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Oregon’s breweries, wineries hit hardest by COVID-19 — and now wildfires

(Update: Adding video, comments)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ)-- Many in Oregon's hard-hit food and beverage industry believe a COVID-19 vaccine would be life-changing for the future of their industry and their livelihoods.

The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis on Wednesday released its latest 2020 state revenue forecast, which along with a better-than-expected outlook for the state budget also showed the hospitality sector has been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The office's analysis said demand and revenue for the state's bars and restaurants is down 56%, and 53,000 jobs have been lost.

Oregon Brewers Guild Executive Director Christine LaRue said between the pandemic, recent major wildfires, and now the seasons changing, it's been a perfect storm hitting the industry hard.

"From an Oregon Brewers Guild perspective, we've already seen eight breweries close," LaRue said. "The Brewers Association did a nationwide poll, and they estimate another 20% could close by the end of 2020."

Not only have local breweries been negatively impacted, but wineries and their growers continue to struggle.

Elin Miller, founder and owner of Umpqua Vineyards, said the outlook is even more difficult when you combine COVID-19 and wildfires.

"Our ability to be able to sell our grapes is being impacted on price and the availability for people to take our grapes," Miller said. "Now, in light of these wildfires, the industry is looking at ways to mitigate. There's a lot of question marks."

The last thing they say they need are tax increases, but it appears lawmakers have other plans.

Proposals to raise alcohol taxes in 2021 include a plan from OHA that would increase beer, wine and cider taxes by 800%.

For now, the industry is playing the hand they've been dealt.

Oregon Wine Council Board Co-Chair Elin Miller, Oregon Brewers Guild Executive Director Christina LaRue, Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors Association President Bob Liner, Oregon Winegrowers Association President Alex Sokol and Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association President and CEO, Jason Brandt, released the following joint statement:

“Closures due to COVID-19 are having a devastating impact on Oregon’s breweries, wineries, cideries, distilleries, restaurants, bars and hospitality sector. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon was home to 900 wineries, 1,200 vineyards, 73 distributors, 400 breweries, 60 cideries, more than 50 distilleries and 10,000 restaurants, creating thousands of good-paying jobs and several billion dollars in wages. Many of those jobs are now at risk or have been lost. We’ve also been hit hard by the recent and ongoing wildfires plaguing our state.

“Beer, wine, cider and spirits are an essential part of Oregon’s economy and identity. In order to survive, Oregon’s breweries, wineries, cideries, restaurants and bars need the support of our elected officials. The last thing our local businesses need right now are tax increases. We remain committed to working together to help rebuild our economy and communities once the public health crisis ends.” 

The industry groups said that despite this economic report highlighting the devastating blows experienced by beer, wine, cider, spirits, bars, restaurants and the hospitality sectors, lawmakers are considering proposals to raise alcohol taxes in the 2021 legislative session, including a plan from the Oregon Health Authority that would increase beer, wine and cider taxes by nearly 800%.

They said more than 80% of Oregon likely voters oppose increasing these taxes according to a recent survey conducted by Patinkin Research Strategies.

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Alec Nolan

Alec Nolan is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Alec here.


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