Ontario Wineries, Struggling Under Corona Virus Restrictions.

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Nicolette Novak is the owner of Good Earth Food and Wine Co that includes a bistro, government restrictions designed to limit the spread of Covid-19 have virtually crippled all aspects of Good Earth’s business.

“I’m a pretty strong person, but last few weeks I’ve hit the wall a few times when I thought to myself, ‘I can’t do this anymore,” said Novak. “I don’t know how much longer I can hold on.”

Novak is worried about how to keep her winery going during the pandemic, but her first priority is her staff, she said, “the size of the debt that’s facing me; I get paralyzed at the thought of how much I’m going to owe.”

The winemaking business sits at an intersection of agriculture, retail, wholesale, exporting, and hospitality sectors, which makes it particularly vulnerable during Ontario’s ongoing lockdown, and smaller wineries, like Good Earth, are most affected when it comes to sales.

She has had to cancel all of her cooking classes and the restaurant’s business has dropped off sharply. Although curbside pickup is permitted under Ontario’s restrictions, by their very nature wineries are in sparsely populated rural area where there are few people around to order takeout. The wholesale side of the winery business has also been affected, since restaurants aren’t going through cases of wine as quickly as they once did.

Paul Bosc Jr., the proprietor of Chateau des Charmes Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., says his revenue streams have dried up in large part because he hasn’t received an exporting or duty free order in months. His agricultural costs, however, have remained constant.  “We’re trying to fund a farm operation, 250 acres of vineyards, four different sites, as if it was business as usual.” “We’ve got about half a million grapevines that have to be tied and pruned, all done by hand. But we’re trying to fund that workforce of about 40 people at a time when our revenues have been cut by at least two-thirds.”

According to Vintners Quality Alliance Ontario, wineries in the province’s three wine-producing regions _ Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara Peninsula, and Prince Edward County – contribute to 18,000 jobs with a total economic benefit of more than $4 billion per year. Every bottle of VQA wine sold generates $98.20 in economic benefit for the province. Winery tourism, which generates $850 million per year for Ontario, is a critical part of business. It’s the most significant profit centre and has the largest impact on money being returned to the community. Most of the 180 wineries in Ontario are family-run operations with fewer than 20 employees.

Although interest-free loans and government benefits for small businesses have helped, many winemakers would like to be reopened along with other seasonal businesses like garden centers or golf courses. They also hope that Ontario wine drinkers will make more of an effort to shop locally, and support not just an important cornerstone of a regional economy, but also the national economy.”