For those working in the tourism industry in Victoria, November 5 cannot come fast enough.

Key points:

  • Melbourne tourists should be able to visit the regions from November 5
  • Wineries are struggling to attract enough staff for an expected influx of tourists
  • The absence of backpackers and overseas workers will also make harvest season difficult

That is when it is projected that 80 per cent of eligible Victorians will be double vaccinated, and COVID-19 restrictions in regional areas will finally align with those in Melbourne.

Dean Cleave-Smith is the president of Wines of the King Valley and owner of Marque Wines, and he said there seemed to be a “huge, pent-up demand” from Melburnians wanting to come for a visit.

And while he was thrilled to welcome them, he was concerned the wineries might not have enough staff to keep up.

“It’s not a new problem for the region, but it certainly became worse in COVID times — particularly in the hospitality and cellar door area where we need front of house and restaurant staff,” Mr Cleave-Smith said.

“It’s just becoming really hard to attract people and increasingly challenging to retain the people that we’ve got.”

A view from above the valley, where there are farms and vineyards.

Likened to northern Italy, there are many vineyards nestled in Victoria’s King Valley where guests can taste prosecco from makers.(ABC Rural: Fiona Breen)

Michael Dal Zotto, CEO of Dal Zotto Wines, was having the same issue and said they were continuously advertising for more staff. 

“They’re just not there. Maybe they’re reluctant to travel with all the border closures. Maybe right now people are sitting there thinking, ‘Well, let’s just wait and see what happens’,” he said.

Mr Dal Zotto said they were also really feeling the absence of backpackers and people looking to do agricultural work for their visas.

Both said they had a dearth of workers for the winter pruning season, and they expected big issues finding enough people for the harvest period from February to April.

Nevertheless, Mr Dal Zotto said they have had “tremendous” support from regional visitors and were excited to welcome metro visitors.

“We will just be managing what we can manage with the staff that we’ve got, and hope people are understanding,” he said.

A sign welcomes visitors to the King Valley food and wine region.

King Valley wineries suffered smoke taint from the Black Summer bushfires.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Erin Somerville)

Mr Cleave-Smith was focusing on the positives too. Namely, the wine.

“The 2021 vintage was a great one. Anything was good off the back of 2020 and the huge issues we experienced with bushfires, but there are some great wines being released now that people will be able to experience when they travel here,” he said.

And the wetter-than-average winter followed by a sunny spring has helped the natural beauty of the valley thrive.

Mr Cleave-Smith said it was a beautiful sign of the region recovering.

“The vines love it, as we’re starting to see. It’s starting to look that wonderful spring colour. There’s lots of green shoots appearing.”

Posted , updated 

King Valley wineries desperate for staff as tourism is set to return
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