Melissa Brauer - aka The Prosecco Queen - managed to hold her annual Prosecco Festival in February before lockdown happened in March.
She has started online Prosecco classes (I can recommend them) and is launching a new delivery business, Oyster + Wine Co. We checked in to see how she's going.
1. As someone who imports Prosecco and as the creator of the Prosecco Festival, can you tell us how the news about lockdowns all unfolded for you and what you decided to do first?
When first reports about Covid19 started appearing in January about China and then Italy, my first thoughts were about the private tour I was due to host in the Veneto in Italy in May for 10 fabulous women, that I’d spent months putting together. The Prosecco Festival was scheduled for 29 February and at that point there were a few confirmed cases in Victoria from returned travellers, but there was never any talk that we wouldn’t be able to run the festival.
As it turned out we got through that by the skin of our teeth, pulled off the best festival yet, with perfect weather and record crowds, and then Melbourne went into our first lockdown just a few weeks later. We would have been literally ruined financially if we had needed to cancel the festival given the money we’d already outlaid so I feel really lucky in that respect.
The importing / wholesale side of things is another story altogether. With the lockdown, restaurants and bars closed without paying their bills (for wine they had already received, in many cases months before). I’ve been talking with other importers/winemakers who are all in the same position. There’s been a lot of airtime given to chefs and restaurateurs who are doing it tough, great stories about how they are pivoting to take away and so on, yet it feels like we are the silent casualties - hundreds of suppliers who haven’t been paid, and many probably won’t be. I guess my point is that entire food chain is hurting, and the best thing customers can do is support all parts of that food chain, seeking out the products they love and buying direct where they can.
As I now have no on-premise business, I have been spending my time engaging with my retail audience as The Prosecco Queen, doing video wine reviews (a bit tongue in cheek but still with some tasting notes), emails to my mailing list about specials on my online store, and hosting online masterclasses.
I started this at the beginning of the first lockdown, sending out a six-pack of Prosecco with tasting notes, and we did one wine a week for six weeks, over Webex which was great fun. I’m now working on targeting the corporate sector – I’ve got a hosted wine tasting over Webex in two weeks’ time with a major Australian telco, which I’m really looking forward to. I’m teaming up with John the Oyster Bloke and including oysters in the wine packs, and we are all going to shuck them together, then I’ll be presenting three wines.
I’m also in the middle of launching ‘Oyster & Wine Co’ which is a service where you receive 2 dozen oysters and your choice of Prosecco, Chardonnay or Saké delivered to your door complete with oyster shucking knife and shucking instructions, again working with John the Oyster bloke and his amazing Sydney Rock Oysters from Lake Wonboyn. Trying to keep busy!
2. What have your learned about yourself that surprised you in the last few months?
I have learned that under no circumstances am I interested in learning how to make sourdough. I learned that despite my best intentions, I really don’t enjoy online exercise classes, and that I would much prefer to walk my whippet for an hour instead.
But work-wise, I realised this was a chance to slow down and take stock of everything I had been doing, what I enjoyed, what I disliked, what was working and what wasn’t. It was a forced hiatus that helped me really clearly define how I will spend my time moving forward.
3. How are you, your Prosecco family and your own family?
During the first lockdown, I felt like the wind absolutely got knocked out of my sails, and I kind of went to pieces to be honest. Everyday felt like I was wading through quicksand, and with no roadmap of how to get through this or where it would end, I lost my drive, my energy, and my enthusiasm. I felt guilty for not being able to contribute financially to our family while business costs continued to mount, like warehousing, insurance etc.
Having Paul my husband, and our 15-year-old boy at home meant completely rearranging our living space to accommodate conference and video calls without interruption, having separate breakout spaces for recreation, and then coming together for family time at dinner. It was brutal at times, but we are in a good space now and working in harmony at last. I just feel sad for our 6ft6” teenager who has been gearing up for basketball season to resume in just one week, and having that cancelled at the last minute.
My beloved Italian friends are very quiet at the moment, we hope we will be able to visit them in 2021, they are trying to stay positive but some have already mentioned they may not survive which is heartbreaking.
I can only hope that we make it through the second lockdown and can come out the other end with a renewed focus, determination and better ways of doing business.
Thanks for checking in xxx