Posted by: Andy Kelly
In a year quite like no other, I look back at some of the highs and lows for Get Your Cork Out and the wine world at large.
It’s been an unimaginably strange year for many of us in the wine industry. Consumer trends have indicated that wine consumption has actually increased as many of us in lockdown shifted our focus to purchasing wine online. Growth appears to have been steady throughout spring & summer but some of the data has also raised concerns about the sustainability of this growth moving forward, particularly when people begin to feel the pinch economically.
Whilst independent merchants who employ a drop-shipping service have doubtlessly benefitted, the same can’t be said for many of our favourite restaurants and wine bars. In the UK alone, lockdowns have crippled the hospitality industry and the constant flip-flopping combined with the lack of business support from our government will mean that many of our favourite restaurants and wine bars across the UK may never re-open.
My own drinking habits shifted last year too. Seeing that supermarkets were allowed to trade and buoyed by some extra income after having been furloughed, I bought copious amounts of wine from independent merchants across the country. Naturally, I felt like I was doing my bit to keep independent merchants running and, in the process, I drank some absolutely stunning wine.
There have been some highs and lows personally and professionally. Having been placed on Furlough from our day jobs in March, both Dane and I were able to concentrate on our little venture full time. As a result of this, I appeared on a YouTube show for Cask88 discussing the similarities between whisky & wine and Dane revamped the website in preparation for the premiere. I still can’t get over the fact that over 11,000 people have now seen my ugly mush on YouTube!
We spent a lot of time getting to know Valeria better and drank some of Montemaggio’s finest over Skype on the proviso that we would turn the content into a series of interviews to bolster Valeria’s own YouTube channel. This hasn’t turned out as planned but there’s always time.
Another pleasant surprise stemmed from my submission to Jancis Robinson’s Summer Writing Competition 2020. The theme was focussed around sustainability and my submission was centred around the excellent work Montemaggio are doing in this area. Though we didn’t win, it garnered some excellent publicity for Valeria and confirmed to me that my writing might just be good enough to find its own little place in the wine world.
Then, Dane & I were made redundant. I was completely blindsided by this and it meant that I had to refocus my efforts professionally and look for a new job in quite possibly the worst market in over 40 years. Some-how I managed it and though it is only temporary, I’m hoping there’ll be a more permanent role available for me as I’m loving it. It has taken up all of my time at the expense of my content writing though so I’m hoping to get back on track for 2021 and start writing again.
I was supposed to complete my WSET 3 in 2020 though understandably it was postponed. My frustration is building though as it keeps getting delayed and there appears to be little desire from the wine school to take the course online. At the time of writing, the earliest I can complete this now will be in May/June, a full 16 months after having enrolled for the 6-week course.
Dane and I have also drifted apart recently as we’ve embarked on separate career paths. We’re both aware of this and are looking forward to reconnecting properly in 2021 to take our venture forward. Dane is also keen to set up a wine bar having already set up a café with a friend. The more I think about it the more attractive the idea is becoming as we could make a killing once the “roaring 20’s” gets going.
It’s not all been plain sailing for the wine & hospitality industry either. The harrowing experiences of Victoria James that surfaced in her memoir, Wine Girl, are a painful reminder of the toxic culture that currently exists within the restaurant industry. You can’t help but wonder how many other women in wine & hospitality have experienced similar issues but have felt that they’re unable to speak out. Her memoir has provided a catalyst however, almost our #MeToo moment, for other women to come forward and tell of their own negative experiences within the industry. The examples were endless.
Matters weren’t helped by our very own Joe Fattorini, himself a much-loved wine personality in the UK. He decided to take leave of his senses and pour horrendous scorn on several wine personalities within the industry via “anonymous” texts to his friends. Many of these personalities had a lot in common but most telling was that none of them deserved his hateful words. The language he used was often very offensive, absolutely misogynistic (though men were singled out as well) and was written with breath-taking arrogance. Having been caught, he then decided to send cease & desist letters to some of the people calling him out via social media. His actions offended many and even successfully turned people against each other as mutual shit-slinging ensued. To me, his insults were baseless, his actions were classless and his initial apology was meaningless.
He disappeared from social media for a time, only to resurface in late December. From here he came forward with a frank & forthright apology and one which will hopefully begin the healing process for many he offended. Doubtless his apology will get a mixed reception which is why he should ensure that he constantly uses his platform to champion those within the industry less successful than him. There will come a time when he feels that he has paid his penance but I hope the deeds he’s promised goes far beyond this.
We must also use these two examples as the turning point within our industry. As a collective, we must encourage everybody to speak out about their experiences. We must listen, learn and ensure that we use their experiences as the catalyst for positive change. We must start a new chapter where we wholly embrace diversity & inclusion so that everybody, no matter their race, gender identity, disability, cultural background and level of knowledge can be the very best professional they can be in order to rally behind our amazing producers and support our outstanding shops, wine bars and restaurants in 2021.
So, what will 2021 bring?
Well, it’s still too early to tell. We’re still unsure of what Brexit will mean to the industry though we can expect to see a rise in duties if buying direct from European vineyards and merchants.
A strict lockdown in January has plunged the UK into further economic turmoil and has meant that restaurants will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Those that have been able to shift their business model to takeaway are also prohibited to sell alcohol which is ridiculous. I just hope that the economic package put forward by the chancellor is enough to stave off waves of job losses within the hospitality industry and we begin to return to some sort of normality come the summer.
As for Get Your Cork Out, it still remains a hobby and we’ll still be here. We’ve been posting often on social media and with a bit of luck we can take the website to the next level in 2021. We built some great contacts last year and it would be amazing to further develop these whilst also forging relationships with new stakeholders. We’ll
On a personal level, I hope to visit Montemaggio in the autumn once I’ve been vaccinated. It would be great to see the amazing work that Valeria and the team do first hand and lord knows I could do with a holiday!