The world has slowed down but all around us nature continues its annual cycle, blissfully unaware, unperturbed by the global pandemic that has interrupted human life. In the vineyards, vines are still growing and buds are breaking, an early indication of what this year’s vintage will look like. In fact, after a succession of warm weeks leading into spring, bud break in the Northern Hemisphere was early this year, particularly in Italy. In the wake of the lockdown, vineyard workers hurried to finish pruning, de-budding and tying up vines, keeping their distance, as the country closed down around them. Inside the wineries, where contamination of the wine is usually the only concern, the strictest hygiene practices have been enforced to protect workers from each other. Employees have been let go to alleviate running costs, and no doubt family members have been called upon to keep businesses going.
We hope that by harvest time at the end of August, work restrictions will have been lifted and wineries will be able to employ workers for the harvest. But in the meantime, how are small-scale producers coping? Nature doesn’t have a pause button. Work in the winery is year-round and constant, as it is for much of the agricultural sector, upon whom we rely so heavily.
Maybe we can’t compare the current pandemic to a world war, but the economic damage in the aftermath will certainly be commensurable. The European Commission is putting together a modern-day Marshall Plan to ensure that as many employees keep their jobs as possible and businesses stay afloat. France is in the midst of its worst recession since 1945, with reports of the economy shrinking by 6% in the first quarter. Sectors worst hit are construction, transport and hospitality. For businesses dependent on the tourism industry, it is a concerning time.
With the hospitality sector on almost complete shutdown worldwide, there’s no doubt that on-trade wine sales will take a hit, even if supermarkets are coming under fire for nudging prices up as they quench the thirsts of the locked-down millions. Bordeaux En Primeur week, ProWein, London Wine Fair and Vinitaly; the cancellation of major trade events will also have lasting effects on the industry. Wine professionals from all stages of the supply chain rely on these events to network, market and build business.
Yet in these difficult times, the best of humanity presents itself. People are supporting their local bars and restaurants offering non-contact delivery and takeaway services. Businesses are donating food and resources to healthcare workers in hospitals. Professionals are taking to virtual meetings to keep the dialogue flowing and the trade network buzzing. Young people are helping the elderly do their shopping. Social media is overflowing with people offering their services, from workout videos to mental health support. Collaboration in all sorts of forms.
Let’s not forget that the ‘en primeur’ sales model, still widely used, was born in Bordeaux in the aftermath of the Second World War. To kickstart the wine industry in the recession following the war years, producers were paid up front for wine that would be released to market later on. It now generates billions for the industry.
Just the other day, we received a reassuring email from a local winery we work with. Work continues in the vineyards: La nature respecte son rythme. Everything points towards a successful vintage this year which is keeping their spirits high.
Wine has the wonderful ability to mark moments in time. Every year is different and every harvest has a new story to tell. Each vintage is a bookmark in the history of the world. Just as the 1945 post-war vintage was seen as a symbol of hope and peace, 2020 will mark not only a new decade but a new era of prosperity. A light at the end of the tunnel. A celebration. The world will emerge, bruised, but with a newfound sense of gratitude for what we took for granted. And every glass of 2020 that will be raised in years to come will be a toast to the resilience of humanity.
Written by Phoebe Roth, one of our fantastic booze consultants. For any wine-related queries, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.