Covid-19 – winemakers still working but concerned…

Like the rest of the population, winemakers are feeling the full force of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although they continue to work in their vineyards and cellars, they are concerned about being forced to cease contact with their customers.

This spring will be unlike any other. While some remain in quarantine, others continue to work in a virtually deserted world that has never been so quiet. Although the experience will be different for everyone, no one will forget this period in limbo that almost seems to have slipped off the calendar.

Like other farmers, winemakers and their employees are not subject to quarantine measures. They have no choice but to go out and cultivate their vineyards, monitor wines kept in vats in their cellars, and prepare them for summer. Taking a break would be inconceivable and mean losing the fruits of previous years’ labour.

Fortunately, the weather is good. The sky is blue and the nights are cool, so nature is in no hurry to awaken. Winemakers performed preliminary pruning of their vine stocks at the start of winter. By trimming the dead wood, they paved their way for subsequent, more precise pruning, leaving either one cane (single Guyot pruning) or two (double Guyot) depending on the required yields, vine age, soil quality, etc.

We bottled a bit more wine than usual to give ourselves a small buffer in case production needs to stop

When the virus imposed a lockdown, virtually all the vines had been pruned, but the branches soon to bear grape clusters still needed to be bound to iron wire. By wire-training them, winemakers can control vine growth in three dimensions. “There’s no short-time working for us – all our employees are busy fastening canes, repairing or replacing damaged posts … there’s quite a bit to do,” explained Frank Schumacher (Schumacher-Knepper estate in Wintrange) on 19 March.

There are plenty of jobs to be done in the cellar too. Work must continue while optimal preparations are also made for any worst-case scenario. “As soon as it became apparent that the country would need to go into lockdown, we bottled a bit more wine than usual to give ourselves a small buffer in case production needs to stop,” says Antoine Clasen, CEO of Bernard-Massard.

Managing emergencies and preventing disaster has become a daily task. “In our cellars, we have set up two production shifts that swap every week,” says the General Manager of Vinsmoselle, Patrick Berg. “That way, if anyone is infected with coronavirus and the whole shift has to self-isolate, the other will remain operational.”

While work has continued on the Moselle during the lockdown, there is little peace of mind as contact has been lost with customers. Like all bars and restaurants, winemakers’ reception facilities are closed. Events, fairs, exhibitions and open days have all been cancelled. As a product that people like to taste before buying, wine is paying a heavy price for this lockdown.

“The cancellation of ProWein (editor’s note: Europe’s biggest wine exhibition due to take place in Düsseldorf in mid-March) is a real blow,” admits Patrick Berg. We had made appointments with professionals from the US, UK, Finland and the Baltic States. These are all growth opportunities that we have lost this year.” Smaller events are no less important: “we always achieve decent sales at the Grevenmacher Wäimoart, where the new vintage is traditionally presented to the public,” sighs Frank Schumacher. All winemakers were due to meet there on 14 April.

Although customers can’t come to us to taste wine, this at least allows them to do it in the comfort of their own homes

“The problem is that it is very difficult to postpone all these events,” laments Marc Krier (Caves Krier Frères, Remich). On one hand, we do not know when the lockdown will end or whether customers will come back to see us immediately, and on the other, it is difficult to identify alternative dates – in summer, no one will be around, in September/October, it’s harvest time, and in November, there’s the Wine and Crémant Festival.” Indeed, Expovin, the biggest wine exhibition in Luxembourg, due to be held at Luxexpo (Luxembourg-Kirchberg) between 13 and 17 May, has had to be cancelled and postponed till next year.

The closure of all hotels, restaurants and cafés in Luxembourg and the Grande Région is also a distressing consequence of the lockdown. An entire market has literally vanished in a finger click. “It will affect at least 30% of our sales,” estimates Patrick Berg. Easter also marks the start of a period of family celebrations such as weddings and baptisms, all missed opportunities for large orders.

Fortunately, producers are able to honour their customers’ orders. Those with an online shop are offering hitherto unreleased tasting packs with selections of wines. “Although customers can’t come to us to taste wine, this at least allows them to do it in the comfort of their own homes,” comments Frank Schumacher. Pit Pundel (Pundel Vins Purs, Wormeldange-Haut) has even seized the opportunity to launch a cheese and wine pack including six cheeses made by a Luxembourgian producer (Berdorfer Keis) with the six wines that offer the best pairings.

All operators have implemented effective delivery services compliant with the requirements in force. Parcels are left outside the door and the bill is posted through the letterbox, thus avoiding any human contact. Of course, all this is completely at odds with the spirit of sharing and sociability associated with fine wine … won’t it be good when we can finally pop those corks and come together to celebrate a return to normality!




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