VIKING IRISH DRINKS
Planting a little tree or a shrub is gratifying; watching it flourish, bloom and seeing the autumn leaves fall. Planting 5000 is different and growing them organically is, well, very interesting to say the least.
In 2010 we planted the first of our outdoor vines and cider apple varieties. The annual pilgrimage of getting these wonderful specimens in the ground continues today. We have a vineyard and an orchard producing craft wine, many types and styles of good old fashioned craft cider and our new Blackcurrant liqueur all under the banner of Viking Irish Drinks. Our brand name takes inspiration from the location of our farm near Passage East in the heart the Gautier, East Waterford, where the Vikings sailed the Three Sisters Rivers and conquered local villages, towns and Waterford City amongst other neighbouring counties.
Our production started commercially in 2018 with a bumper harvest of grapes and blackcurrants however not so good on the apple front unfortunately. Sales were brisk and plentiful.
Our plan for 2020 was to establish and place our brand in bars, restaurants, cafés and hotels alongside the retail/off licence outlets. This involved a huge amount of strategic planning, energy and time in 2019.
2020 arrived with the positivity, energy, enthusiasm et al that a New Year brings. Early in to the year, our plan was working and gearing up for Valentines Day was exciting, fun and with some nice sales orders to boot.
Next on the planning calendar was Saint Patrick’s Day - this for us is really the start of our season. The weather in early March was cold and damp, not exactly “cider weather” but our sales and marketing strategies were being implemented in both our new retail outlets and our loyal on-trade clients. Then I think it was the 12th of March when news was filtering through that the pandemic known as Covid 19 was possibly going to close the country. I will point out something and it’s very important to note - this is only our story from a business perspective and my deepest sympathy to all who have been affected and those who have lost loved ones, my heart goes out to these people.
Our small business was going to hit many bumpy patches as our on-trade business was decimated before it really got properly started for the year. It got me thinking and the question arose – had we done enough work in the retail sector? No was the answer.
March passed in a haze with prior projections and planning out the window and I felt like where do we start or restart? The first thing we did was to rescale the projections for the rest of the year and by mid-April we seemed to be making some headway with the retail and off-sales business. Then the penny dropped, rescaling the projections obviously means less sales therefore less cashflow and this year I was supposed to launch; a new cider Apple “Secco”, a Blackcurrant liqueur and to start going about bottling the 2018 vintage wines. It sounds easy except we had no bottles, no labels and really nothing except produce in tanks and barrels and before I forget I was to launch a website for online sales. Was there any support? Yes, we did get some really good help from the Local Enterprise Board through top class mentoring and some financial support. Bord Bia gave us use of their library facility ‘The Thinking House’ which was very helpful.
Reflecting now in the hazy days of September, as an entrepreneur and small business owner, did we really get supported by our leaders and politicians? For me, the answer is a resounding no. Obviously I’m not implying they are responsible for the pandemic but we still have to pay our VAT, Duty, wages, licences and did we get any of this waivered? No.
Where do I see the next few months panning out? We are optimistic but genuinely concerned that no real plans are in place to support the craft drinks sector in general.
To conclude: we will fight hard to keep or business on track and will never lie down but I firmly believe we are NOT all in this together as the over-used tagline of the last few months seems to imply. Our website is live www.vikingirishdrinks.com and we are to launch the previously mentioned Blackcurrant Liqueur very soon and the Apple “Secco” is in the balance. Stay tuned!
Enjoy …. David Dennison, cider, wine, liqueur maker.