Melbourne’s small inner-city hospitality businesses were hit hard by the pandemic. However, thanks to government support, including the Outdoor Eating and Entertainment package, Melbourne’s hospitality scene is once more flipping the sign in their windows to ‘open’. Among the happy throng is urban winery, Noisy Ritual.
The East Brunswick winery began when Cam Nicol discovered a mysterious wax-lined concrete tank with a wooden lid underneath his house. His winemaker friend, Alex Byrne, visited soon after and solved the mystery.
“I thought it might have been a water tank,” says Cam. “Alex told me, ‘someone’s been making large quantities of wine under here’. He’d seen traditional wine-making tanks like these in Europe.”
Naturally, the two friends decided to buy some grapes and try it out. The result was so successful that in 2016 they decided to partner in opening their winery, Noisy Ritual.
By 2020, Noisy Ritual was a favourite with locals. They had a producer’s liquor licence, a range of wines, and were hosting weddings, events, live music and a cellar door.
When the pandemic hit, Noisy Ritual was in the middle of its vintage festival, with events scheduled throughout the harvest season.
“It became clear in the second week of March that something was happening around the world and Australia probably wasn’t going to be immune to it,” says Cam. “Obviously we had to cancel all of our events.”
Cam and Alex promptly adapted to the new situation. With support from JobKeeper enabling them to keep their staff on, they turned to other possibilities. “Because we make our own product, we were able to pivot to online wine sales and delivery.”
For a few weeks Cam says “it was enough to keep the wolves from the door” but the brief respite in June was followed by another lockdown.
Opportunities come to those who can adapt. It’s also true that fortune favours the prepared, and Noisy Ritual has been adapting to change and preparing for reopening since June.
“I’d been following news from overseas really closely,” says Cam. “The research made it clear that outdoor settings were a much lower risk than indoor settings. I started thinking then about what spaces we might have available to us.”
Cam stayed alert for government support packages, and Noisy Ritual has benefited from several grants to keep the business not only active but to adapt to the new circumstances. The winery has received grants from the original Business Support Fund, the Business Support Fund – expansion program and the Outdoor Eating & Entertainment Package.
Noisy Ritual reopened at the end of October. They’ve used the grants to expand from three tables on the footpath to an attractive outdoor area. The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) fast-tracked a Limited Licence to cover the extended outdoor space.
“We bought all these outdoor heaters and furniture, umbrellas to keep wet weather off people, all the lighting out in the laneway, paint to do the gates and lots of unsexy things, like bins,” says Cam.
The Noisy Ritual team is very thankful for the government support that has meant their survival in challenging times.
“These were obviously really scary times,” says Cam. “In our minds, everything we had built over all those years was just going to go away. The support has been so necessary but so appreciated by small business owners. It would be a sad world without all of the different places that make the vibe happen, and for people to gather in these communities.”
The Victorian Government’s Outdoor Eating and Entertainment Package closes on 11 December.