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‘It’s been tough’: Winery owner explains how the pandemic has impacted the industry


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    NEWBERG, Oregon (KPTV) — It’s been a little over a year since wineries in the Willamette Valley were forced to close down.

“Everyone I think was really shocked at the extent of, you know, the closures and the spread of the virus and just all the things that came with that,” said Daniel Warnshuis.

Warnshuis is the owner and winemaker of Utopia Vineyards & Winery in Newberg.

“You know, it’s been tough,” said Warnshuis.

He said the shutdowns often cost wineries business during crucial times.

“We had the November freeze and the timing of that was tough, because Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally a very good sales weekend,” he said. “When we did reopen in December, in the rainy season, we were not able to do any indoor tastings.”

Warnshuis said his tasting room sales went down by 20 percent in 2020, compared to 2019.

“Which is a big deal if you’re a small business, because in addition to the increased expenses that we have because of COVID, you know, more investments in fire pits and umbrellas and other things, we also had the wildfires involved and that increased our costs as well, both in the vineyard and in the winery,” said Warnshuis.

Warnshuis said most wineries in the valley are small like his and don’t sell through distributors.

“They’re selling in their tasting room and on their websites and to their mailing list and that’s certainly what we do, and so we’re hit pretty hard when our tasting room is closed,” he said.

He said many wineries only got by this year, thanks to a new focus on online sales.

“We shifted, like everybody, to being more virtual and marketing more to our email list and doing a lot of virtual tastings and it was more successful than I expected it to be,” he said.

But when asking Warnshuis what would happen if he had to weather another year similar to 2020, he said it’s not something he likes to think about.

“Because, it could be catastrophic,” he said. “We really have to grow every year, because our costs increase every year and if we’re not growing, we’re really stagnating and that’s the death nail for any small business.”

Instead, in 2021, he’s choosing to look at the glass half full.

“I know there’s a lot of pent up demand because people are telling me and we’re looking forward to that resurgence and I think there’s a really good chance that we’re going to come back very strong, even stronger that we were before and I feel really good about that,” said Warnshuis.

Warnshuis said when wine country struggles, it doesn’t just affect wineries. He said tour companies, wedding planners and event planners also rely on the tourism.

Warnshuis said he is hopeful for the summer months, when more people usually visit and sit outside. He’s hoping the vaccines also play a part in a more normal 2021.

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