This May long weekend was supposed to be an auspicious date for Sunnybrook Winery on Lakeshore Road in NOTL.
It was the target date to welcome the public into the new retail space, to enjoy craft ciders and charcuterie boards. Instead, the building is shuttered and completion has been stalled.
“We stopped construction in late March, because of COVID-19 restrictions,” according to Sunnybrook owner Richard Liu. “We just have some finishing touches and landscaping left to do.”
The new building towers two and a half storeys high and the tasting space features full-height windows on three sides, overlooking the orchards behind.
“We were going for a design of a minimal modern arts style, simple, with interesting angles,” Liu explains.
Beyond the new retail area is the cavernous expanse designed for increased production. “We’ll have five times more capacity for production here,” says Liu.
Rows of shiny new tanks loom over the concrete floor. “We’ve installed 12 new tanks, giving us eight times the capacity of our existing tanks.”
Liu plans to resume work on the new building now that construction restrictions have been lifted and he’s aiming for July to have everything completed.
“It’s a huge investment overall,” he acknowledges, so the delay in opening and the current uncertainty is difficult.
“What’s going to pay for this building is people buying pints in here,” and that’s now delayed indefinitely. “It’s tough to say what July and August are going to look like.”
In terms of COVID impact on the existing business, overall revenue has dropped by 52 per cent, although Liu notes that sales to the LCBO, which account for 30 per cent of his overall revenue, are stable.
The federal government wage subsidy helps, he says, adding, “We’re really lean right now, and we’re trying to boost online sales. They’ve been stronger than I expected, but still are just a fraction of our normal sales.”
Liu takes a pragmatic view of things.
“It is what it is. If everything can open up, great. But I’m mentally prepared for the likelihood it’s going to be a really weird year.”
Once tourism does resume, whenever that may be, Liu is hoping the 30 new parking spaces will all be full, all the time.