By Jackson Russell
Despite a downturn in cellar door sales, Seymour winemaker Wine by Sam has been able to survive the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to online customers wanting to support Mitchell Shire businesses.
With the winery’s cellar door only open on Fridays and Saturdays at reduced hours and a lack of wholesales due to the effects of the pandemic on the hospitality industry, Wine by Sam’s usual sources of income have been dramatically reduced.
However, thanks to a partnership with online retailer Naked Wines, the winery has been able to continue producing wines and maintain some full-time staff in its cellar.
Co-owner Bronwyn Dunwoodie, who owns the business with her husband Sam Plunkett, said online customers had reached out with messages of support after buying their wine.
“We’ve had people wanting to support regional Victoria and particularly Mitchell Shire, people contacting us from outside the shire wanting to support us,” she said.
“There’s a sense that people do get that regional Victoria, probably more so than the Melbourne metro area, needs a bit more support because we don’t have the population, and are dependent on tourism from Melbourne and interstate which we aren’t seeing now.”
Coming off a small vintage caused by the effects of drought and bushfires, Wine by Sam was already expecting a tough year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Ms Dunwoodie said the pandemic had an effect on its cellar door and wholesale business but saw an unexpected increase in online sales, particularly overseas.
“There was a big increase with our online customers which was unexpected and particularly with export markets into the United States and United Kingdom. That wouldn’t have been something we would’ve foreseen,” she said.
“It’s quite odd given the US and UK are two of the countries hardest hit with COVID-19.”
Ms Dunwoodie said the Seymour community’s support had been great but the business was finding lockdown tougher the second time around.
“With the first lockdown, we opened just Fridays, particularly for people walking and to serve coffee but we’re finding this second lockdown much tougher. I think people are more wary so I don’t know if our cellar door will remain open at all,” she said.
“At the moment, we’re doing limited hours on Friday and Saturday from 10am to 4pm, just takeaway wine, coffee and local produce. People come in to get their coffee beans, a jar of honey and that sort of thing.”
Wine by Sam is taking all the precautions necessary to keep the winery open, with social distancing a big part of its production operations. However, a further stage of lockdown restrictions would greatly affect how it operates.
“We’re quite prepared to have our cellar door closed if that makes it safer for the community and helps keep our production area safe and ongoing,” she said.