The essential workers that are always on the clock, pandemic or not.
These days, they’re wearing handmade masks, securing groceries, working and managing round-the-clock childcare and home schooling, oh, and handling harvest through a global pandemic.
We surveyed three mothers, also makers of fine wine, on how they’re juggling both school-aged children and global grape businesses, simultaneously.
Describe the current state of the pandemic within your country of living and working.
Maria Sanvicente of Pere Ventura in Barcelona, Spain
Confinement is compulsory all over Spain, and companies must favor telecommuting. [Only] in cases where it’s absolutely indispensable, people can go to their workplaces. In my case, I have been working from home for more than six weeks, and now I go to the winery twice a week. Nature does not stop and I really need to go to be familiar with what is happening in the vineyards and to supervise the construction of a new winery that needs to be ready for the next harvest. Also, our farmers and viticulturists have been in the fields every single day. With a big smile on their faces and an incredible positive attitude, they are making sure all the vines are being taken care of.
Chiara Coffele of Coffele Estate in Soave, Italy (near Verona)
Our region [of] Veneto has been one of the regions with more positive people [tested] – one to shut down everything. The lockdown here started on March 8th. Some factories will be opening again (expected Monday, May 4th), so there will be more people allowed to go out.
Photo by Johnny VDK
Charlotte Hardy of Charlotte Dalton Wines in Port Elliot, Australia (near Adelaide)
The status is changing daily [in Australia]. As of now, all restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs, and winery cellar doors remain closed for dining and tasting, but takeaway is allowed. Playgrounds are closed and childcare centers are limited in their numbers. Schools all went back. We are discouraged from socializing with more than two people. Our social distancing rules see crosses drawn on the ground 1.5 meters apart in all public shopping places, and we are not supposed to be leaving our homes except for essential things. We have not had a new case for ten days in South Australia, [so] there will be easing of some restrictions. We all wait with bated breath to see what this easing will be.
Describe your average work day at home.
Hardy: I struggle to get anything done! I have two toddlers – Sammy, fifteen months and Ada, almost three. My work day at home turns into lovely days playing with little people: making up games, playing hide-and-seek, and tiring [them] out by walking in soft sand on the beach with a daily walk. They sleep at the same time for about an hour and a half. In this precious time I wipe out my laptop and reply to emails, organize wine orders, do book-work, and try and get on top of the ‘business’ side of the business. Then they wake and I have ticked about a quarter of the things off my list. After they go to bed at night, I work for two or three hours. Our kids’ health and happiness are the most important things to my partner and me so when they are awake, they come first.
Coffele: I have a baby boy, Alessandro aged nine months. He wakes up very early, so my day generally starts at 5:00 or 5:30am. My fiancé goes out for work between 6:30 to 7:00am, and comes back at around 6:00 or 7:00pm. My day depends 100% on the baby. At the moment, it’s impossible to work while he is awake, so I have to work in between when he sleeps—if he sleeps! When he wakes up, we play for two hours [or so], after he drinks some milk and takes a nap. In that [time] period, I can work a bit. When he wakes up again, we go for a nice walk in the vineyards, and in that time, I am able to “work” by making phone calls, reading emails or articles. At around 12:00pm, he eats and after he sleeps for one to three hours—depends on his day. So, I can have from one to three hours to work! After that, I wait for his father to come back, and if I have to finish something, I ask him to take care of the baby.
Sanvicente: I do my best to stick to my normal routine! My day starts early in the morning [while] my husband takes care of the kids. In the afternoon, it’s the opposite—my turn with housework and the kids: time for baking, crafts and soccer. This isn’t an easy time for anyone but it’s also time to reflect and enjoy loved ones. [Recently] we now can go outside with the children for a walk [which] has been deeply appreciated by all the family. It’s a happy time!
How are you balancing both home and business life? Your biggest challenge to overcome?
Coffele: Let’s say that home, in terms of house, is a mess. I rarely have time to clean since the time I have (while the baby sleeps) I’m working! The mothers who can be mothers, work and clean the house all in the same day are (to me) wonder women, but it’s not my case.
Sanvicente: Homeschooling is not even an option in Spain, so I never thought about the huge effort it takes to homeschool four kids under nine, at the same time. Fortunately, there are plenty of helpful resources online. It has been a discovery and I am definitely learning new skills! I feel blessed that I can work and stay safe at the same time. Our partners and customers are making things easy. So far, I feel everything is going quite well, it has been possible to get the job done and keep my family happy. I don’t know what we’ll say when we look back in a few months’ time, but I am sure that we are doing our utmost.
Hardy: My partner, Ben is also a winemaker, with his own brand, Cooke Brothers Wines. We share our winery. Our plan for vintage was to be each other’s labor on the days that Ada was in childcare. The winery is too dangerous this time of year for a mobile, little person. So, we split our time at home and in the winery. I generally work days, some nights to get through the large workload [vice versa]. I am incredibly lucky that Ben and I are in the same industry. We [evenly] share the workload of our business and caring for our family. This was amplified during COVID-19, and to be completely frank, my brand and business would have been f*&ked if we didn’t work like this.
How has the increased use of technology impacted you, in both home and business? Which virtual platforms have you used to communicate?
Sanvicente: The pandemic challenged our system, and we found out that our company is ready for remote work. [Though] this is still an unpopular concept in Spain, we have realized that most of our tasks could be done from home. And that the operations in [Pere Ventura] vineyards and cellars could be done safely.
Hardy: It has been really great! Wine businesses have turned into online retailers. I’ve used social media to promote my brand; encourage folks to sign up to my mailing list, [offered] online tastings with customers via Instagram and Skype. I’ve kept in contact with my international importers via email; [conducted] Zoom meetings with Wine Dogs Imports in New York. I think it’s something I will do more of [post-pandemic].
Sanvicente: Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, Google Classroom… one of the most fruitful things I gained from the pandemic has been using so many different tools (some for the very first time) depending on the context.
How has the global pandemic impacted business? Can you share some of the ways your business has had to adjust?
Sanvicente: Most of our sales are in the HORECA channel [distribution channel in the food service industry, acronym formed by linking HOtel, REstaurant and CAtering]. Obviously, with so many hotels, bars and restaurants closed, there will be a significant impact on our sales this year. We are doing our best to keep our business active and to help all our partners around the world. Also, we have received extraordinary help from our partners. For example, we have received masks from one of our clients that we really appreciate, and it has helped us make sure all our staff are safe.
Coffele: [Coffele Estate] business is divided into HORECA and the wine shop we have in Soave. The wine shop will have to face the lack of tourists, so I am expecting a big loss of tourists from abroad, [hopefully] a big increase of tourists from Italy… Italians love to eat and drink.
Sanvicente: At Pere Ventura, contact with our partners and customers is paramount. We are used to traveling and shaking hands with them frequently. We’ve had to postpone and cancel many appointments – find new ways to keep in touch. Also, logistics have been impacted by the COVID-19. With most of our bottles traveling overseas, sometimes it has been difficult to find a reefer or to get all the paperwork on time at customs.
Hardy: Few initiatives have really helped with [Charlotte Dalton] sales. I’ve done an online event with The Fruitful Pursuit who organizes incredible tastings and events nationwide. Owner James Hopkins totally flipped his business around and invited winemakers to record virtual interviews and tastings, in their own lounges (in their pajamas). Folks could buy wines which got them a ticket to log on for the tasting.
Coffele: We have increased the “home delivery” both in Italy, and outside, by promoting it on Facebook and on our webpage. Also, the Consorzio del Soave has been organizing [many] interviews with journalists and influencers – a nice way to be close to our customers and clients.
What advice would you give other working mothers during this testing time?
Sanvicente: The most important thing is to do your best, and keep calm and positive. Your attitude has a huge impact on your family and your colleagues. Focus on the positive aspects of the situation. In my case, I save two hours a day by not commuting, so this extra time has been invested in the [individual] Japanese lessons that I had been delaying for ages.
Hardy: Laugh and play with your children—be present. Enjoy the time you have with them when you would perhaps normally be at work. They are children for such a tiny amount of time—it really is the best gift to be given (time) to soak them up.
Coffele: Ask for help when you need it – there is no need to be a superwoman (we already are, since we decided to host a baby in our belly).
Sanvicente: Days are still only 24-hours-long during confinement. If you weren’t a teacher before the virus, you are still not a teacher. Make the most of your days and accept that perfection is not the goal.
Where do you see the international wine market heading post-pandemic?
Sanvicente: We [Spain] are now getting the first inputs about how the so-called “new normal” will look, but according to the latest news, leisure activities will continue to have restrictions for a long time. With limited access to restaurants and clubs, probably wine will be mostly enjoyed at home in the coming months. We all have an endless list of family and friends gatherings to get through when possible. The demand for bubbles will grow… and at Pere Ventura, we will be ready to take part in all of those celebrations.
Hardy: I see collaborations—people working together in the industry to showcase each other and show what we are doing here in Australia—excitement, and enthusiasm.
Is there anything else you would like people, women of the wine industry to know about?
Sanvicente: We are not alone in this. Colleagues, friends, teachers, customers—they all help and make it possible. All together, we can take care of the vines, the cellar, our families and friends.
Hardy: Lift each other up – we are still battling a pretty old-school thought from some consumers that women shouldn’t be in the industry, and that our wines are perhaps not as good. It’s changing, but we need to support each other in the marketplace – in every aspect of the chain. Don’t be stubborn – men and women can work together. Teamwork is essential, and it shouldn’t and doesn’t matter what sex you are. We are all winemakers.
Coffele: If you see the glass half empty, open a new bottle of wine and pour the rest!