Why are we winetasting for 21 days during Covid Season? We love stories, and we see the microcosm of what’s happening in wineries line up with the macrocosm of what’s happening in the world. You may have to stick with me until the end if you want to understand that comment. I’m about 40 chapters deep in my process, and this is just the prologue. While tasting wine is the vehicle, the bottles are stories that you can’t get at the local wine shops. The grapes are the chapters.
Tasting life. A journey to get curious about what that means through the vehicle of wine and food, without the general snobbery that goes along with that pairing. The moments I’m interested in are those moments when the sun dips down below the distant horizon, the moment the first star peeps out, and the moment when the quiet is broken by a playlist always under construction for such moments because every epicurean moment needs a soundtrack. These moments are not just about drinking and eating. These moments are about creating space to appreciate the bounty of this life we’ve been given and to savor that deeply.
When Covid hit mid-March of 2020, I completely stopped drinking and lost 15 pounds. I think it was my way of rebelling against the collective. If I’m honest, it was probably also an attempt to grab some power in a world where, let’s be real, we had a dwindling supply. I just knew I needed a time out lest I go upside down in the wine refrigerator. I have no desire to become an alcoholic, or sock on more pounds I have to lose later-again. (My “quarantine 15” would come later on this trip!)
Many others, who had never drunk before, started. Alcohol sales skyrocketed and memes began to make it clear the world was stress-eating. I observed this ripple effect and became fascinated with how the Covid/Fire/Racism teacher was schooling us, all of us, and how each individual and group was affected so differently yet so impactfully. To me, this just reinforced what I have believed since I came to this planet: we are all so freaking connected and effected by each other’s actions at every micro-detail.
This concept is so clear in the world of wineries. US West Coast wineries, many who depend on tasting room sales, were forced to close for months this Spring. While regional rules varied, most closed from mid-March to June. Those with an online presence did well as it turns out more people than usual began drinking at home and sales were up. And when I say drink, they drank. And drank. Not until three months into Covid Season did many wineries with strong club numbers and online presence report leveling out sales as a general rule.
Those who depended on tasting room and restaurant sales suffered. Some closed entirely, just as was happening with small businesses of all kinds. Wineries had the additional issues that they are quite crowded during festivals and weekends, so would require a complete restructure to function under a new model which of course requires money.
For those able to pivot, the startling trend gave wineries a time out, room to rethink the tasting room notion. Words like “power pivot” became a mantra. Ideas on how to deal with pain points in the tasting rooms (you know, like those drunk groups that pour out of limos and often onto their faces at some point.) What to do with them? Social distancing and appointments gave wineries a new landscape, one that actually worked much better than the last one, and one we really enjoyed on this trip.
Because here’s the thing: winetasting is about tasting, and often not even swallowing. Instead, it’s about slowing down, taking in the beauty, enjoying wine with food where you can (and there are some wineries out there currently where you can), while taking time to be present. At its most beautiful, winetasting is about creating this space to connect, to share stories and laughter, to get curious and learn something new. To numb out misses the point.
If speed-tasting is your thing, though, I will get to that in future chapters and I know right where to send you, though I don’t at all recommend that because, like speed-dating or speed-pitching or speed-anything, you miss out on about 98% of the experience.
You miss the stories about the harvest where the winemaker shows you his self-video of stomping the grapes that morning in his bare feet. You miss out on quirky banter and the secret delights the owner may be holding back (that he baked that morning), but certainly reveals as time goes on. You miss out on wine-analysis as in here as Larry Shaffer, described by others as one of the hardest-working winemakers/owners in the Santa Ynez, talks about how your coffee choice determines the kind of wine you’ll like.
One thing was clear from this trip: the mentality of the winetasting experience has shifted for the better. As I hope this blog will not be a wine-snob blog, but rather some ideas for celebrating life fully, here are few winetasting tips we really honed this trip:
- Go on a Tuesday or Wednesday – not so busy
- Go earlier in the day, preferably 11
- DO NOT GO DURING A FESTIVAL, especially now in Covid Season
- Make time to enjoy the grounds, gardens, people – bring lunch
- Do not schedule more than 2 wineries a day and leave 3 hours apart
- ALWAYS TIP the pourer generously; they work hard (even for free tastings)
- When you can get to a winery (vs. a tasting room), do that. You’ll be glad you did.
- In smaller wineries, you will likely sit with the winemaker/owner; in larger, pourers who are sometimes trained and sometimes not, and often not as invested in your experience
- During Covid, wear a mask and space out.
- Make a reservation, even if one is not required. You will get better service.
Covid has taught us how connected we are and how little control we really have when it comes right down to it. Even if we hide in our houses, we will likely be affected by mental health issues. We must look for the power pivot. Winemakers have been saying this for years. We must be resilient, and take what comes, fires and all. Everything plays into the grapes. It’s all alive. It’s all connected. Just like us.