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Bizarre And Surreal: The Wine Business In The Time Of Coronavirus

Bizarre and surreal—those are the words used by Shannon Coursey, Senior Vice President and National Sales Manager for Wilson-Daniels, a fine wine importer, to describe selling wine in this unprecedented global crisis. “It’s bizarre for us because the wine business is such a social business. We are staying active and positive but it is a surreal environment.” One might also add the word ‘sad,’ which Coursey is quick to do, “My heart is broken for our restaurant partners, so many are just barely getting by.”

Despite the fact that things are surreal, bizarre, and sad, those in the wine business have had little time to digest the things. Says Kevin Murphy Senior Vice President of Operations for Wilson-Daniels, “We had to adapt to the new conditions and quickly pivot to a delivery model and retail sales. We’ve had to rethink how we get things done and still keep everyone safe. Now we are alternating crews in the warehouse with no physical overlap, ensuring only one driver per truck, placing returned merchandise into quarantine, and working to keep the supply chain open.” It’s been an exhausting process but, adds Murphy, “Everyone’s efforts have been incredibly impressive, I have always been proud of where I work but after this week I am so proud to talk about what we’ve been able to do.”

Meanwhile, over in Italy, where the virus has taken a terrible toll, the winemaking soldiers on. According to Scott Ades president of Dalla Terra, a wine importer with an exclusive portfolio of Italian wines, none of his winemakers have contracted COVID-19. “It’s incredible really, the Italians are quite stoic about it, none of them are happy about having to deal with the confinement, and it is taking a toll on them, but they are taking it in stride, with humor and a bit of resignation.” Nature is marching on says Ades and now winemakers are preparing for bud break but with limited active staff.

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Ades adds that his winemakers are full of stories about “lots of pasta and pizza being made at home, and seeing the same dog get walked several times a day by different people.” (Apparently, having a dog allows individuals the opportunity to go outside for a walk.) But, he notes, Italian winemakers are mostly concerned about the future. “They understand they will get through this, but Italy was not in a great financial position before this outbreak and this won’t help that. In the immediate sense, public assistance is good over there but what does it mean for the economy’s strength later? Many are not worried about today but someday this will all have to be paid for.”

Coursey notes that while Americans cannot go to restaurants and bars, they “are definitely stocking up. We are seeing more and more consumers purchase not a single bottle of wine, but rather cases of wine.” Wilson-Daniels is well-positioned for that because they intentionally over-stocked at the end of the year to offset the coming wine tariffs. “We bought nine months of inventory in advance,” says Coursey, adding, “there may be future supply chain issues; no one really knows what the future holds.” Coursey says despite it all, the one thing she misses most is the social part of the wine business. “I really look forward to connecting in person with customers again when we are on the other side of this. This job is all about relationships; we love being together and dining together and it’s something we will never take for granted. Dining out is my happy place and I truly miss that aspect of life.”

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Katie Kelly Bell, 03/26/20
Bizarre And Surreal: The Wine Business In The Time Of Coronavirus