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'We miss our people' | Coronavirus causes Hill Country wineries to lose business

The owners of one Hill Country winery say they've lost about 70% of their sales. They're eager to have people back at their business.

BURNET, Texas — Things may have slowed down for many of us because of the pandemic, but when you own a winery, the grapes keep growing. 

Laura and Seth Martin are the owners of Perissos Vineyards. The vineyards are filled with 14,000 grape vines on 25 acres of land in the Hill Country. The Martins bought the land in 2003, planted the grapes a few years after that and opened the tasting room in 2009. 

"And it’s been growing wonderfully over the last, almost 20 years," Seth said. 

The tasting room is closed because of the pandemic, which has caused a loss in sales.

"I would say, from a financial point of view, we’re about 65% to 70% decrease in sales," Seth said. "So that’s been, obviously, a challenge." 

Unlike many other small businesses, the Martins said their business can't stop and the wine won't wait to be bottled. 

"Under the water, we're paddling really quickly, very quickly to keep it moving here. But, at the same time, we're handicapped financially because of sales, so it's been an interesting season for sure, and I know we're not alone," Laura said.

Currently, Perissos Vineyards is dependent on online orders and curbside pickups. 

"It is bringing in a loss. Some of them are estimating 60-64% in terms of the economic impact to them," Adriana Cruz, the executive director of Economic Development and Tourism Division in Gov. Greg Abbott's office, said.

Unsurprisingly, the wine industry is an important part of Texas economy, Cruz said. 

In 2003, Cruz said there were 54 wineries registered in Texas. She said by 2018, there were more than 500 registered, which employ about 104,000 full-time employees. 

"The Texas wine industry is a significant industry for the state of Texas. Bringing in an economic impact to the state of about $13 billion and we have about 500 wineries located across the state of Texas. The Texas Hill Country wineries right now are ranked number two in the country in terms of a wine tourist destination, so that’s something that’s really important for those Texas Hill Country communities and the wineries that they support," Cruz said. 

The community is the main thing Laura said she's been missing since the tasting room closed. 

"We miss our staff and we miss our people. The wine industry ... it's about growing grapes and making great wine, and we obviously love that, but a huge part of what we do is the tasting room and getting to see all these fabulous people," she said. 

The Martins are still bottling wine so that they won't lose any product. They said they gave some of their wine to a distillery so it could be turned into hand sanitizer. 

The Martins said they hope people will continue to support small businesses during this pandemic and hope they can open their doors again soon. 

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