Rural Support Trust chair Neil Bateup says there is a lot of apprehension among farmers about the future as they follow and experience the disruptions caused by Covid and also by the war in Ukraine.
“I do think that the crisis (of Covid-19) will be gone really quickly, and only opportunity will remain.”
Yang and his family were on holiday in China when the coronavirus was of rising concern there, and they swiftly returned home to Blenheim in January, to go into self-isolation for two weeks. Meanwhile, Yang took a proactive stance by urging the winery to prepare for a possible pandemic, with personal protective gear ordered early on, and social distancing and workplace bubbles put in place, particularly between the hospitality and winery teams. “I saw it would become a worldwide problem,” he says.
When Covid-19 did become an issue in New Zealand, Cloudy Bay was one of the first to close its cellar doors, while any vintage crew coming in from Covid hot spots like Italy were isolated on arrival, with a two week stand-down before starting work. Yang says it took a while to convince people of the extent of the risk, but when the Government started to act, the message became a lot easier to convey. And the Cloudy Bay team worked exceptionally well under very difficult circumstances, he adds.
The company put in place separate shift bubbles and used estate accommodation - including the luxurious ‘Shack’ - for winery staff, as well hiring the hotel portion of the Top 10 Holiday Park in Blenheim. Day and night shifts were housed in different areas of the facility, and smaller bubbles created within each. There was a car allocated to two-person bubbles as well, with layers of careful logistics.
Harvest progressed slowly because of the precautions, but yielded “excellent quality” in the Marlborough region, Yang says. “The Sauvignon Blanc is tasting really, really good,” he adds, talking of more concentration and complexity than 2019, with “a more deeply refined aromatic profile”.
When it comes to the market, Cloudy Bay saw a slight lift in sales during the Covid crisis, with a lot of online sales in Asia, and off-premise and wine shop sales in the US, while strong supermarket action boosted the UK market. “It’s very interesting to see how the consumer has reacted in the crisis,” Yang says. “They were buying what is most reliable as products - easy to choose, easy to drink, easy to share within the house. And I think Sauvignon Blanc is part of the target.” That has buoyed sales in the short term, “although it is too early to predict the second half of the year”, he says.
Longer term, Cloudy Bay will continue to build its direct-to-consumer relationships, which were already a strong focus, and will hone in on the Home Brand campaign rolled out over the past two years. That strategy - to bring New Zealand to the fore - will encompass the Marlborough and Central Otago cellar door activities as well, once they are open for business again. Yang sees huge opportunity for Cloudy Bay, and New Zealand’s wine industry, to find the opportunity in the crisis by engaging in new territories, new markets and new consumers. “And quality remains the key, going forward.”
Cloudy Bay has had to press pause on its “menu” of extraordinary cellar door experiences, so it has pressed play on a sound track to its wines through a Cloudy Bay spotify album, called From Our Place to Yours. New Zealand, Marlborough and Cloudy Bay’s vineyards are “truly unique”, but the vast majority of people may never visit, “especially now”, says Wine Communications Manager Kat Mason. “We therefore created these tracks, alongside a composer, to bring an impression of our world and our wines to our consumers, wherever they are.”