With all the twists, turns and plot twists 2020 has brought us, it might even be mistaken that it is solely this year responsible for the changing dynamics within the world of wine itself. It really isn’t. And while much of that exact world is in the seam of (finally) pivoting from bygone etiquettes and reckoning with practices which have given way to racist practices and compliant microaggressions, there’s also a part of this same world intrigued by transformation.
Hear me out.
I wanted to focus on this idea of pivoting because a lot of us are going through changes right now, no matter the industry. Many might be internalizing what would otherwise be a persisting childlike tantrum.
The wine world is no stranger to making pivots. In this case I don’t mean pivots in the sense of spontaneous travel, acquired vineyards or even midlife crisis induced splurging. I’m talking about pivots brought on by its core – the people. Those rolling with the punches. Those questioning what they might be doing with their lives. Those who might’ve had to take a deep crash course on technology tools to help their businesses stay afloat amid a pandemic. Those who simply want to do (or be) something different. Resilient, transforming, beasts. With a strength brought out by change.
The following are pivots made within the wine world to remind you that pivoting happens! Pivots that can be conscious adjustments, happy accidents, annoying inconveniences or downright heartbreakers. This is a reminder to breathe and move forward. At the end of the day, they are pivots of hope and endurance:
The Career Pivot
Many people who get into wine come from all walks of life… and even less predictable career backgrounds. The wine you might be drinking today could have been made by someone who was a pottery artist in another life. Who knows?! Lesson being, there is no straight path for everyone! Richard Ponzi was working in the aerospace industry as a structural design engineer. André Hueston Mack pivoted to his passion for wine after a successful career in investment services. Esther Pinuaga left a career as an international business consultant to pivot back to the estate her father founded. Dr. Laura Catena, a name nearly synonymous with Argentina, pivoted back into wine and the family biz and leads two lives both as a physician and an Argentine vintner.
Wine attracts engineers, artists, financial brokers… you name it. But that’s what it makes it so incredibly cool. There are so many aspects of wine from production to commerce. You get this uniquely layered insight that is fairly rare with other consumer goods. Not to mention wine is a product of a simple agricultural product, yet also a wonderfully complex scientific entity just the same. Even for me, wine is the perfect split of geeky and artsy. That, and I’m just a fermentation subject matter fanatic. I may or may not have messed up a scoby in the kombucha making process or have had a glass jar explosion of homemade kimchi on my kitchen counter before. But more on that another time!
The Grape Diversity Pivot
Some wine growers don’t want to wait and see what’s going to happen with wine and climate. With both frost and heat already damaging all kinds of output over the years, they’re taking a chance and looking for buffers now! The idea is hopefully they’ll be the ones to take the lead on this and get ahead of possible unfortunate circumstances. Similar to how one would question the validity of TMZ breaking a major story first, this kind of pivot has apprehension written all over it.
The end product is this lovely thing we “wine down” with, have parties with and gift to friends. This isn’t something we really actively think about, the grapes themselves. But wine grapes are sensitive brats! Think about having a tooth that’s sensitive to cold. You might not react to warm water but as soon as that ice cream comes along you might be bracing for dear life like it’s the Titanic. That tooth is the state of sensitivity for wine grapes. If one type of grape is particularly difficult in violent weather, the intention is to harvest others. Some wine growers are having to learn how to grow grapes they aren’t accustomed to. The hope for this modification is to have crop that could withstand changes like temperature better.
Diversifying grape options seems like an easy pivot on the surface, but really, it’s a labor magnet. Not to mention it begs to question when or how it changes wine as we know it; it’s generations of work that could come undone. Will the wines we know thrive in the regions we already love? Or are they the next Malbec or the next Carménère? Known in one part of the world, then becomes rare or wiped out in that part of the world, only to be planted elsewhere and thrive there instead? We don’t know. This is a pivot with a huge question mark on it!
The To-Go Pivot
One way businesses like Shall We Wine have been able to shift and serve you as a consumer in the era of Covid is by conducting interactive virtual tastings. They’re fun, they’re engaging… it’s one big party after another big party, all in the comforts of our homes! For the restaurant and retail world, they have had their own pivots in the form of carry out privileges.
Small percentages in allowed occupancy have proven difficult and whether willingly or unwillingly, establishments have had to level up their to-go contributions. Offerings across the country vary from state to state. In Illinois in particular, adjustments to existing liquor laws have given businesses a chance to try and recoup some of what has been lost in these months, but in a different form.
Various restaurants are offering their wine lists as part of the carry out menu. Wine enthusiasts in turn are finding hidden gems which you would never find in retail. Restaurants like Terra & Vine took that idea further and created a limited retail space within the restaurant to accommodate both curious diners and to-go patrons. Bars like Kumiko have an assorted mix of cocktail-to-go offerings. Dorian’s has offered “quarantine care packages” with both music and bottles of wine. Some independent retail shops like 1340 Beer Wine Spirits are on mobile app platforms now or offer contactless curbside pickup.
Many of these weren’t possible before with the laws in place. While they are definitely not permanent solutions>—more like lifelines—they are pivots offering slivers of hope.