If there’s ever been a way to describe 2020 so far, it’s a “rollercoaster ride.”
And that was the exact description Darren De Bortoli, Managing Director of De Bortoli Wines, used when he spoke to National Liquor News about the year they’ve faced, going from drought to bushfires to COVID-19 and maybe even floods. The impact of these challenges is also far from over.
“Victoria and New South Wales are our main bases of operation, so the ongoing situation in Victoria has impacted our operations fairly significantly,” De Bortoli said.
“We have been fortunate that, because wineries are considered critical, we’ve been able to continue operating through vintage – there were some ramifications during vintage that happened in Victoria and elsewhere, but fortunately they happened towards the end so we were able to manage them reasonably well.”
The vintage itself was completed successfully, a positive considering some of the close calls earlier this year.
“In Victoria, a lot of our operations were impacted by bush fire and smoke taint, to some extent, so it was a bit of a mixed bag,” De Bortoli explained.
“Each region was impacted but most of our vineyards got off relatively scot free. King Valley was a concern, but we’re happy with the wines that came from there, and it’s the same with Rutherglen. Heathcote, which was far enough to the west that it was not impacted at all, has fantastic quality. Yarra Valley, likewise, not impacted and fantastic quality. Bilbul likewise – the crops are down but the quality has been exceptional.”
While that’s positive news, there is a downside, as De Bortoli said: “It’s certainly at the expense of high yields, so a lot smaller vintage and one of the smallest villages in quite a long time.”
Yields were impacted by the ongoing drought, with water availability being a big issue for many growers. Apart from water related issues, the grapes became a ‘manifestation of the season’ with fruit sets impacted by adverse weather conditions combining across the year.
In terms of other changes that De Bortoli has noticed so far in 2020, there has been evidence in a shift of consumer behaviour seen through sales data.
“We saw the consumer probably becoming more price conscious and being more careful with their dollars. What we saw within our own range is the four litre varietal casks were doing exceptionally well. I think that was a combination of not only the price but also the convenience factor as well,” De Bortoli said.
“And one of the benefits is it certainly got a lot of people trying our four litre varietal casks and our two litre varietal casks. The general theme of feedback is that they didn’t realise how good they were, so from a marketing point of view that’s been a major benefit to us.”
This is one area that De Bortoli says proves the advantages of their range for retailers, noting the products and the space they occupy.
“We certainly get a fantastic return on the floor space because of the turnover of our wines, so in terms of our value proposition, keep an eye on us,” De Bortoli said.
Keeping an eye on De Bortoli certainly won’t be difficult, considering the number of projects they have in the works for the rest of 2020, even after a challenging start to the year.
“We haven’t stopped, planning has still continued, so there’s a few initiatives progressing and a number of new products coming out, which you just have to wait for… which are quite exciting,” De Bortoli said.
“We certainly weren’t very quiet during this period – we continued to innovate, which we generally do quite well.”