Harvest
Harvest will be a challenging time for vineyards this year. Photo Tim Hawkins

Currently, life is not a bunch of red roses for Cromwell businesses under red alert. The next few months look like being very messy.

For the wine industry, anxiety stems from lack of workers and the need to protect those that are available.  Like many local wineries, Quarts Reef has announced its decision to close its tasting room, with the message, “As we cover up to keep our grapes safe, we also need to do everything we can to keep our team safe.

With harvest only weeks away we have made the hard decision to close our cellar door until further notice.”

Misha Wilkinson, of Misha’s Vineyard Wines says, “It is our most critical time of the year, with harvest coming up. We rely on people with working holiday visas, so we have been short of labour all season.

We’ve even put ads in Motor Caravanner and asked our wine club members if they would like to try their hand at harvesting.

Everyone’s in a panic, especially as one team member getting a positive covid test could mean they are out for 24 days. In many ways it was easier in the bubble system.”

Misha is intending to ask all their work whanau to join the harvest workers, to be divided into two teams, and then to rely on their care to minimise their time out and about in the community – in other words, to keep in isolation zones.

“If we don’t bring a crop in, we don’t have a business,” she says, adding that the new relaxing of the border restrictions for March, still requiring isolation, is too late to be much help.

The other local industry which is hard hit is the hospitality sector.

“The red code has not been very easy for us, with restrictions on seating, mask-wearing and variations,” says Glen Christiansen. As the General Manager of The Gate Limited, he faces regulations for cafes, restaurants, retail, accommodation and tourism, and they are all different.

The demand for holiday accommodation has been down all season, and this week’s restrictions have meant a downturn in business accommodation too.

There are different seating and ordering rules for the cafe compared to the restaurant, and some Super Liquor customers have been unpleasant when asked to wear masks.

“But we have zero tolerance for those people who are rude to staff,” says Glen.

“Now, as a community we local accommodation providers are working together to see how we can operate if there is an outbreak,” he says.

Matt Crimp, owner of the Black Rabbit cafes, says that though staffing has had its challenges, he is faring quite well so far.

He credits this to a loyal local customer base, and especially to the popularity of his dinner menus.

Kristen Jackson, of Freeway Orchards, has noticed that trade is down a little since the Omicron variant has been in the community.

“Some want to stay close to home now – understandably,” she says.

Her greatest struggle has been with attracting staff. “I could count on one hand those looking for work at all this season, whereas I used to get a dozen a day,” she says.