It’s no secret that the Coronavirus pandemic which is currently sweeping the globe has had a massively negative impact on the wine trade in general. With bars and restaurants closed, and many consumers concerned about money, many producers are losing 50% or more of their expected revenue. Travel bans and borders closures have made shipping logistics extremely complicated. Quarantines, lockdowns, and other security measures make it impossible for wine producers to operate normally.
But, while everyone is quite rightly concerned about the immediate impact, it’s also important to consider how the current situation will impact wine production for the 2020 vintage. Right now, wine producers in the Southern Hemisphere are in the middle of harvest, while Spring is just kicking off in the Northern Hemisphere and there is work to do in the vineyards that won’t wait. The work done now will directly impact the harvest and wine production, and thus the wine quality for Europe and the US later in the year.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest wine producing regions of the world, and the impact of COVID-19 on the 2020 vintage work going on there now.
Italy currently holds the extremely concerning record for number of COVID-19 deaths in the world, and has been under a tight lockdown for nearly a month. All this, as the vines are budding and work in the vineyard becomes more and more important.
So far, winemakers say they continue to operate on a reduced scale. Winery and vineyard workers are considered essential, and are allowed to continue operations, but they must observe safety precautions and avoid interaction as much as possible.
As the number of cases continues to climb, wineries may have problems if their skilled staff fall ill and cannot be replaced. Travel restrictions and border closures mean that they will also be unable to bring in foreign workers and winemakers to help, as is usual during the growing and harvest seasons.
In France, the situation is much the same as in Italy, though for the moment the virus has not spread as widely. Wineries continue to operate in the major wine producing regions, but with reduced capacity and strict safety measures in place.
French estates cannot afford to have their workers fall sick as the season goes on, and as close attention to the vineyards becomes increasingly important. For the moment, work continues, but producers are making sure to keep their staff separated so they do not risk them becoming ill as the workload increases. The east of France in particular, such as Alsace, has seen an alarming number of cases which could well lead to tighter restrictions on business operations.
In the Southern Hemisphere meanwhile, the harvest is in full swing. New Zealand has closed its borders to everyone other than citizens and permanent residents. Many New Zealand wineries, especially those with a large production capacity, are unable to bring in the many foreign workers they would normally expect to help them through harvest. This lack of manpower will certainly be felt in both the quantity, and quite possibly quality, of the wines produced this year.
Even worse, wineries are not considered to be essential businesses, which means they are subject to many operating restrictions during their busiest time of year. New Zealand could find 2020 to be an extremely difficult vintage due to a lack of resources and manpower at a very crucial moment.
For the moment, South America has not yet experienced the full impact of coronavirus. But cases are increasing, and in a region which already struggles with healthcare, a severe outbreak will be very difficult to handle.
Wineries are in the middle of harvest right now, and hopefully they will be able to finish before a full outbreak takes off. If the harvest is not finished, a big rise in cases would be a disaster. Wineries work round the clock during harvest, and take on extra staff to handle the work – if workers are out sick or home caring for family, it will be very difficult to bring in the harvest and get all the wine safely into tank or barrel in time.
The California wine industry seems poised to come out of the coronavirus pandemic with very few lasting issues, at least concerning the 2020 vintage. Tasting rooms at wineries are closed to the public, but winery and field work is considered essential business and is allowed to continue.
Though the number of coronavirus cases in California continues to rise, the main wine growing regions have not been greatly affected so far. California implemented strict social distancing protocols across the state quite early on, and urban areas are not as densely populated as New York City, where the majority of US coronavirus deaths have taken place. With the peak of the pandemic in the US expected to arrive within the next 10 days, it seems likely that the virus will pass without significant effect on the 2020 vintage in California.
Vintage 2020 will be a mixed bag
Overall, it looks like the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the 2020 vintage will vary across the world. As is the case for most aspects of life, the timing of both the virus’ arrival and the government measures taken in response will affect how badly the country suffers and how many people contract the virus or are otherwise unable to work.
The Southern Hemisphere could experience more issues with this vintage than the Northern Hemisphere, since they are currently in the middle of harvest, one of the most crucial points of the vintage, and are under severe restrictions.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Europe was hit earlier and harder than the United States, and it remains to be seen how long restrictions on movement there will last. The United States, where people are more spread out, and California in particular, with early safety measures taken, appears to be in a good position to come out of the pandemic relatively unscathed.
The financial crises due to loss of sales and tourism revenue will be hard to handle, but hopefully will not directly affect the 2020 harvest and quality of the wines produced. In the meantime, support your favorite wineries as best you can, and enjoy many of the virtual and online tastings that wineries are producing for those stuck at home.