Vancouver Island wineries struggling amid pandemic
VICTORIA -- There is no doubt that all local businesses on Vancouver Island are suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic, and wine producers in the Cowichan Valley are no exception.
Local wineries are now asking islanders to consider buying local when shopping for their favourite bottle of wine.
At the Blue Grouse Winery in the Cowichan Valley, March sales were actually pretty good.
“The alcohol business has had the 'toilet paper syndrome,'” said Paul Brunner, owner of the Blue Grouse Winery. “Everybody filled their cellars.”
Now that those cellars are filled, sales for April aren’t looking so good. Brunner is expecting to see a pretty significant drop-off by the end of the month.
With restaurants closed across Canada, nearly 55 per cent of Blue Grouse Winery’s business has vanished.
Usually this time of year is when wineries release their new vintages. But this year, with tasting rooms closed due to provincial health orders, those closures represent a lot of lost sales.
“It’s not really a good time to have your whole place closed down,” said Brunner.
The Blue Grouse Winery has approximately 5,000 cases of wine to move this season and the vines in his orchard will start growing new grapes by the end of April.
Over at the Unsworth Vineyard in Mill Bay, it’s the same story.
“It’s been pretty lonely around here,” said Chris Turyk, marketing director with the Unsworth Vineyard.
The company's restaurant is open on weekends, but it’s take-out only. Their tasting room is closed as well and the winery is down to about five full-time staff members as their business model has moved online.
Turyk says the team is making adjustments to entice sales.
“Right now, we’re offering free shipping to Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland,” said Turyk. “We’re also offering 50 per cent off [shipping] across Canada.”
It’s an expense that the Unsworth Vineyard says is needed in order to keep sales moving in an uncertain time.
Right now, the message of “thinking local” has never been more important, when reaching into your wallet.
“That money is staying in your community, it’s not going to somewhere else,” said Turyk. “If that’s important for you, then it's a good option to buy from your local producers.”
Back at the Blue Grouse Winery, they are giving back in a time when everyone could use a little help.
One dollar from every bottle of wine purchased throughout the month of April will be donated to a local charity, Nourish Cowichan. The charity feeds hungry children in the Cowichan Valley.
The Brunner family will also be matching that dollar donation, with a dollar of their own. The goal is to raise $10,000 for the local charity by the end of the month.