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Strange days, indeed.
The wine world has had a whipsaw reaction to COVID-19. On the one hand you have the sommeliers, many of whom find themselves suddenly without a job. You have the retailers, who are busier than ever (some studies say that the BCLDB’s sales are up 40%). And you have the producers, many of whom still need to bottle and sell their wine and who now have no restaurants to sell to. We wanted to check in with a cross-section of our fave people to see how they’re handling this massive disruption…and what they’re popping at the end of the day to help deal.
I have to admit my glass has been pretty full most nights recently – it’s been a crazy few weeks for everyone. For someone that is used to working most evenings, I’ve suddenly found myself back in front of my own stove each night for the last two weeks. It’s been an interesting transition where I am balancing the available and the affordable. Stews, pasta dishes and soups have been in heavy rotation. Mirroring my current cooking style, my wine choices have been based on what is already in the cupboard. But this is a challenge I enjoy—to find the best food and wine pairing from existing ingredients.
A vegetable curry called for a bright and punchy wine and so I opened the Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2016. The zippy acidity cut straight through the richness of the curry. One of my favourite pairings will always be a tomato-based dish, whether it’s pizza, salad or pasta, with a Sangiovese. I turned to a well-priced Chianti Classico to pair with our pizza the other night. The Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico sneaks in at $18 at the BC Liquor Store but delivers well above that price point. Sangiovese with a little Merlot, this wine is easy drinking and an easy pairing with most Italian dishes.
At 7pm you’ll find me on my balcony cracking open a can of Scarpetta Frico Lambrusco (single serving cans of delicious dry sparkling red wine!), banging pots and pans to cheer on our health workers.
We had just finished bottling our ’19 whites and ’18 reds when the virus storm hit and so we count ourselves lucky to have the wines safe in bottle. Our Osoyoos East Bench tasting room is now temporarily closed. We have found ways to carry out our online sales, shipping and curbside pickups in ways that keep everyone suitably isolated, and are safe for both our employees and customers.
We are currently offering free shipping to all our online customers, and will be donating $10 per each case sold as a result to BC Food Banks, and our local Osoyoos Food Bank.
Our home wine cellar levels tend to fluctuate wildly and it just so happened that the virus caught us at high tide: samples of our freshly bottled Moon Curser wines had just landed, and were waiting to be tasted. Keeping our focus on these new releases has been a welcome reminder that, despite the current difficulties, the world has not come to a complete standstill, and some kind of return to normal is in the cards for us all eventually. We do miss what takes wine from delightful to life-enriching: sharing it, and delicious food, with friends and family. For now, we will compensate by using technology, and by pulling bottles from the cellar that remind us of good times and the many good people in our lives—here’s looking at you, B.C. wine.
Adjusting to life away from the constant hours of restaurant life has been interesting. I thought I would be studying a lot more, hitting the books to prepare for upcoming competitions and examinations, but it has been hard to focus on it all to be honest. I put my head down and plowed through a bunch of reading on Napa Valley and found a lot of it to be so devastatingly boring and irrelevant in the midst of a pandemic. I’ve been trying not to raid the “cellar” (read: tiny wine fridge and bottles stacked everywhere they can fit) too much, and I’m grateful for my collection but it doesn’t seem right to drink it all just because it is there. I’ll probably change my mind on that soon enough, though. More bubbles have been consumed with home cooked dinners; Taittinger, Blue Mountain Brut, Vollereaux Champagne have been lovely respites from the news. A bottle of Pax Gamay from the Sonoma Coast was a stunner, all ripe red fruit and funk, with a touch of spice and a concentration usually only seen in the best Cru Beaujolais. I was fortunate to be gifted a bottle of 1996 Cos d’Estournel in spectacular condition that softened the blow of the layoffs I and nearly everyone else in the industry have experienced. Mature Bordeaux and I don’t cross paths very often, but when we do, I am grateful for the opportunity to experience firsthand why Bordeaux has had a command of the fine wine world for so long. For now, I’ll try to get back to the books and relax as best as I can in the confines of a tiny Vancouver apartment.
In these unusual times I take comfort from the little things, routine and wine. The last two weeks you couldn’t make up even if you were the ‘Love Child’ of Dan Brown and Stephen King.
There are two wines that I keep coming back to. I was very delighted to see them on the shelf of my local wine shop, Jaks on South Granville. I could have clapped my over-sanitized hands together with joy!
The white that has cast a spell on me is Branco Vulcanico 2018 from the Azores. Middle of the Atlantic, volcanic soil, Portugal varietals and this saline element that brings me to a place. Does the remoteness of the wine’s origins speak to me as we are now secluded in our apartments and remote from our fellow Vancouverites? Or is it simply because this wine is delicious?
My other favourite tipple is a red from Australia from the windy south. Montalto ‘Pennon Hill’ Pinot Noir 2016 from the Mornington Peninsula. Crunchy red fruit, mouthwatering and heaps of complexity. Get some pasta, duck or salmon to-go from one of your favourite restaurants to drink this with. Screw top as well, so no danger of it being corked as we can’t take our bottles back for return currently.
Both wines pair well with phone calls to loved ones, Netflix and home cooking. The passion behind these wines, stories and history gives me confidence that we will get through this.
The last couple days I’ve been catching up on a book I picked up called Terroir & the Winemaker by Jacky Rigaux (it gives great insights and views of terroir from many top producers mostly in burgundy). Being an area were nuances of terroir is so meticulously identified, it’s very fascinating and gives me more purpose to seek out wines that have a story of the land, the winegrowers, and now its evolution in the bottle (lets hope we get back to work soon). Lots of home cooking as well, trying to recreate some dishes I had growing up or at a friends: taro root & pork nimono (a type of simmered dish) or a niku miso (an intensely flavoured meat sauce great on noodles or rice), my Japanese roots come out strong outside of work. As for wine, I very much look forward to the day where we can see our friends and share a bottle or two over some nice conversation. I hardly drink at home alone but do buy a bottle out of interest to cellar and see how wine ages. Some ones in arms length that may be interesting to try would be a 2007 Chateau Malescasse, a value bordeaux from haut medoc I picked up at the BCL in 2011 at the release, or a 2004 Penfolds bin 389 cabernet shiraz, the so called “baby grange” as it has the same grapes in the blend and sees the same barrels used for grange.
Wine surrounds me constantly – pandemic or no pandemic. In my business, I make wine, I sell wine, I teach about wine and I write about wine… oh, and I also drink it. The thing about working in the wine biz is that one needs to have a very clear line between business and pleasure. As my Sommelier instructor (props to the great Jacques Marie) used to say: “We buy on science, we sell on romance.” Well, there may be something romantic about self-isolation for some, but not for me. As such, science it is!
I’ve been looking at the wine world through a very scientific lens of late: Considering drinking patterns as they relate to a global pandemic, figuring out logistics and finance around wine sales in this strange new land, and actually bottling my newest release just last week (The Wine Umbrella ‘Fleur’ 2019 – stay tuned)! All of this research has made me tired… and OK, I’ll admit it, thirsty too.
Because wine has always been a very social thing to me, I felt it was important to reach out to my community in whatever means possible, without jeopardizing our society’s greater health. Thank goodness for technology! I have had virtual glasses with friends on Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Houseparty and Messenger and it has been amazing to connect with friends who I never seem to see during regular times because they don’t live nearby. Suddenly, proximity is no longer an issue when it comes to meeting up for drinks.
Additionally, I threw caution to the wind and made a series of virtual wine tasting videos which I posted publicly on FaceBook and Instagram, featuring my fundraising wines. The videos are made by me, in my living room, in one take. They are raw and unedited, and I don’t care. Of course I am in the business of selling these wines but, more than that, I really felt drawn to create some semblance of normalcy within the world around me, so these videos allowed me to do what I do on most “normal days:” I taste wines and talk about them with like-minded wine appreciators.
And, of course, I am drinking. I am making a conscious effort to maintain schedule so day-drinking is still out, but when I do drink, I’m indulging in wines that exemplify a sense of place, or terroir, as they remind me of what I love so much about the world of wine. Valpolicella Classico with homemade lasagna, Spanish Bobal with charcuterie plates, fine German Riesling as an after-work reward and my beloved Burgundy for a real treat. I’ve even dipped into some back-vintages of Carson Pinot Noir (my fave from from BC) so I hope this self-isolation doesn’t last too much longer as I’d really like to be sharing these wines with friends before I drink them all by myself.
Stay strong, people! Stay safe; stay home. #wegotthis