In Hermann, a Missouri River town that produces one-third of the state’s wine and gets a robust economic boost from wineries and affiliated tourism, business owners and local officials are concerned about what coronavirus-related closures could mean to the area economy.
At least four wineries in Hermann were closed and at least seven others were offering only curbside or carryout service as of Friday afternoon, according to Visit Hermann. The local tourism group lists 13 wineries in Hermann and nearby towns.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has not ordered businesses to close completely, but on March 21 he directed the state’s top health official to mandate social distancing and discourage dining at restaurants and bars.
“If you have a time like now with the coronavirus, you’re going to have fewer visitors,” said Aaron Mandel, director of education for the American Wine Society. “So that means that’s going to put a lot of pressure on the Missouri wineries. It’s going to make things harder on them.”
One winery feeling that pressure is Lost Creek Vineyard, which shut its doors on March 17 in an effort to keep its customers and employees safe.
Larry Frichtel, operations manager at Lost Creek, said the situation is troubling for the small operation.
“I’m worrying about the virus,” Frichtel said. “Because, I mean, it doesn’t take much for a person to decide not to go to a winery.”
Missouri’s wine industry draws approximately 950,000 tourists and accounts for $220 million in tourism expenditures annually, according to the most recent economic impact report from the Missouri Wine and Grape Board.
For smaller wineries like Lost Creek Vineyard, that tourism is essential. Tasting rooms, where visitors can taste and buy wine, can amount to a large portion of sales.
“Mainly customers just coming in here and relaxing and having a good time is our biggest moneymaker,” Frichtel said.
Hermann Mayor Robert Koerber said the town was taking precautions by cancelling events, closing the library and suspending schools.
“In the short term, a lot of things are canceled here,” Koerber said. “The actual tourism part of it, we’re asking for people to be prudent and close their businesses if they think it’s necessary.”