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Winemaking within the age of Covid: some classes from the pandemic

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As I’m about to absent myself for a month, it appears an excellent time to replicate on what vintners have learnt from residing via the Covid-19 pandemic and the way the world of wine is altering consequently.

The obvious change has been in how we purchase wine, with a far larger proportion of us ordering it on-line. This will likely have resulted, briefly, in a scarcity of cardboard packaging however it has definitely benefited the extra digitally adept wine corporations.

Grasp of Wine Fiona Morrison is finest recognized for the Pomerol property Le Pin owned by her husband’s household, the Thienponts, however she spends a lot of her time working their Belgian wine service provider, Thienpont Wine. She studies that, though Thienpont has had a web-based operation since 2017, its ecommerce gross sales doubled throughout lockdown and are nonetheless rising. Throughout the Channel and in a really completely different nook of the wine world, longstanding English wine producer Ridgeview bought virtually thrice as a lot wine on-line in 2020 as in its earlier document yr, 2019. And final yr’s gross sales grew by 81 per cent although pandemic-related restrictions within the UK had loosened significantly.

That is mirrored all through the worldwide wine enterprise. It will appear that we’re all fairly blissful to have our wine delivered to us, substituting a chat with a service provider for a written gross sales pitch on a web site. Gaia Gaja of Barbaresco’s most well-known household factors out that the web doesn’t discriminate by dimension of manufacturing, so these elevated on-line gross sales have given small and medium-sized wine producers extra of a look-in. A well-designed web site could make even the smallest outfit look vital. The US retail panorama particularly has turn out to be much less dominated by a handful of huge distributors now that wine producers can talk straight with customers.

Wine is a fancy commodity. You’d suppose it might be arduous to substitute for the expertise of truly tasting it earlier than shopping for. However the digital world has taken over to a stunning extent, with laptops and cameras more and more substituting for bodily sensation. As Janet Trefethen of Trefethen Household Vineyards within the Napa Valley tells me: “We’re placing collectively extra movies to carry the household, our wines and the winery to the patron.”

And, after all, there are the Zoom tastings (and Microsoft Groups, Google Meet…). For some time, they appeared set to remodel the wine business. Now, they appear to be petering out. I’m not unhappy about this. Bottles, ambiance and humour are rather more tough to share on-line, and time variations are significantly obvious when tasting wine. An Australian presenting wine after their dinner is in a disconcertingly completely different temper from a stone-cold sober skilled taster early on a London morning.


For fairly quite a few vintners, pandemic journey restrictions meant that they rediscovered the pleasures of hands-on work. For some, this has led to lasting adjustments. “We have now at all times cherished to be within the vineyards, however in Covid occasions you recognize much more having them,” studies Klaus Peter Keller of Rheinhessen in Germany. “We have now enlarged our vineyard backyard so much, rising greens and fruit that we use for lunch with our group.”

However for some considerate vintners, there was a extra critical reckoning. Nigel Greening owns the much-admired New Zealand vineyard Felton Street and has been taking the lengthy view from his base in Devon, south-west England. “Covid is nature telling us to go to our room and take into consideration what we have now accomplished,” he tells me. “After a yr [of lockdown] I couldn’t wait to go travelling once more. My life had been considerably pushed by assembly our distributors and clients all around the world. By yr two, I had accepted that I might by no means do it once more. The worth we pay to fly is simply an excessive amount of for the world to bear.”

Germany’s best-travelled vintner is Erni Loosen of Dr Loosen within the Mosel. He makes wine in Washington state too and has tasks in Australia and Spain, in addition to being prone to flip up at any Riesling convention held anyplace. However even he has modified his methods. “We have now come to understand that a lot of the conferences work simply high quality via Zoom, and even digital wine tastings have been a hit. So it made enterprise life simpler since you don’t have to journey in any respect.”

Ken Forrester of South Africa spent his enforced captivity enterprise critical winemaking analysis tasks. “My lifetime of 120 to 140 days [a year] of worldwide journey stopped abruptly. I spent much more time within the cellar, alone. I did much more analysis particularly on yeasts and sulphur bonds, on utilizing oxygen to ‘stabilise’ wines.” One materials outcome has been his resolution to bottle his wines earlier to retain their freshness and fruit — a development that appears to be rising typically. The Ken Forrester vineyard and workplace have additionally been transformed to solar energy, and he’s lobbying to have South Africa formally recognised because the cradle of regenerative viticulture, the strategy that presently appears almost certainly to supply wine-growing with a very sustainable future.

As Gaja identified: “Covid has raised consciousness of environmental sustainability, as we have now all seen how weak and interconnected your complete world is.” She is vital of widespread greenwashing, whereby corporations flaunt a couple of environmental credentials with out being significantly dedicated to sustainability: “My applause goes to the quite a few producers who’ve sustainable practices with out promoting them.”

The pandemic has introduced all facets of sustainability to the fore, together with employment practices. The labour shortages that affected many industries post-pandemic are significantly acute for these working in food and drinks. Mardi Roberts of Ridgeview drew my consideration to its new deal with employees wellbeing to assist with retention. (Her winemaker husband Simon was extra wanting to report the weird lack of distractions whereas mixing and bottling his 2020s because of lockdown.) Due to hospitality employees shortages, the viability of winemaker dinners, as soon as the mainstay of any US gross sales marketing campaign, has shrivelled.

Gaja, once more, makes an attention-grabbing level. The shake-up that Covid inflicted has made wine producers reassess the wine festivals and exhibitions that was once such an integral a part of the industrial panorama. In response to her, “participation prices have turn out to be too excessive and [events] too frequent for medium to small wineries, and the advantage of taking part is diminishing. They have to be rethought.”

For a lot of, wine turned a supply of continuity throughout tough occasions. As Michael Hill Smith of Shaw + Smith in South Australia says: “Life within the winery goes on no matter any virus: vineyards nonetheless have to be pruned, grapes harvested and wine made.” Each Trefethen and Hill Smith pressured what a consolation wine was to many individuals — not simply winemakers — as they sealed themselves away from human contact for thus lengthy. The lesson for Hill Smith was “what an incredible, uplifting, cerebral, artistic and above all life-affirming drink wine could be”. Clever phrases, and ones I intend to take to coronary heart, and never simply over the subsequent 4 weeks. Go me the corkscrew.

Eight to fee

A present excellent wine by every of the vintners cited right here

  • Felton Street, Bannockburn Chardonnay 2020 Central Otago 14%
    £41 James Nicholson

  • Ken Forrester, The Misfits Cinsault 2021 Western Cape 12.5%
    £9 Tesco

  • Keller, von der Fels Riesling Trocken 2020 Rheinhessen
    £49.99 Marlo Wine, £500 a dozen Vinified Wine

  • Dr Loosen, Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2020 Mosel 8.5%
    £16.99 Rannoch Scott, £20 Roberson

  • Ridgeview, Bloomsbury Brut NV England 12.5%
    £30 Ridgeview

  • Shaw + Smith, Shiraz 2019 Adelaide Hills 13.5%
    £31.99 Cambridge Wine Retailers, £29.90 Shelved Wine

  • Thienpont, La Raison d’Hêtre 2016 Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux 14.5%
    £90 a dozen in bond Grand Vin Wine Retailers, additionally Justerini’s and Seckford

  • Trefethen Household Vineyards, Chardonnay 2020 Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley 13.2%
    £32.50 Secret Cellar

Tasting notes on Purple Pages of JancisRobinson.com. Extra stockists from Wine-searcher.com

Comply with Jancis on Twitter @JancisRobinson

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FTWeekend Pageant, London

Share a glass with Jancis Robinson, who brings her experience to our meals & drink stage throughout her wine tasting at FTWeekend Pageant on September 3 at Kenwood Home Gardens, London. Select from 10 tents full of concepts and inspiration and an array of views, that includes every thing from debates to tastings, performances and extra. Book your cross now



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