While the global wine industry agonizes about how to conduct safe wine tasting, a small car park in the London Borough of Fulham gave us all a glimpse into how the ‘new normal’ might work. Wine tasting, whether that be generic or by importer portfolio, is the lifeblood of the industry, of course, and Peter Dean went along to the event to see how public relations company R&R Teamwork had tackled the UK’s first post-Covid real life wine tasting. It’s one small step for wine…
“It was good to taste ranges again in more limited time, see old friends and start to tentatively feel one’s way back into what ‘normal’ wine-tasting life is going to look like,” writes Dean.
There have been far more pressing matters in the last three and a half months than how to get wine tastings back on the road. But as industries worldwide start to consider what their ‘new normal’ might look like so the wine business tries to answer this, along with many other conundrums, in order to inject life into sales and marketing, hospitality and get the whole wheel moving once again.
Large scale wine tastings have many moving parts with an assortment of potential infection hotspots and attempting to keep them legal, safe, effective and (hopefully) illuminating in the future has been the subject of an excellent industry-wide online survey initiated by UK public relations exec Alison Dillon, as a way of finding a consensus on how wine tastings can be conducted on an ongoing basis.
Questions probe about scheduling, duration, hospitality, use of PPE and such, right down to whether you should bring along your own spittoon and take the contents away with you (I think we all know the answer to that one) and whether winemakers should be wearing gloves and masks when presenting their wines. The survey is still open and you can enter here. If you don’t then there shall be no whingeing on Twitter if you find the smorgasbord is missing from the next bash.
One suspects that the brilliant ingenuity displayed in keeping wine brands visible during Lockdown, with some truly wonderful webinars and online tastings will impact how PR and marketing operates in the short to mid-term future. Flying a dozen journalists and buyers to a European destination for the overnight launch of a single cuvee will no doubt be considered as ‘disposable travel’ in the future which a Zoom tasting can easily replace.
But how should the ‘big’ tastings be conducted?
See you in the back of the car park….
While we wait for the answers to the survey, credit has to go to the team at R&R Teamwork to take the bull by the horns and conduct the first post-Covid real life wine tasting in London, if not the world, which showed how it was possible.
It was billed as an ‘Urban Car Park Tasting … a socially distanced spectacular’ and was a client portfolio tasting – 14 of R&R’s clients (six grouped under an English Wine Week selection) with about 100 wines on show.
As car parks go it was on the posh side and, decked out with English Wine Week bunting, gazebos and brollies it felt more like the cross between an English garden party and a fête … with latex and santizer.
Journalists were asked to book a slot between 10am and 5pm with no more than four allowed at any one time, although given the ample spacing and the fact that we all know each other there was an air of civility about it all and no need for anyone to be moved on if anyone had overstayed their ‘two hours’.
On arrival it felt a little like getting to the school dance too early – with that weird awkward Lockdown air of trying to be compliant without being uncivil at the same time – like a stuttering Hugh Grant.
Tasting sheets had been emailed prior so that the cautious could be sure of provenance, there were gloves, sanitiser, bottles of water, clean glasses, a cardboard cup for a spittoon and, let’s not forget, an array of new and exciting wines.
There was only one wine producer there, Camilla from Jenkyn Place, who was assisting in filming Oz Clarke tasting his way through an array of English wine which, given it was the hottest day of the year and he was in full midday sun for 45 minutes was a feat to behold. “Give that man a drink! Oh he’s got one!”
Wines were self-pour and there was no issue with social distancing. Although one realised how spoilt we are as tasters when trying to find the next bottle on the sheet in an ice bucket of 20. Where was ‘my man’ who knew what to pour me next and which cuvees I had and had not tasted?
Given that new ground was being tested and it was scorching with high UV, the PR team were amazing, thrown a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card as they were by the local supermarket man who arrived with a shopping trolley full of ice. Given that we are in Wimbledon week (and this was the first Wimbledon to be cancelled since the Second World War) it was sod’s law that it wasn’t raining – although the wine tasting may have suffered, and social distancing may have been tested more.
The last tasting I went to prior to this was Louis Latour Agencies’ McHenry Hohnen tasting on March 5, travelling by train with gloves and mask. (FYI – having watched the documentary about the ICU in Bergamo, as a family we isolated from March 5, two days before the British Prime Minister took his 8-month pregnant girlfriend to watch England Wales at an 82,000 capacity stadium. Just saying.)
I cycled to the Urban Car Park tasting on June 24 and, I suspect by the journalists present, that most were reasonably local to the event and could avoid travelling by public transport. If a bus had been my only option I would have passed. And next time I might take a change of clothes (chapeau Patrick Schmitt MW) – tasting on gravel in cleats was not the smartest move.
Jane Anson has said that her tasting notes have been better during Lockdown and, even though tasting at home with samples has had some glorious advantages – taking more time, watching wines evolve – it was good to taste ranges again in more limited time, see old friends and start to tentatively feel one’s way back into what ‘normal’ wine-tasting life is going to look like.
The journalists I talked to all felt safe and were glad to get out tasting again – R&R had consciously kept the numbers down – which led one critic, sat in the shade, slowly working their way through one range to remark that they actually preferred this set-up. Fewer elbows to get through at the busier tables of yore and “none of the plastic bag brigade.”
Lessons learned – lots of room, fewer people, clear rules of engagement, everything on hand for safety, a large but manageable selection of wines and no ‘who can spit the farthest into the spittoons’ competition. And no, I did not pick up any notes of sanitiser in the wines!
Good then to break the ice although, one suspects, it was the ice with this one that probably broke the budget.
There were many excellent wines on show which will be covered in a separate piece.