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WineInk: Waiting on Wine

One Long Year

Kelly J. Hayes
WineInk
Food & Wine Classic at Aspen's Wagner Park in June 2017.

In this space, exactly one year ago this week, I was optimistically reporting on the many upcoming wine events that were to be held in the spring.

There was to be a Champagne Feté at Toro in the Viceroy Snowmass hotel featuring bubbly from Möet & Chandon. The following night, Allesia Antinori was scheduled to pour ten Italian wines in celebration of the thirty-year anniversary of the Little Nell hotel. And over in Vail, Leonora at the Sebastian Hotel was preparing to welcome David Duncan of the Silver Oak Winery for a dinner.

We did not know what was coming. B y the weekend when these wine events, and the ski season, were cancelled it started to become clearer that the world was quickly changing. The next bricks in the wall to fall were the cancelation of The Little Nell Wine Academy and Vin Italy in April, and finally the 2020 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.



The wine world pivoted and in due time there were a number of virtual wine tastings and events on the docket intended to replace the “rescheduled” events.

And while these were well-meant substitutes, there is simply no way to reinvent the joy that comes from gathering, in person, with like-minded folks on a sunny day or a summer’s eve and tasting wine together.



A year later, we are perhaps closer, but still not where we need to be to gather together at significant wine events. As previously reported, the 2021 Little Nell Wine Academy has also been postponed and perhaps shelved. T he Food & Wine Classic has been rescheduled until the weekend of Sept. 10-12.

And in the Napa Valley, the esteemed Napa Valley Wine Auction – a summer staple since 1981 – cancelled the 2020 anniversary event and then, in November, it was announced that the Napa Valley Vintners would “revaluate” the format and future of the event going forward. The auction, which was held in recent years on the grounds of the Meadowood resort, which suffered significant wildfire damage, had raised over $200 million in charitable donations for myriad recipients throughout the Valley.

COVID-19 has not been the only crisis to hit the wine world in the past year. Fires damaged many vineyards and wineries in Northern California in the summer and fall of 2020. And that was on the heels of enormous firestorms that torched Australia just a few months earlier, setting off questions about the future of global vine lands in the age of climate change. The growing recognition of racial discrimination in American society led to a reckoning in the wine industry as well about its inclusionary practices and lack thereof. And the Court of Master Sommeliers, a high-profile organization, was faced with charges of sexual harassment and an investigative report in the New York Times led to the resignation of a number of long time members.

Now, as we move into year two of the COVID pandemic, the picture of what will happen in the wine world remains as opaque as a dark glass of Port.

At wineries, tastings are allowed in limited numbers to groups who gather outdoors and are masked and socially distanced. How that will translate to larger gatherings remains to be seen. By definition, tasting wine requires the removal of masks, and a series of tables with people crowding together to get to the pours seems problematic at best.

Wine dinners, once a social way for winemakers and marketers to meet their public, may well be replaced by the Zoom calls and virtual events that have become so prevalent in the last year. Recent discussions at WineFuture 2021, a virtual event for the wine industry, heard leaders like Margareth Henriquez, president and chief executive of Champagne Krug, and Eduardo Chadwick, president of Vina Errazuriz Wines in Chile, extol the opportunities to meet virtually with consumers without the costs of travel.

Still, there is nothing that can compete with the face-to-face, bottle-to-glass experience of an in-person event like our own Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

 

Food & Wine Classic at Aspen's Wagner Park in June 2017.

Little other than the dates has been announced so far about who will be headlining or what the protocols will be for what is now a fall event. The Food & Wine magazine website tells visitors to stay in touch as tickets will go on sale in April.

As we move forward, the combination of social distancing, mask-wearing and the increase of vaccines point towards a brighter future. Let’s just hope this is a better year for the wine world.

And the world at large.


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