Editor’s note: We launched our series on Innovation in Wine Country in the days before COVID-19 changed the landscape and life as we know it. Many of the stories focus on innovation and expansion in the industry, which come at a cost. For two NOTL wineries, plans for payback on recent investments have been derailed since the pandemic torpedoed the tourist season.
The Lake Report
Just days before COVID-19 started creeping into our collective consciousness, Paul Harber, proprietor of Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery in St. Davids, couldn’t contain his excitement as he looked ahead to the summer season on the horizon, and the brand new event centre recently opened and all ready for business.
Less than a week later, he had closed the restaurant, retail and event centre operations and laid off most of his staff.
Temporarily shutting down the business due to the pandemic “was the hardest day of my career. My heart goes out to our employees,” he adds with heartfelt emotion.
The brand new event centre is 4,000 square feet indoors, with a 2,600-square-foot terrace outside. Floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides overlook Ravine’s gently sloping vineyards, taking advantage of the iconic view.
The new space has already hosted conferences, weddings, anniversaries and community events.
“We were counting on bookings through our spring and summer season to help pay for the investment,” Harber explains.
The bookings were there, but now the events aren’t happening.
“We haven’t seen cancellations, instead people are postponing their events, and pushing them into the off-season,” he says.
Ravine is offering takeout meal packages in the meantime and wine production continues. The winery’s new charmat method sparkling Rose was recently released.
“We’re operating with a skeleton staff of 13, compared with the 88 people normally working at this time of year,” Harber says. “Everyone is wearing four or five hats, doing whatever needs to be done.”
The federal wage subsidy program “has really helped us,” he says.
“It’s a scary time, in uncharted waters. No one has been through anything like this before, no one could plan for this,” he laments.
On the Victoria Day long weekend in May rolls around, the restaurant normally sees 300 people a day, compared to 300 people a week during the off-season.
“We have five months of the year to make 12 months work, so losing two months or more is devastating.”
But Harber refuses to be discouraged, saying “you have to stay positive, and appreciate the blessed community we have, on a daily basis.”
NEXT: Pillitteri Estates Winery, normally bustling with hundreds of tourists a day at this time of year, looks to online sales and exports to help it weather COVID19.