When the doors slammed shut on Fortress Tasmania, the state's wine industry heard a potential death knell.
Seemingly overnight two significant channels for wine sales - the interstate hospitality industry and tourism dried up.
Cellar doors were closed, and the pandemic restrictions shut down the tourism side of the industry - but no one told the grapes.
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The pandemic swiftly took the wind out of the sails of an entire industry, but it also proved to be a catalyst for innovation - enter Wines of Tasmania to the market.
Wines of Tasmania is the brainchild of marketing professional Katrina Myburgh and launched with the support of four Northern Tasmanian winemakers.
An online platform for high-end Tasmanian wines, Wines of Tasmania takes Tasmanian wine to the digital sphere.
It is a collaboration between four iconic Tamar Valley wine brands - Holm Oak, Sinapius, Delamere and Moores Hill and is a one-stop-shop for Tassie wine.
SINK OR SWIM FOR VIGNERONS
The Tamar Valley is well known as a top wine-growing region, and its tasting trail is home to some of Tasmania's top-rated drops, from sparkling varieties to pinot noir.
But even some of the significant players who wholesale to hospitality interstate rely on a cellar door experience.
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The cellar door relies on a tried-and-true strategy, that those who visit, drink the wine and love it, become brand ambassadors in their own right.
But that is no longer possible when there is no longer any tourists to visit.
Delamere and Sinapius, which are close by one another near Bridport, were both forced to shut down their cellar door and redeploy staff to other parts of the business.
Snapius owner Linda Morice said the cellar door had been closed since about March and was still shut.
She said the impacts of the pandemic were two-fold.
"The cellar door traffic essentially became zero, and other other major distribution channel is restaurants, dining out and for us Victoria is a big market," she said.
Deciding to close the cellar door wasn't an easy one to make, she said.
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"It was obviously for health and safety reasons, we have a small cellar door so we needed to keep people safe, but even once we were able to open it wasn't a sensible economic thing for us to do."
Delamere owner Fran Austin said her cellar door had only recently opened for the long weekend, but they were playing things by ear and patrons haven't yet picked up because it was early days with the border.
"We have quite expensive award rates to pay staff, so for us, it became a matter of if we could afford to open if we weren't going to get the case sales because our normal traffic are tourists who come past on the weekends, but they can't get into the state," she said.
TAKING TASMANIA TO WORLD
With cellar doors closed to tourists and the pandemic forcing innovation and thinking outside the square, marketing professional Katrina Myburgh had an idea.
After spending many years exposed to the wine industry and knowing how Tasmanian wine punched above its weight, she thought it would be a good time to flesh out her idea - which is how Wines of Tasmania was born.
Ms Myburgh said she pitched the idea to the four Tamar Valley wineries to start with, as she'd had previous connections with them - and the ball got rolling.
"I always knew that Tasmanian wine punched above its weight, but the pandemic really was the catalyst to start thinking, how can we get the wine out there to people," Mrs Myburgh said.
"I saw an opportunity to build a quality umbrella brand that would select the finest wines, package them beautifully, and share them with someone who has not had much exposure to Tasmanian wine, knowing that they would be blown away, by every single bottle".
Wines of Tasmania is a subscription service, which offers clients a carefully curated box of six wines chosen by the wine partners through blind tasting.
Subscribers can choose a red, white or sparkling case and the selections and wines change each month.
While the idea started with the four Northern Tasmanian vineyards, Wines of Tasmania, which launched in September, has grown to include other brands.
Ms Myburgh said the goal of the service was to create a cohesive platform to market Tasmanian wine and create a more robust industry in Tasmania.
She said it couldn't be possible without the support of the vineyard owners who signed on to the partnership.
Ms Austin said one of the things that appealed to Delamere was the collaborative nature of the proposal.
"We have all been here for over a decade and have gone through different stages in life with the businesses. We've all had kids and things like that," she said.
"This was another really nice kind of coal point to get us together and collaborating again to promote each other."
Ms Morice said when the idea was pitched to herself and her late husband Vaughn Dell they thought it was sensible.
"There was so much uncertainty as a fair amount of our wine sales are made through the cellar door," she said.
"Without those tourists turning up on our doorstep, and the fact we don't do a lot of marketing, we needed to find another way to get our wine out there.
"Vaughn was on board and we were excited at the prospect to work collaboratively with other like-minded, quality-focused and value-driven wine brands".
After Vaughn died, Ms Morice said Wines of Tasmania helped her continue the legacy of Sinapius.
THE NEW NORMAL FOR WINE
Delamere has tentatively reopened its cellar door, but the experience is looking slightly different.
"We've still got the health and safety protocols to consider, so we've been doing a lot of work to set up our website to make things a bit easier.
Patrons to Delamere's cellar door will be required to book via the website, which Ms Austin said might take some getting used to.
"It's not the way people are used to going to vineyards, but we are trying to make things a bit more fun and informative, and hopefully they will embrace it," she said.
Patrons are still also required to sit down while drinking, as per the legislation introduced by the government.
The regulations, dubbed "vertical drinking" has come under fire by publicans and industry bodies.
Delamere has also introduced "flights" for tastings with several wines on one board, to ensure there is no room for contamination with pouring or glasses.
"There'll be four glasses set up on a wooden board and people can go back and forth between the wines," Ms Austin said.
"It's actually a more fun and more educational way to taste wine because you can compare the flavours."
Ms Austin said her customers so far had enjoyed the flight experience, and she hoped it would be embraced.
Sinapius' cellar door remains closed, but Ms Morice is hoping to open mid-December tentatively.
"We're quite small and we're not set up to do tastings here so it will require a bit more rearranging and figuring out how we do things now," she said.
STRONG THROUGH ADVERSITY
There's no doubt the wine industry was rocked by the pandemic, like many tourism businesses.
It has been a time of momentous upheaval and uncertainty for many businesses, who have had to pivot quickly to ensure their product ended up in the market.
Ms Austin said it had been a time of uncertainty and they were still trying to grapple with how to operate in a new COVID-safe way.
While Wines of Tasmania is an excellent example of innovation, Ms Austin said she didn't believe it would be a silver bullet for all the problems facing the sector.
"I'm not sure that this in itself will replace the impact on sales channels that the shutdown and any further shutdown will create, but it has provided a fantastic channel to market top tier wines, she said.
Tasmania's island status had advantages and disadvantages, and its disparate population created unique challenges to get the product to the market.
"If you think about the vineyards in the Yarra Valley, they have five million people on their doorstep, and we have half a million people on the whole island," she said.
"This kind of platform is really what the industry needed to promote those kinds of wines that people can't usually get. What they are getting is exclusive selections."
Ms Morice said participation in the Wines of Tasmania platform didn't change their distribution. Still, it was about selecting the top tier wines from their selection and allocate those for the Wines of Tasmania clients.
"We all have similar views and values when it comes to growing, making and promoting quality Tasmanian wine.
"So when we've come to the table to build the business plan, we've been able share our own experiences from the past couple of decades and solve a lot more than if we were trying to achieve that on our own," Ms Austin said.