The wine industry in the time of Covid

The virus made covering the wine and spirits industries tough for our Wine & Dine columnist Doug Paulding. But he rose to the challenge.

“I need your stories. We are approaching deadline.” These words from my editor always get my attention and it usually gets me to thinking about a wine media trip I recently returned from with a journal full of tasting notes, a notebook full of poignant quotes to capture the people, the wine or the region. Or I assemble my notes from a wine-tasting seminar, a winemaker luncheon or a dinner in New York City, and I begin to create a story that I hope will be engaging to the reader. In these Covid days, traveling has screeched to a halt.  My last wine travel adventure was to Montefalco, Italy in Umbria to taste the recent release of their Sagrantino wines in late February 2020. Covid was spiking in northern Italy. Every night I saw the Covid positive line crawl, no sprint, 100 miles closer. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough to the safety (?) of New York and the United States.

Of course, luncheons and dinners with winemakers all shut down and one of the few ways we could continue to promote story ideas was a Zoom meeting with wines received in advance so you could taste them remotely and hear the wine producers’ stories. Other PR wine folks just send wines for private exploration, but it usually does not spark a story idea. I had to cancel a press trip to Montsant, Spain, (just southwest of Barcelona) in early April 2020 as borders were closing. But we are starting to see things open up again. I had a wonderful luncheon at Il Gattopardo restaurant with the Wine Media Guild where we tasted 40 or 50 Brunello di Montalcinos and got to see wine writer colleagues again. 


I have heard the cancelled trip to Spain will likely be rescheduled soon. And I have been asked to come to Louisville, Kentucky, in mid-September for a deep dive into all things Bourbon. I was on a Zoom event a few months ago in which Bordeaux, France, and Germany, have found some sort of strange collaboration, and a significant sum of EU money to lure journalists to both of those regions. Their promotion (Clink Different) is highlighting relatively unknown grapes or grapes usually used as accents in a wine and not as single varietal wines. We tasted Petit Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux and Silvaner (Trocken) and Lemberger from Germany, all bottled at 100% of the respective grapes. The wines were great.  I liked the Silvaner the best for its unique and lovely balanced citrus and stone fruit flavors.  Historically, it was an over-planted and over-produced grape that has been ushered back to quality by reducing yields and employing better winery techniques, among other things, for more concentrated flavors and nuance. The winemakers have reached out and told me they are in the process of assembling a group of journalists for this venture and would I be a candidate for that. Uh, yes. 

So, how did Covid affect you and your alcohol choices and education? Early on, when they were trying to determine who were essential workers and who could remain in business, I could hear the cheers when wine and liquor stores were given the green light. Yes, of course, alcohol sales of hand wipes and sanitizers were essential but liquid consumption of alcohol for comfort and normalcy? It seemed a stretch but the decision-makers sided on support of alcohol sales and it was, no doubt, the right decision.  Through Covid we all needed a bit of support and maybe a hint of numbing, if you will.  But I think opening a bottle with a friend, face-to-face or remotely, helps to ground a person, offers perspective and moves us through a particularly dark era in American and world history.

I am not a fan of the concept that we will move on as a society. This cannot be true given all that we have lost. Six hundred thousand U.S. deaths and counting, many others permanently impaired. So many voices and achievements silenced or cancelled. How do you move on? Maybe by going forward:  Take a walk, communicate with a longtime or recent friend. Reminisce or discover something new. Share a glass of something and, if only for a bit, bond with an agreeable relative or friend. Yes, we will move forward. And yet we have lost so much. Upgrade to a better bottle and do not forget the hugs. 

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