Running a Winery During Lockdown

Elise Lane is the head winemaker and CEO of The Winery by Laneberg Wine. It’s the first winery  on Tyneside and the furthest north in England. She moved to the wine world from corporate finance and set up Laneberg Wine whilst pregnant with their second son. Her winery is one of the suppliers to the Local Heroes North East a Virtual Market set up to help safeguard regional food and drink businesses in the North East of England. We spoke to her about the Covid-19 crisis, her plans for survival and hopes for the future.

How did the lockdown announcement affect you and your business?

There was an immediate impact following the closure of bars, restaurants and hotels as this meant no trade orders coming in. Also, because we’re a very new business, this was meant to be a time for growth in terms of customer base, we’d explored wholesaling and were very close to expanding our supply to new outlets. All of a sudden that and the closure of food markets meant about 80% of our business could have been lost.

Personally, it impacted me and my family as my husband and I both now had to juggle full-time jobs and full-time childcare/schooling of our six and two year-old children.

For the first few weeks, this made anything other than thinking about staying afloat incredibly difficult. Including planning for investment to expand in Autumn 2020.

What motivated you to take positive action?

I had to quickly plan how we pivoted our business to expand our online sales to much more than the previous 20% of our business, as that would have just meant going under.

I have one employee; Liam and he immediately rose to the challenge of running the operational side down at the winery whilst I planned and coordinated from home. I decided to offer free home delivery to local customers in place of pick-ups from the winery, and Liam goes down twice a week to pack orders into his car and take them around the region, once the courier has arrived to pick up the national orders.

We’ve managed to stay afloat with these areas of positive action, but we also needed to make sure we could continue to produce wine during this lockdown. When it began, we were in the first planning stage of getting the 2019 vintage into the bottle, this made everything so difficult, but it became somewhat urgent when we sold out of our bestseller the 2018 Bacchus in April. Thankfully we now have our Maximilian 2019 red wine and Bacchus 2019 in the bottle, and I have a lot of family to thank for helping get that achieved.

We also offered some mixed cases including French reds and our wines from Guest Wines a local wine wholesaler and wine tasting company. We wanted to support them by selling the wines that they would usually sell to their trade customers.

What support have you got from other chefs / the hospitality industry?

We have found support both inside and outside the region, FADNE who are here to champion food businesses of the North East have supported us greatly, by setting up the Local Heroes food box delivery scheme with which we’re involved they have promoted our products through that route.

We’ve also had support from our national and regional industry body WineGB and WineGB Midlands and North, who have promoted us on social media and through English Wine Fridays.

We have been supported by other small businesses in the North East, who have shared our content on social media, such as the Espresso Mushroom Co and restaurants who previously stocked our wines such as Blackfriars.

What are your hopes for your future?

I hope to take positives from this situation, in that we have managed to stay around, despite being at such a young stage of the business. I am eternally grateful for the customers in the North East and around the UK who have taken a chance and ordered our wine, enjoyed it and bought more. It was big step for them as we’d usually have to offer wine to taste to get people on board, I mean it’s a leap of faith to drink wine made in Gateshead!

I hope that once we emerge from this more people will have heard of us, and we can stay on the same course we’d hoped for before, I really want to expand and get investment into the business, I want to make Laneberg Wine a regional icon, I want it to be a destination. Come, have a tour, learn about the wine, drink the wine, relax and leave knowing a little bit more about winemaking in a non-pressured environment.

Elise Lane

Do you have a message to share with other women in the food industry?  

One of the things that has emerged from this lockdown is that women have taken the lion’s share of the childcare and homemaking, so if you have your own business as a woman, it makes it hard to juggle.

My husband Nick and I have tried our best to take an equal share of things, but he has an employer, clients and a team working for him so doesn’t have the flexibility during the day that I perhaps can afford myself.

The attitude I have taken is that your family is the most important thing here, you have to look after each other, you can’t ever be perfect at everything, now more so than ever, so don’t beat yourself up. Prioritise like crazy, make your working time more productive even if all you get done are the essentials for that day. Be pleased with what you’ve achieved and don’t get down about the other stuff. The most important thing is to give yourself a break from it all even for 10-20 mins to regroup, and don’t work all night. Stay rested.

Lastly, if you have people who work for you and trust, give them more responsibility and try to relinquish a little control.

Look out for more good news stories as we cover how women are coping with the many challenges during the lockdown and their plans  for recovery. Be the first to hear by signing up to our newsletter.

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