How COVID-19 Is Affecting Wine Around the World

by | Oct 13, 2020 | Wine & Spirits

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Each country’s individual handling of the pandemic is affecting how the wine industry is rebounding. But even the countries which have managed to control the COVID-19 outbreak are still suffering from the global economy and tourism industry flailing.

Around the world, wine-producing powerhouses such as New Zealand, Napa Valley, France, and Australia are all having to deal with the challenges the pandemic has imposed upon the wine industry.

Things are so bad some countries are even transforming their wine into hand sanitizer. Let’s take a look how some wine-oriented countries are handling the pandemic:

New Zealand

New Zealand has led the way as a country in containing COVID-19 and has mostly eradicated the virus, allowing winemakers to get back to work. But in recent years vineyards have greatly benefited from enotourism, which is currently struggling because of New Zealand’s restrictions on travel from other countries.

New Zealand saw exports of nearly $1.3 billion last year, but domestic sales were only $500 million. Now industry insiders are saying the country might need to become more self-sufficient when it comes to wine sales.

The country actually had one of its best growing years yet, but sales are down. The 2020 New Zealand harvest totaled 457,000 tonnes, planted on 39,935 hectares, which is a 2% increase in hectares grown on from the year prior.

New Zealand wineries are now focusing on ways to get their fellow countrymen to buy more Sauvignon Blanc.

Napa Valley, California

The tasting rooms in Napa Valley were closed from March of this year through June. Some wineries are open now, but industry insiders expect tourism to be way down for 2020.

Only 16% of adults in the United States said they would be willing to travel on a commercial airliner on the first day after officials lifted all travel restrictions, according to Forbes. This statistic forecasts a bleak outlook for wineries to expect visitors outside of California the remainder of this year.

The fires that continue to ravage Napa Valley’s vineyards have added to a challenging year. Many vineyards across Napa Valley have now again had to close because of the Glass Fire currently burning.

“We are all dealing with significant fire fatigue,” said Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick. “Many people are feeling the effects, and many people are evacuating and have evacuated multiple times.”

Between the fires and the pandemic, some wineries may not produce a 2020 vintage at all.

“Smoke can drastically affect the quality of wine made from affected grapes,” Lewis Perdue, publisher and executive editor of Wine Industry Insight, told The Los Angeles Times. “It is called smoke taint and does drastically affect the quality of wine. So much so, that many wineries have decided not to make a 2020 vintage.”


Americans are drinking more than ever, but the French have put down the bottle during the pandemic. There’s been such a drastic drop in consumption that “some wines produced this year might end up distilled into raw alcohol for hand sanitizer,” according to NPR.

Some French are drinking at home, but because of restaurant and hotel closures, sales have plummeted.

The French government allotted 250 million euros for struggling winemakers. The aid package includes “paying a minimum price for surplus wine to distill into industrial alcohol,” according to NPR.

“Covid is a catastrophe for us,” Jérôme Mader, a 38-year-old winemaker based in France, told The New York Times. Mader told The Times he has no room in his wine cellar left and they are producing far more than they have sold or will sell.

“My cellar is bursting,” Guillaume Klauss, who owns a French winery, told The New York Times. “If I don’t send it off, I don’t eat. Clearly this is tearing me up. It’s three years of work, and we’re not even paid properly.”


Like its neighbor New Zealand, Australia heavily relies on the export market to profit from the wine it produces. Nearly 63% of Australia’s wine is exported, according to Beverage Daily. China, the United States, and the United Kingdom rank has the three biggest destinations for Australian wine.

It’s still early, but so far Australian wine exports are down 7%, mainly because of a big dip in China’s sales of Australian wine.

However, domestic sales are also struggling due to the lockdown. Australians between the ages of 40 and 54 years old increased their frequency of wine drinking during the lockdown period, but Generation Z, a group with large buying power, reduced it, according to Wine Industry Advisor.

What this means for local Australians or those visiting vineyards in the future is likely no more free wine tastings.

“My gut feeling is that within the next year or two free tastings will be very much the exception rather than the rule,” winemaker Andrew Thomas of Thomas Wines in the Hunter Valley told The Guardian. “And not just in the Hunter.”

Meredith Galante

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