It's been a long time between drinks, but 'alcotourism' dry spell set to break

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New South Wales’ “alcotourism” sector looks set to break its dry spell as travel restrictions ease and cellar doors, breweries and distilleries reopen in regional areas.

It’s been a long time between drinks, but from Monday, June 1, businesses will be allowed to welcome back as many as 50 visitors at a time.

Nicole Samadol, the president of the Orange Region Vignerons’ Association, said the closure of cellar doors had put pressure on wineries.

“This is huge for our wineries who have battled drought, bushfire smoke and now the COVID-19 shutdown,” she said.

“We are all really excited to see people coming back again and there have been a lot of bookings being made for tastings and accommodation in the area.”

Ms Samadol said there will be limits on numbers and strict cleaning measures will be put in place.

“We need to make sure that both our staff and customers are safe,” she said.

A man and woman stand in front of grapevines.A man and woman stand in front of grapevines.
Nicole Samodol and James Manny are looking forward to welcoming visitors back to their cellar door at Rowlee Wines in Orange NSW.(ABC Rural: Tim Fookes)

Back, but not with a bullet

Cassegrain Wines, located near Port Macquarie, lost 90 per cent of its revenue during the lockdown.

John Cassegrain said direct sales to consumers accounted for 50 per cent of its domestic sales.

“Three weeks ago, for the life of us, we didn’t think that we’d be opening up our cellar door for tasting as soon as the first of June,” he said.

Mr Cassegrain’s business was also hit by the closure of export markets — China cancelled a $50,000 order and Japan may not reorder until September.

“Our major customer in Japan is the bullet train,” he said.

Mr Cassegrain hopes to see his business with China resume within the next month, but fears the current political tension could put buyers off.

Cellar door staff pours wine into glass for tasting.Cellar door staff pours wine into glass for tasting.
Wine tasting at the cellar door before the lockdown began.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Borderline business

Husk Distillers, in Tumbulgum, in the state’s far north, was open for less than a year before it was forced to close.

Harriet Messenger said the business adapted quickly and was able to maintain its permanent staff.

“Our chef’s very excited to be back cooking this week,” she said.

Several drinks lined up on a bar.Several drinks lined up on a bar.
The Tumbulgum distillery was open for less than a year before it was forced to close.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

The distillery lost 45 per cent of its distribution channels when bars, restaurants and duty-free stores shut down.

“But because of those big major bottle shops that have been able to stay open, as well as our online channel and hand sanitiser, we’ve been able to remain in a fairly positive position,” she said.

While she was excited about restrictions easing, Ms Messenger said that until the Queensland border reopens Tweed businesses would be limping.

“There should be enough people locally who want to come, and enough people with passes from the Gold Coast,” she said.

Turning on the tap

Seven Mile Brewing at Ballina also pivoted to producing hand sanitiser after it was forced to close its taproom and keg orders dried up.

Lou Wilson said business dropped by 75 per cent, but the brewery is increasing its beer production in anticipation of the eased restrictions.

“Obviously for the bigger venues 50 people is still not a lot, but we are starting to get kegs back out there, which is great,” he said.

A brewery employee holds a four pack of canned beers and a bottle of hand sanitiser.A brewery employee holds a four pack of canned beers and a bottle of hand sanitiser.
Seven Mile Brewery has been operating a takeaway beer and sanitiser pop-up shop for the last few months.(Supplied: Seven Mile Brewery)

While the taps started flowing at the brewery for 10 people last weekend, the owner is looking forward to hosting 50 onsite.

“We’ll be able to serve alcohol without food, but it’s still table service,” Mr Wilson said.