English wine industry responds to Covid-19
Social distancing, self-isolation, contact tracing, furlough, Zoom meeting, Houseparty, PPE … Three weeks ago, most of us had never heard these terms before, yet now they are part of our daily vocabulary. Our lives have changed, the world has changed and, once again, the NHS has come to our rescue.
Drinks industry responses
According to the Food & Drink Federation, the food and drink industry is the UK's largest manufacturing sector, contributing £28.2 billion to the economy annually and employing 400,000 people. The coronavirus pandemic is clearly having an effect on many levels, but despite the many challenges, the drinks industry has responded with vigour, ingenuity and a certain amount of altruism. Before, HMRC waived excise duty on spirits used in hand sanitiser, several distilleries were already making and providing free hand sanitiser to those who needed it.
The wine industry has also responded to living with the threat of Covid-19, by a series of initiatives, adapting to this rapidly changing world, supporting its customers, the local community and the NHS.
The BIG English Wine Good Friday
This Good Friday, drinkers and producers of English and Welsh wine are heeding the call from Black Chalk's Jacob Leadley to support our home-grown industry with #theBIGenglishwinegoodfriday. "If every person in the UK that loves English or Welsh wine bought a bottle direct from their favourite producer, I think we might secure an entire industry and their workforce in one very enjoyable evening." So, from 7pm on Good Friday 2020, we are all being encouraged to share images, videos and comments about English and Welsh wine on social media and to join in interactive tastings. There are more details of the biggest collective English and Welsh wine tasting ever to be held on Wine GB's website.
Wineries responding to the crisis
While many wine estates around the country have special deals on bottle purchases, several are going one step further to help their local communities. A few of these are highlighted below.
Bolney Wine Estate
Bolney Wine Estate is offering free delivery on all online orders over £15 until 30th June. If you're lucky enough to live within a 20-mile radius of the winery, one of their team will personally deliver the order within 24 hours, maintaining appropriate social-distancing of course! Anyone signing up to their newsletter can also benefit from 10% off their first order.
Bolney's food and drink offers
Their vineyard shop currently remains open from 10am until 4pm every day, offering wines, beers and spirits, plus everyday essentials such as bread, fresh produce and a range of frozen meals to take away. Additionally, they've launched three fresh produce boxes containing essentials such as bread and milk, along with locally sourced, seasonal veg in box 2, and a little extra treat of creamy cheese and homemade chutney in box 3. Bolney offers a non-contact collection service or they will deliver within a 10-mile radius of the estate.
They also offer a weekly 'dine-at-home' meal collection service, consisting of a main course and dessert, made by their Head Chef using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. NHS staff get a well-earned 25% reduction.
Look out for online Bolney masterclasses this Friday as part of the #theBIGenglishwinegoodfriday.
Another winery doing their bit to help staff, customers, local communities and the health service is Chapel Down. Mark Harvey, Managing Director of Wines and Spirits, describes further.
"First and foremost, our duty is to survive to ensure we continue to provide jobs and a safe work environment and growth for our employees. We have made some tough but necessary decisions. Sadly, we needed to close our tours, shop, restaurant and bar at the state-of-the-art Curious Brewery in Ashford and our hospitality, shop and tours at our beautiful winery in Tenterden. Given that our beer and cider sales are largely focussed on the on-trade, in order to conserve our cash, we have taken the decision to stop brewing and close the brewery until the on-trade returns to normality. We have sufficient stocks and work in progress to trade through with bottled products to take home and online customers for up to six months."
Protecting the business
Looking after current employees and reducing non-essential expenditure are key to safeguarding the business, as Mark explains. "We are grateful for the support shown by the Government in enabling us to furlough the staff directly affected by the change to the business. It will enable us to get back up to speed quickly when the all clear is given. The company has ensured that all furloughed staff are on 80% of their salaries/wages. Those still working will ensure we deliver to our off-trade customers and on-line consumers, will tend the vineyards and create the wines in the winery. We are ensuring that their safety is our first concern. We have moved staff to work from home wherever possible."
"The board, executive and senior managers in the company have all taken 20-40% salary cuts for the duration. The company has also taken significant steps to conserve cash and reduce spend across the business. It has suspended all non-contracted capital expenditure with the exception of the committed development of the vineyards planted in 2018 and 2019. Following the above actions and based on prudent assumptions, we have adequate cash for the foreseeable future."
A time of change for wine sales
Discounts and free delivery are available to anyone ordering via the Chapel Down website. Mark sees growing off-trade and on-line sales compensating for reduced on-trade business. "This is a time of significant change. Chapel Down is England's strongest wine brand with a leading position in the UK grocery/off-trade and rapidly growing on-line sales. With strong assets, good management and a healthy cash position, we believe we are very well placed to weather the crisis and thrive in the aftermath."
"Following the government's advice to close pubs, theatres and hospitality venues to contain the spread of the virus, we have seen our sales in supermarkets and off licenses grow substantially. Our on-line sales have multiplied dramatically too, as customers seek to continue to enjoy our brands at home."
"It is too early to extrapolate any trends. However, if the current sales rate continues, the off-trade sales and on-line growth of our wines would more than make up for the loss of on-trade wine sales. It will certainly leave us with a stronger business and an increased market share in these areas where we see long-term growth."
- King's College Hospital Foundation Trust - helping a team of 100 midwives working in Kent.
- Farmdrop - an online grocer supporting local farmers and essential workers.
- Caring Homes Group - a provider of over 100 care homes for the elderly in south-east England and across the country.
Forty Hall Vineyard
Enfield-based Forty Hall Vineyard has just introduced free delivery on orders of six bottles of still wine or three bottles of sparkling, using code 'freedelivery2020'. There is also an automatic offer of 10% discount on orders over £200.
Emma Lundie, Head of Operations, says: "The current crisis has had a huge impact on the number of people we have to carry out the vineyard work. Our sales also fell through the floor as restaurants and bars closed and events were cancelled. As a relatively small enterprise, we can steer the ship in a new direction quite quickly. Our focus has shifted to direct sales to customers online and collaborations with online retail outlets and stockists who are now offering home deliveries to their customers. We are also considering offering home deliveries in the local area."
Forty Hall is certified organic and practices environmentally sustainable farming and viticulture. It's a social enterprise mainly staffed by volunteers and its ethical approach is winning over many customers, as Emma notes. "There's certainly a demand for English wine and initiatives like #theBIGenglishwinegoodfriday provide a much-needed boost to morale and the wine industry. Particularly in the current climate, I think our customers also like that they are making an ethical choice when buying our wines. We've sold more wine via our website this weekend than we had in the last few months put together!"
The winery has also partnered with award-winning Enfield artisan bakery, Holtwhites to offer home delivery of breads, pastries, cakes, Forty Hall wines and more to the local community. They have also teamed up with Fat Macy's and other social enterprises to fill hampers with tasty treats, including their wine, for London-wide deliveries.
Image by The Electric Eye Photography.
Hattingley Valley has recently launched a campaign to support the UK's hospitality industry via Hospitality Action's Covid19 Appeal. They are donating a percentage of each case sold of their sparkling wine towards this cause. Additionally, they are supporting restaurant partners, The Oystermen, London Shell Co. and The Chesil Rectory via sales of their new still rosé. More information can be found here.
Mixed cases of Hampshire wine.
As if proof were needed of the English wine industry coming together, several Hampshire wineries are pooling resources.
- Case 1
- Case 2
Lyme Bay Winery
Image by Matt Austin.
Lyme Bay Winery is currently offering next (working) day despatch, where possible, with free delivery for orders of £20 or more. They always have offers on their website which include, from 1st-30th April, a 10% discount on cider using code 'SPRINGCIDER2020'. Additionally until 10th April, they are taking 10% off the price of their English wines using code 'GOODFRIDAY10', as part of #theBIGenglishwinegoodfriday.
Gusbourne is continuing to offer free delivery to all UK mainland destinations with no minimum purchase requirement. They are also releasing some of their still wines for the first time online. Usually, these are only sold through the cellar door. An exclusive interview with winemaker Charlie Holland will be posted very soon on these pages!
Other wineries' responses
The above is just a snapshot of what the industry is doing now. Many wineries are providing discounts, free delivery and other incentives during the coronavirus shutdown. These include Black Chalk who offer free delivery, a free tour and tasting voucher (post-coronavirus shutdown!) for orders of three bottles or more. Dermot Sugrue is giving a 15% discount on Sugrue wines to NHS and key workers and Wiston Estate offers free delivery. Similarly, Dalwood Vineyard is also offering 15% off for NHS workers and free postage and packaging on any order size, while Camel Valley has free delivery on any order of six bottles or more.
Simon Bladon, owner of Jenkyn Place, with winemaker Dermot Sugrue.
There are many other special deals available now from wineries all over the country and more will, no doubt, be appearing soon. Best to check websites and social media for the latest news … but don't forget our independent wine merchants who sell English wine and accept online orders. They need our backing too.
Having worked on NHS hospital wards in a previous career, I thankfully never encountered the crisis we now all face. So this Good Friday, I will raise a glass of English wine to those real heroes, our healthcare workers, particularly the nurses who risk their lives day and night to keep us safe. Thank you.