Australia’s longest-running wine festival is back after two years

Source: De Bortoli Rutherglen / Instagram

After two years of pandemic closures and disruptions, Victoria’s Rutherglen wine region is once again gearing up to showcase the best of its small business community.

The two-day Winery Walkabout festival will take place this weekend for the first time since 2019, bringing Australia’s longest-running wine event back to northeast Victoria.

Some 18 wineries are expected to take part in the event, which traditionally draws thousands of tourists from Melbourne and beyond to cellar doors and market stalls.

Annalee Nolan, chief executive of industry group Winemakers of Rutherglen, says Winery Walkabout typically generates around $1 million in economic activity for local businesses.

“It will be great to welcome everyone back,” she said. SmartCompany.

Local producers have long seen the festival as an essential calling card for winemakers, tour operators and hospitality businesses.

Expected turnout at Sunday’s Rutherglen Country Fair market – which draws some 300 vendors to the town’s high street – will be “huge for small businesses, particularly in the wake of COVID-19”, says Declan Keating, co- founder of Keating and Co. Seasoning. (Keating is brother of SmartCompany editor Eloise Keating.)

Keating, who grew up near the Rutherglen area, said the re-emergence of the Winery Walkabout and Sunday Market will benefit growers of all sizes.

“Trade has been slow for us and for many other small businesses and services in the hospitality industry,” he says.

“It’s a great attraction card for neighborhood bars, small businesses, but also small businesses like us who set up our stalls.”

The event was canceled in 2020 as the state endured its first year of heavy COVID-19 restrictions, but organizers have been working to hold the event again in 2021.

Despite the event being postponed to a later date in June, last year’s event was also canceled due to continued lockdown uncertainty.

The pandemic hasn’t been the only headwind to batter local wineries over the past two years.

Australia’s wine industry as a whole has also suffered due to new import tariffs imposed by China, which have reduced exports and led to a glut of stocks.

A small number of wineries in the Rutherglen area have been “pretty heavily impacted” by these measures, says Nolan, with affected producers looking for new export opportunities to make up for lost trade.

This weekend offers wine lovers the chance to descend on the region, but industry participants say Australians across the map can also support small regional businesses as they emerge from years of COVID-19 restrictions.

Punters can acquire wine grown in Rutherglen in the region official online market, Nolan says, and vendors like Keating advertise their resellers online.

There’s nothing quite like supporting these businesses in person, Nolan added.

“Get up here when you can,” she said. “Get an esky, fill it up, drink some wine and meet the people. When you come to Rutherglen you have a very authentic experience.”

Elisha A. Tilghman