It’s a sunny spring weekend, the kind when hundreds of people would visit Auburn Road Vineyards in Salem County to taste wine and enjoy wood fired pizza. But on March 21, business was down to about a quarter of what they typically make as the usual stream of customers turned to a trickle of folks picking up their pies and wine to go.
As a farm, wine shop and restaurant, Auburn Road is considered an “essential business” under Gov. Murphy’s latest “stay at home” order, meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, but the lack of foot traffic is taking a heavy toll on the family-owned business.
The call to cancel events and the shut down of tasting rooms and restaurant dining rooms due to the pandemic affects all of New Jersey’s more than 50 wineries. Scott Donnini and his wife Julianne, Auburn Road’s winemaker, worry about how they’ll make ends meet if it drags on. The couple invested everything they had into the business, he said.
“We’re trying to figure out, if this takes us into July and August, how do we do that without going bust?” said Donnini, who serves as chair of the Garden State Wine Growers Association. “I’ve talked to a bunch of the wineries and they’re all going through the same exercise.”
Based on Governor Murphy's executive order, wineries can remain open in New Jersey but only for the sale of wine in original containers. Wineries cannot conduct wine tastings or hold events, and no wine can be consumed on premise.
“Some of our wineries have already elected to stay closed until early April,” Tom Cosentino, executive director of the GSWGA, said in a press release. “If consumers want to visit a winery to make a purchase, they should check the websites and social media channels of their favorite wineries to see if they are open and offering sales.”
In addition to curbside service, many wineries also ship directly to homes. Restaurants that serve as winery outlet partners that are handling take-out orders can also process wine sales, but they have to be made at purchase and not COD. Wineries that have transit insignias from the state can also make deliveries.
As the world hunkers down and uncertainty reigns, Donnini said he hopes people will think of small businesses first for what they need during this time.
“Everybody’s focused on making sure everyone’s safe and at the same time making sure we don’t go bankrupt,” Donnini said. “We’re kind of taking it day to day. Working hard. Hoping for the best.”
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