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Orlando Wine Professionals Navigate The Pandemic

Photo credit: Judith Smelser / Orlando Wine Blog
Photo credit: Judith Smelser / Orlando Wine Blog

So much of Central Florida’s economy is tied to hospitality, and the pandemic has had a profound impact not just on the big theme parks and hotels, but independent restaurants and bars too. Orlando Wine Blog creator Judith Smelser is following the lives of three people working in the wine and hospitality business as they navigate the pandemic.

She joins us to chat about her podcast: UnWineding: Chronicles of COVID-19.

Also joining the show are Rob Chase, owner of Digress Wine in College Park, and Melissa McAvoy, co-owner of Swirlery Wine Bar in SoDo.

Smelser tells Intersection she decided to start the podcast as the pandemic took hold in March.

"I just felt like somebody needed to record this," she said.

"I sort of felt like my little lifestyle blog had suddenly become the front page of the Sentinel, the front page of everything. It was all about the the restaurant and bar business essentially. And, you know, I felt like somebody needed to record that."

Melissa McAvoy said the reality of the pandemic and its effect on the economy hit her on March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, when bars were told to stop serving alcohol.

"Yeah, right from that moment I was like, freaked out all of a sudden," she said.

Like other restaurant and bar owners, McAvoy is having to get creative to keep business going during the pandemic- including taking wine tastings online.

"We're going to give it a shot this Sunday with one of my peers here in the neighborhood. We're going to do a zoom and we've created a blind tasting six pack to go along. And we're going to see how that works out."

Rob Chase said he's being careful to keep up with emails and posting online during the pandemic.

"What I've discovered is that it's just a matter of staying in people's faces. I think more than ever, that social media component becomes so relevant because if it's neglected for a day, two days, I mean, I feel a difference there," he said.

Chase said he's trying to give people other incentives to keep shopping too.

"Our average ticket was probably $20, $25, you know, easily. But now I've kind of pared it back a little bit, just to make sure that there's something for everybody."

While nobody's quite sure when life will return to some semblance of normalcy, Smelser said she does have an idea for how she'd like the podcast to end.

"My dream is that the final episode is some big party, you know, where we all get to go back to the wine bar and have a big celebration. I don't know- I think that would be really fun."