint the current economic state of the wine industry with a single brush. Each district, city, town or winery has its own story.

“I think if you ask ten people the same question, you’ll get ten different answers,” he said.

Wine is typically sold in three different ways; through retail sales in stores, through the hospitality industry at restaurants, or direct-to-consumer either in person at the winery, or online.

That being said, when the first wave hit, Pender explained those who were able to quickly adjust, and were already operating in all sales channels, fared better than those who were too reliant on one channel of distribution.

“I think wineries have to be ready to adapt. So I think some who were caught with all their eggs in one basket… in terms of distribution channels, maybe found it a little bit harder to adapt,” said Pender.

Those with a business model strictly relying on tasting rooms and in-person sales, Pender explained have suffered more.

READ MORE: Okanagan wineries donate $10,000 to United Way’s COVID-19 relief fund

Blasted Church Winery winemaker, Evan Saunders, pictured walking through the vineyard in early September. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)

Blasted Church Winery winemaker, Evan Saunders, pictured walking through the vineyard in early September. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)

Several positives

Despite the hospitality business being turned on its head by the pandemic, Pender believes it has resulted in several positives for the wine industry.

For months establishments have been operating tasting rooms on a reservation-based system, to more easily control the groups that come and go, and keep them separate. This, Pender said, has been warmly received.

“A lot of wineries have told me that even if things go back to normal, they’ll probably keep this setup because it’s been so good,” he said.

Additionally, many wineries that by now would have normally closed for the season, are still open for business.

Prior to new provincial health orders recently enacted, prohibiting non-essential travel, increased inter-provincial travel was giving local wineries a much-needed boost. Pender explained wineries were seeing many people come and visit the Okanagan, some of who may have normally travelled south to warmer areas once the cold hit.

“We’ve actually had some wineries tell me they were staying open longer than they ever would have before, and still had people coming to visit it,” he said. “Because what are people going to do, right?”

Pender, the owner of Little Farm Winery in the Similkameen Valley, said the pandemic has been an opportunity for him to revitalize his online brand. When news of the pandemic first hit headlines, he said this was one of the first things he did.

He switched to a better website, following an e-commerce model, which in turn allowed his business to sell more online.

Although wineries have lost “a ton” of sales due to the pandemic, Pender said online sales have been a saving grace.

READ MORE: Pandemic an opportunity for B.C. wineries to reset, reinvent

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)

Harvest time was bittersweet

When it came time to harvest in the fall, there were plenty of grapes to go around.

The year 2020, although permanently altered by the novel coronavirus, has at least one positive to its name; a great harvest, at least for some.

Winemakers in the Similkameen, include Pender, were celebrating. In other parts of the Okanagan, not so much.

“We had our second-largest crop ever, really high quality, all picked and done before Thanksgiving,” said the Cawston winery owner.

Some farms, however, suffered extensive winter damage, small crops, and a late harvest. In the Kelowna area, the crop quality was good, but the yield was low.

READ MORE: B.C. premier calls for national COVID-19 travel restrictions

Increased traffic anticipated in future

Going forward, Pender said planning is difficult, as everyone continues to take each day as it comes. But come 2021, wineries will likely prepare for a similar year until news comes of things improving.

If a vaccine for COVID-19 doesn’t arrive by next year, and international travel remains infrequent, Pender said he expects an increase in traffic to wineries by Canadians, granted that is if inter-provincial and national travel restrictions are loosened.

“Probably one of the greatest things to do in Canada would be to go visit the Okanagan and go to wineries. For all those people who would normally go travel internationally, they’re going to be looking at what to do. And places like Tofino, and places like the Okanagan and beautiful places like that, I think are going to be the main travel destinations.

“I expect we might see even more visitors than ever before,” Pender said.

With online sales higher than its ever been, the B.C. winemaker is feeling positive.

“I’m optimistic it’s going to be quite successful.”

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: phil.mclachlan@kelownacapnews.com


 

@newspaperphil
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP Emergency Response Team members on Charles Street in Chilliwack on Jan. 15, 2021 after an undisclosed threat was made by a male. The matter was resolved peacefully. (Darcy Loewen photo)
Heavy Chilliwack RCMP presence on Charles Street Friday after ‘disturbing’ phone call

Man who made threats to harm self and others eventually taken into custody unharmed

Two people were in a vehicle that rolled over on Highway No. 1 near Lickman Road. They are now out of the vehicle. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vehicle rolls over on Highway 1 near Lickman Road in Chilliwack

Two people in SUV at time of collision in westbound lanes

Both eastbound lanes are completely west of exit 135 on Highway 1. (Google maps)
UPDATE: Traffic now getting through following car collision on Highway 1 in Chilliwack

Incident happened shortly just west of exit 135 for Agassiz/Harrison Hot Springs

Carin Bondar announced Nov. 26 that she will be running in the upcoming byelection to replace outgoing school trustee Dan Coulter. (Sarah Sovereign Photography)
Chilliwack school board candidate Carin Bondar calls for vote-by-mail option

As the COVID pandemic continues, Bondar fears voter turnout will be low for next month’s byelection

The route of the pink parade. The Record has blackened out the name of the teen. Facebook photo.
Pink-vehicle parade to be held Sunday in support of transgender teen assaulted in Mission

Teen and family to watch parade drive single file along waterfront at 3 p.m., Jan. 17

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Delta Hospice Society operates the Harold & Veronica Savage Centre for Supportive Care (pictured) and the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner. (The Canadian Press photo)
Fraser Health to evict Delta Hospice Society, open new hospice beds next door

Health authority will serve DHS 30 days’ notice when service agreement expires Feb. 25

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Most Read