Wine in the Time of Pestilence VIII: Champagne

[Thanks to Dr. Liz Thach MW for some of the USA information I’ve used here].

Covid-19 seems to have dealt the champagne business a severe blow.  Remember when I started blogging on the plague I said that it doesn’t change the world – it will accelerate changes that are already happening.  That too is happening I think to champagne – although many will disagree with me and say it has overturned the existing landscape.  However, let me explain what I think is happening.

Right at the beginning of the crisis it was noted that champagne sales were plummeting, although the perennially optimistic CIVC was saying that it expected an upturn before the end of the year.  Fifty percent of the wine is (still) sold in France – though the amount has been declining for the last decade but much is sold in bars and restaurants.  With these closed for around four months volume reductions of up to 70% were seen.  Meanwhile, as I’ve noted before, the English speaking world avoids anything which smacks of celebration or success during a recession and it has moved away from champagne.  By the end of May the champagne industry was suggesting a possible loss of sales of 1.7 billion euros for the year and the original hopes for a recovery in fortunes passed by.  More recently it has been suggested that they will sell 100 million fewer bottles this year than normal. The result of this was a big split within champagne.  On the one side were the large houses, already sitting on huge levels of unsold stocks and not wanting to augment them – who thus demanded a big reduction in this year’s harvest.  On the other side the growers who have much less need to sell wine but who rely primarily for their income on selling lots of grapes, and in the middle of the current crisis could not afford to lose perhaps 25% of their income or more.

Nevertheless, if you look at the recent history of champagne none of this decline is quite so revolutionary.  For seven years, from 2001 to 2008 the business was on a roll – continuing the fairly continuous rapid growth seen for the region’s wines for the previous 50 years – as the table below shows.  I remember, in May 2008, hearing a leading member of the CIVC pronouncing publicly that champagne had ‘learnt how to beat the cycle of booms and downturns’.  If only! I assume he was eating his words six months later.

Table courtesy of Dr David Menival

The global financial crisis prompted – naturally – a downturn, with a sales loss of almost 15%.  Yet a few years later the business seemed to be bouncing back, so that by 2011 over one half of that loss had been clawed back.  However, it wasn’t as good as it seemed – as the graphic below shows.  What could be seen as a growing market up to 2011 turns into a stagnant market from 2009 to the present, and despite a good year for the value of sales in 2019, even before Covid-19 arrived this stagnation wasn’t really changing.

What does this mean?  The champenois have been concerned from some time about the threat of sparkling wines from other parts of the world; I think that is too simplistic a view.  My interpretation is that the reason for this longer term stagnation has complex origins, some of them quite long term.  The rise of ‘lifestyle’ rather than social class as one significant marker of identity means that the old obvious signifiers of the community you belonged to, based on a traditional hierarchical symbolism of the things we use, is breaking down; champagne, once the symbol par excellence of the French bourgeoisie and the British aristocracy has less cachet than before and less use as a means of conveying who you feel you are.  Add to that the fact that a new generation of consumers is much less likely to swallow marketing hype (and thus the assumption that ‘champagne is naturally the best because we all say it is’) and you have a tendency to move away from the fizz.  This was reinforced by the instant response of the champagne industry to the economic crisis of 2008, which was to reduce prices to push up sales.  That’s great in the short term, but in the longer term, with some champagne priced a little more than a good crémant from Alsace, or a better Spanish Cava, subliminally it suggested that it wasn’t such a special drink as all that.  Finally, over the last five or ten years, a more general move to nationalism and national introversion (think Trump, Putin and Brexit) and consumers are again moving away from the luxury drink from another country.

Yet, as always with wine, there are exceptions to this.  Blips for some of the summer in Britain and Norway. Most interesting is the USA.  Sales were stagnant there at the beginning of the year – yet astonishingly, whilst they have collapsed elsewhere in the English-speaking world, they have been rising in the United States.  At the end of July Nielsen, the data tracking organisation, claimed that champagne sales had risen 65% since May.  This is an astonishing turn around – so why has it happened?  Nielsen themselves found it hard to explain to us.  There was general comment about the warmer weather, people coming out of lockdown, and doing more gardening – as well as the popularity of ‘quarantini’ cocktails!  Hardly responsible, I’d say, for such a big growth in an expensive drink.  If anyone has any suggestions I’d love to hear  them.

Paradoxically, as I’ve also noted previously, outside the USA other forms of sparkling wine have seen sales behave more buoyantly.  Maybe this is, partly, due to the success of champagne producers in separating their wine from other forms of fizz.  Champagne has been marketed for over a century as the wine for celebration, success and seduction; all other wines with a sparkle – prosecco, cava, Tasmanian, even English – are for having a good time with friends or family.  In lockdown, and even more as lockdown eases it’s the latter which benefit – we want to be sociable again; however, we have nothing to celebrate, there is no success yet, so champagne is not appropriate.  Perhaps more than any other part of the world of wine champagne must be hanging out for a vaccine, and the wild parties which will inevitably follow.  Maybe that, too, will enable them to transcend not just the current crisis but also the longer-term stagnation.

Wine in the Time of Pestilence VII – Wine Distribution

The wine industry is not, of course, alone in the havoc Covid-19 has wreaked on it.  All businesses (except maybe those producing face masks and – at least early on – toilet rolls) have suffered, and wine is low down to list of priority industries for the general health of the world.  As I’ve noted in previous posts, enterprising producers have been working to find ways to get their wines direct to consumers – but the distribution industry generally has been thrown into turmoil by the crisis.  Harpers – a UK wine trade magazine – ran an article suggesting that the wine economy would take five years to rebound from the chaos.  Yet, as I’ve said in all my posts, the disease has not created new problems for the wine distributors; rather it has just accelerated the speed of changes already taking place.  Further, these changes develop in the context of the specific cultures where wine is sold.

The hospitality sector is clearly going to contract.  In some countries bars and restaurants are reopening, but social distancing means that they can accept fewer customers so their income will decline.  In France I’ve already noticed a number of restaurants that have just failed to reopen as lockdown is ending.  One issue here is the cultural insistence that meals only happen between midday and 2 p.m. and then after 7 p.m. at night.  If they could bring themselves to accept that some people at least (if only summer tourists from other countries) would like the chance to eat a bit earlier, have a late lunch, or graze all day they might do more business.  In other countries the decline of the town centre in the face of online shopping and rents that go up in the face of that decline has already been putting many restaurants out of business.  Meanwhile, as Robert Joseph has noted, if work patterns change (at least in Western countries) so that more people work more often at home that may put further restaurants in the centre of major cities under pressure.  Additionally, as the same perceptive critic notes, if there is a decline in restaurants, where consumers get to meet new wines introduced by sommeliers, what does that mean for producers in places such as Georgia, Sicily, or Carnuntum?  The key question is – how is the on-trade for wine going to be recreated over the next decade?

Getting wine to consumers – particularly under the influence of Amazon and similar wine-focused organisations like Naked Wines – was already evolving, and this has now accelerated.  In early June Amazon announced an ‘online wine store’ in Australia; meanwhile, according to Reuters Naked Wines has just stated that their June sales saw a 67% increase on the same month in 2019.  Low overheads reduce costs (and thus the price of the wine) and rapid delivery increases consumer convenience.  They may not squeeze out all the independent retailers but they could put pressure on larger suppliers (especially those who are already going online).  Again, there are cultural issues at play.  In Australia, as in much of Western Europe, online purchasing of wine is still really in early stages; however, in China, with the rise of behemoths like Alibaba, the population has already accustomed itself to making purchases online.  Yet China itself is proving paradoxical here.  Even before the disease hit there in January imports of wine in to the country were declining in both volume and value.  According to one of my correspondents there, based on the General Administration of Customs of China the value of year on year imports of wine in to the country decreased in five of the last six months of the year.  Why is this?  No doubt the trade war with the USA has caused some price rises, and beyond that perhaps dissuading Chinese consumers from buy wines made by allies of the States.  Perhaps there is a partisan move to drinking more of its home-produced wines (which are steadily improving in quality).  However, what then followed –a year-on-year decline in import volume for the first three months of the year of 25.3% and in value of 31.1% just reinforced that.  Subsequent political events will be doing nothing to reverse that process.  Politics trumps the need for wine here.

I’ve always argued that the problem with selling wine online is that the physical interaction with the product (most obviously the taste and smell) limits how much it can be sold virtually; however, that is to ignore the fact that so many (especially younger) people now make their purchase decisions based not on taste but on recommendation by influencers and the online communities to which they belong.  Meanwhile in the US online sales of alcohol doubled in the year to May and the UK showed a 50% growth over the same period.  What is more, it seems that over the time since the crisis began consumers have been maintaining their move towards online alcohol shopping so it is probably likely to be continued when (if) the pandemic disappears.

Meanwhile, two countries present particularly interesting case studies about the effect of the crisis on wine distribution – both of them with an element of ‘prohibition’ in their cultural make up.  In the wake of the end of prohibition in the USA in 1932 strict rules were introduced to manage how alcohol got to the consumer and (in part) to make it more expensive: this is the notorious three-tier system.  In each state there must be one ‘importer’, a separate wholesaler, and a third retailer direct to the consumer.  This gives big power to the large-scale distributors (who are reluctant to see the system change as it guarantees them an income but it is not popular with wine producers, who may not be able to sell wine directly interstate, nor with consumers who see three layers of distribution each taking their own cut (and thus pushing up prices) and who are limited in their ability to buy direct from producers.  Additionally, those who seek new ways of getting wine to consumers (such as Amazon) may find the system works against them.  A debate has developed on how the world of wine may change – but the power of the anti-alcohol lobby remains substantial, and is allied in this case to alcohol distributors with a vested interest in the status quo. 

Finally, spare a thought for poor South African drinkers.  As I noted before, in the early stages of the pandemic not just sales, but even the movement of alcohol was banned (thus essentially stopping exports).  That was eased at the beginning of June – but the restrictions have just been reintroduced.  This produced a brilliantly articulate groan of agony from one of the country’s leading wine journalists, Michael Fridjhon. While he acknowledges that wine causes all kinds of problems for some segments of the local population, notably more alienated groups with less access to power or wealth, all this is doing is stymieing that part of the nation’s economic recovery based on wine exports.  Further, it is entirely undermining the attempts to rescue the hospitality sector.  Fridjhon points out that the majority of the ANC’s leadership is officially in favour of prohibition (which has, of course, never succeeded in any other country).  Additionally, I’d suggest, with wine specifically there is also the point that it was traditionally a white economic activity, and remains dominated by whites.  Beyond that, as well, it is a business that is almost entirely based in the Western Cape– the one Province in South Africa which has a non-ANC government, and which the ruling party therefore detests as it threatens its monopoly on power.  Politics beats wine again…

Wine in the Time of Pestilence VI – Wine Production

As I said in my last blog post, I want to devote the next few posts to the world of wine and its changing social and cultural context post Covid-19 (then a more normal service will resume!)  The last post also explained how I think that the impact of the plague will not be to revolutionise the world of wine but to accelerate existing changes which are in train.  So in the current post I want to use this lens to examine how wine production and its culture may be changing in the future.  There are two things which I want to consider: one is how the structures of wine producers may change and the other is producer contact with consumers.

I don’t want to be too economic or business focused, but we need to start with a little bit of business economics.  One is the historic failure of wine businesses to make a return on investment – that is to pay for all of their expenses, including land value, and make a profit as well.  In many parts of the world wineries are not profitable.  One well-known New World wine region, famed for its (often expensive) Bordeaux blends, was the subject of a study a few years ago which suggested that only two of thirty vineyards made a profit; they were kept going by money from other sources.  Equally, in much of France domaines are only profitable because the current owners inherited the land.  Thus, as land prices rise dramatically in regions like Champagne and Burgundy those who inherit vineyards valued at many millions of euros per hectare cannot make the business pay in the future. 

The Covid-19 crisis is likely to accelerate this.  In France we already see a number of smaller hospitality businesses close because it just isn’t worth continuing, and this is a good place to stop.  Likewise, I heard anecdotally early in the crisis that it was suggested that in excess of 700 (mainly) small wineries in Australia would have to close because the plague would destroy their distribution.  The age of the ‘lifestyle winery’ (the New World especially) or the domaine without a viable business plan (all over the world) may be drawing to a close.  That doesn’t mean all small and medium-sized producers will disappear: many will stay.  Yet it isn’t a question of the quality of wine – rather good wine allied to business sense – which will keep the survivors going.

Different places will have differing problems with Covid-19.  Champagne grapes are all picked by hand.  Each harvest the sides of the vineyards are full of coaches parked with Polish, Bulgarian, Romanian and other eastern European registration plates; 120,000 pickers, most from other countries, pour in for the harvest.  Lockdown in Europe is easing – but will the same number of pickers want to risk the journey for a few French meals and a fistful of euros?  This source of labour is likely to dry up at some point soon anyway as the eastern economies grow and approach those of the west.  Why do eight hours backbreaking work in northern France when you could have two weeks on the beach in Crete, Croatia or the Costa del Sol?  Perhaps, then, the pestilence will accelerate this trend; the problem, consequently, will be who will pick the grapes?  The French no longer want to, nor do students, nor the Spanish nor the Portuguese; yet the grapes must be picked by hand. 

In a wider sense, the management of harvest – starting in the northern hemisphere within the next six weeks – will be complicated.  How do you maintain social distancing when people pick or work in the cellar in proximity?  Furthermore, how do you stay healthy when you party afterwards?  Are we going to have to revise the protocols for working together not just this year but for the mid-term?

There may be a different issue in the vineyards of California.  Traditionally these many of these were worked and harvested by hand, because cheap Hispanic labour needed less capital than machines.  This has been changing in the last few years; the obvious reason for this may be the xenophobic policies of the current President yet there is another cause too.  The boom of the now-legal cannabis industry has caused many agricultural workers to shift from vineyards to cannabis plantations.  The money is at least as good and the work is less back breaking: cannabis plants are easier to work.  Again, it may well be that the plague will accelerate this trend, thus producing the more rapid mechanisation of the vineyards.

Meanwhile, the fledgling UK wine production industry thinks it is in crisis.  As a comparatively new entrant to the world of wine making it is less secure than most other wine regions.  Additionally, its wines – while excellent – are comparatively highly priced, in a country where price points are culturally very important for wine consumers.  (Wine there, although quite cheap generally, still has connotations of luxury for some consumers – especially sparkling wine which is the main focus of the local industry.)  This is compounded by fears for the coming harvest.  As in Champagne, much has to be picked by hand, and following Brexit the supply of harvesters from eastern Europe is even more under threat than it is in France.

*          *          *

One group in the production process often overlooked by wine lovers is the grower.  Many people assume that wine makers own all their vineyards, but of course that is not the case.  If there is a declining wine market then smaller and medium-sized producers use their own fruit first and cut down on bought fruit, so growers suffer disproportionately during a vinous downturn.  A report in California has predicted a difficult year for growers in the Central Valley – the powerhouse of the State’s wine production. 

Champagne growers, dependent on the large Houses for their market, also have specific problems.  Sales, having been stagnant for around six years, have dropped dramatically this year.  As a result the CIVC may well reduce the overall yield for the year; so will growers in the region be able or willing to continue.  The slow but noticeable move by some houses to buy land or tie growers in to long-term contracts may accelerate, thus consolidating further the Houses power in the bipartite management of the industry.

*          *          *

Covid-19 is also forcing wine producers to change the way they engage with their consumers.  Many have had to think about selling more wine directly in the future as distribution, and especially the hospitality sector, has collapsed.  Those producers who have already been active in wine tourism have often – with temporary pauses – been able to respond with some flexibility.  Others, particularly those who do little but receive clients into their house may have lost markets. 

There is a cultural context to this: many (especially in Europe) practice wine tourism by receiving guests – but don’t believe it is a tourism activity; they are just farmers, after all.  Thus, they just welcome customers.  When those customers can’t come they don’t realise that they should react, maintain the link, and create a sense of community for past visitors.  Many of these also are uncomfortable with the technology required to reinvent wine tourism.  I’ll explain this with a story.

One of my colleagues at work teaches a course on Wine Tourism to MBA students.  This normally includes visits to wineries and wine regions.  In April, of course, that was impossible, so my colleague arranged some virtual wine tourism for the students, using Zoom.  One of her regular visits, a small domaine in Beaujolais was really uncertain about this.  He wasn’t sure about talking to students on his smartphone when he was used to taking them round the place he works.  How could he convey what his place was like?  Yet my friend persisted and so he started talking.  Then, as he talked about his winery, he realised that he could in fact use the smartphone to show them the cellar.  Even better, he could walk out into the vineyards and show his special terroir.  He became more and more enthusiastic.  By the end of the virtual visit he realised, very happily, that he could offer the same to his loyal clients with an online wine tourism service.  Without being challenged, however, he would never have seen what was possible.

Other parts of the world, where wine tourism is culturally much more part of the wine experience, have responded much more proactively. 

There has already been pressure to reduce intercontinental travel because of its environmental impact.  Covid-19 seems likely to strengthen this change.  Some in the wine industry have already seen this so that the owner of the Chateau de Pommard in Burgundy has started talking about launching a new vintage of wines with a virtual campaign, then creating a specific digital platform to allow purchasers of their wine to get full, visual wine experiences wherever they are in the world.  It’s also worth pointing out that the Chateau de Pommard is owned by an American who will perhaps be more attuned to what is possible than some of his more conservative neighbours. Other countries have managed the pandemic better than the USA or some parts of Europe.  By early June New Zealand was seeing resurgence of wine tourism and a chance for the industry to revive as social distancing restrictions eased a little.  However, at just the same time in South Africa sales of alcohol were being resumed but there were warnings that small producers, with limited space, would struggle to meet the health and safety conditions for allowing visitors, and with restrictions on restaurant and other hospitality services.  It’s important to remember that the country was much stricter towards alcohol – banning all sales as it went into lockdown.

So, what do we make of this?  Successful businesses may thrive, or at least survive; less successful ones – which in our world means those which only focus on the style of wine rather than their market – will suffer; as I’ve suggested before, Covid-19 will accelerate this change in the short to medium term.  Yet, as always, culture, social expectations and history all pay a major part in creating the environment and the individual approach which explains where and who is likely to be more successful.

Wine in the Time of Pestilence IV: A Footnote

This is a short follow-up to my last post on consumers and wine during Covid-19.  I developed my ideas further in an article for the French version of The Conversation: the online journal which tries to put academics and their ideas in contact with a wider public.  If you are interested, and can read French, the article is here.

I quickly got a very interesting response from one reader, Lam Idelo, which I translate as follows:

I had the children over at my house to celebrate the end of lockdown.  I’d stocked up on beer – of which they’re enthusiastic drinkers. To my surprise they had adopted attitudes more commonly associated with older people:  pastis and whisky for an aperitif; red wine with the meal (they had even brought two very good bottles with them). I don’t know how to interpret this return to wine amongst youngsters (they are around thirty years old).

A great anecdote on how the pestilence is turning people back to tradition and security.  Also – perhaps – it reflects what some of us have seen with younger drinkers in some western countries (stereotypically labelled millennials).  That as they are growing older they are consciously moving from volume to quality consumption, and with that many are moving from spirits to wine.  But that is a broad generalisation which needs to be treated with caution. 

Wine in the Time of Pestilence IV

There has been a lot of press chatter around the idea that we are drinking more in the Covid-19 crisis.  The Sydney Morning Herald reported that online sales for one retailer had jumped by 50-75%; Nielsen tracking figures for wine sales in the USA showed dramatic rises in wine sales in the two weeks following the start of lockdown in key states, then a dramatic fall, then two more weeks of increase (though less intense).  There has been an increase of wine sales in the USA of 29.4% since the ‘start’ of Covid-19 – just behind the increase in spirits sales but well ahead of beer on 19%; this has also seen a surge in sales of cabernet sauvignon – as if consumers want to go back to what is tried and tested.  Meanwhile in the UK I’ve heard through the grapevine, that for some UK retailers March was their best month ever.  What seems to be selling is their core range – so that consumers are indeed sticking with brands they know well and feel comfortable with, with sales of these wines almost one quarter up on normal.  That could include things like Rioja, Argentine malbec and pinot grigio.  The winners, it seems, are winning even more.

So, the sales figures seem to bear this out this general idea that everyone is drinking more wine, though the detail is much more complex than that.  As I’ve noted previously, the ease of buying wine in France isn’t mirrored in South Africa, for instance.  So how is our drinking behaviour changing?  By which I don’t just mean how much we drink, but how and what we drink – and why we may be drinking more.  Looking at my own drinking I felt it was changing, and anecdotally it appeared that others were changing theirs as well.

So, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to find out how some dedicated drinkers have been changing their relationship with alcohol during the spread of the virus.  To do this I chose my own colleagues in the Institute of Masters of Wine with a short survey on how they are drinking during the time of pestilence.  We asked both numeric questions and asked them to add comments about their drinking – and this is what transpired.  As this is a blog about ‘wine and culture’ I’m going to focus on the most interesting cultural findings.

I received completed surveys from 142 Masters of Wine, which is a good response rate and the sample was broadly representative of the Institute’s gender and geographic make up (65% male and 47% based in the UK).  The ‘typical’ respondent was aged about 56 and had been in confinement for just over 18 days at the point when they responded.  They pay on average just under 18€ per bottle when they buy wine, drinking about 5-6 days per week.

Forty-two percent said that their wine consumption had increased since the onset of Covid-19, while 15% said it had decreased, and for 43% it had not altered.  However, an examination of who is drinking more or less reveals some interesting and statistically significant results.  Those who are drinking less wine are disproportionately male (85%) rather than female – but those drinking more are proportionately more likely to be female.  The following quotation illustrates this:

I think anyone home-schooling kids whilst working from home during lockdown is definitely drinking more wine.

The same trend is even more marked for buying wine: women are more likely to be buying more wine than before Covid-19 by 60% to 40% for men. 

Interestingly, when we look at the country of residence of Masters of Wine drinking more or less there was no obvious difference between the regions of the world – except that none of the Australasian Masters of Wine claim to be drinking less (statistically it should have been three)! 

Many of those drinking less listed health concerns as a major reason to cut down – though a few also qualified this by noting that they are drinking better.

I am drinking less as I want my immune system a bit stronger.  I’m drinking less per week , but definitely increased the price point (doubled).  So drinking less, but better.

A great many Masters of Wine who responded to this survey noted that they were ‘raiding their cellars’, and this is related to the quality level of wine being drunk.  Over 46% of all Masters of Wines feel that the quality of what they are drinking is better than it was before.  However, one unfortunate London-based Masters of Wine lamented that his cellar was outside the capital and he couldn’t access it during lockdown! 

So why is the drinking behaviour of Masters of Wine changing? When we look at reasons for drinking more wine, a number mention that the sense of mortality is having an impact on their decisions: 

I’m glad you asked if I’m raiding the cellar for the good stuff. I am doing that, as are many people. Why save it for the apocalypse – we are in the apocalypse.

Reward and celebration as well as the need to avoid boredom were also noted, as was the fact that the family is together.  Thus, food and wine combined were often mentioned, including jointly preparing meals and the overall pleasure of cooking – suggesting that community and family support have become more important.

I enjoy drinking wine even more now because it’s usually during mealtime with family and it helps bring us together. Since being sheltered at home, our lives have fewer outside distractions, which allows us to focus more closely on what we’re consuming

Additionally, many Masters of Wine noted the need to use wine for ritual: the marker of the end of the day at a time when lockdown has removed from us the normal routines and rituals of the working day.

It’s too easy to feel you need to mark the break in the day as you move from day to evening, work/busyness to leisure/family time with a glass of wine. Easier to justify it than normal: unprecedented times require a little reward/enjoyment on a regular basis

There was also an implication in some of the comments that in isolation wine gives a link to a previous, less threatening time, or to a wider, exciting world from which we are currently cut off – the world of wine being a notoriously convivial place!

Wine is a way to ‘travel’ with our senses, through the magical way it can express its origin, and capture the flavours and essence of wonderful places, and transport you around the world in our imagination. (For example, last night we said ‘let’s make a delicious fresh pasta and open a Chianti Classico and pretend we are on holiday in Tuscany!’)

Consequently, like the rest of the population, Masters of Wine have not been immune to the lure of virtual consumption, and online aperitifs are becoming more popular.

What are the key conclusions from this?  The first is that probably Masters of Wine resemble other wine drinkers in that few are decreasing their alcohol consumption and a number are increasing it.  It is also probable that the reasoning is generally the same for the wider population (isolation, family, boredom, apprehension, and the need for reward against health and maybe financial concerns).  They also mirror the general population in that some, at least, are having virtual aperitifs, and seeking reasons to celebrate.  The key differences are that they pay more on average for their wine.

A key marker of Masters of Wine however may be the quality of what they drink, which appears to be going up for many – and rarely going down.  This is affected by the fact that most have access to a cellar and the current crisis has acted as a catalyst to make use of that cellar and drink better wine.

Otherwise, the key conclusions seem to be the following.  It is female Masters of Wine who are driving the increase in wine consumption and the Australasian Masters of Wine have resolutely turned their face against drinking less in this time of pestilence.  Additionally, try to ensure that your wine cellar is where you live, and not away from your home.

Meanwhile, together with a work colleague I’m extending this research to the general wine-drinking population:

https://schoolwinespiritsbusiness.limequery.com/346558?lang=en

Please do complete the survey – we want as many responses as possible from all kinds of people: those who drink wine no more than a few times a year up to weekly imbibers – and please pass it on to friends as well: we need to get as many as possible completing this.

Meanwhile, public authorities have been telling us how we ought to drink. Early on in the pandemic the World Health Organisation warned that using alcohol is an ‘unhelpful coping strategy’ in lockdown. The trouble is that one person’s ‘coping strategy’ is another’s ‘reward’, or ‘ritual marker’ which becomes a pleasant, psychologically beneficial; and while WHO suggested that it is unlikely to alleviate stress it seems that many drinkers disagree with them. Meanwhile, and more usefully, organisations like Drinkwise in Australia and Drinkaware in the UK are promoting a message of moderation rather than abstinence, and reminding people of the sensible limits for consumption.

Finally, some people have been using this time to tell us how to expand our wine activities to get us through lockdown.  The trade magazine The Drinks Business have run articles explaining the best wine-related crafts to help break through the boredom (if you want to ‘repurpose’ your empty bottles or create wine-dyed cork straps this is the place for you).  If craft isn’t your thing then they’ve listed the ten greatest wine films to watch in lockdown – from Rock Hudson and Jean Simmons keeping a Californian wine company going during prohibition to a recent fictional release based on the life of Master Sommelier in training.

What to do? 

This blog theme will be continued…

Update: if you enjoyed this article, I have since published a small footnote related to it, found here.