The big pivot

The pandemic has meant that only those with imagination will survive, says Robert Joseph.
 

Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash
Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

Angela Hartnett is a Michelin-starred chef. During the lockdown of London restaurants, she has cooked up to 40 covers a night for home delivery from her kitchen. In Copenhagen, René Redzepi’s has been serving $24 cheeseburgers and glasses of wine from a bar outside his restaurant, Noma, which previously served 20-course meals for 15 times that price.

I don’t know whether Redzepi will make a fixture of his burger bar, but I was struck by Hartnett’s comment to the Guardian newspaper that she could “see us carrying this on once this is all over as it’s been a real success”.

There’s a newly popular term for what these cooks have been doing: “pivot”. Its increasing use reflects the danger of imagining — as some seem to do — that this pandemic is like a war: something to be got through before everything returns to normal. Over a far shorter time than most conflicts, millions of people have changed how they work in ways that will have long-term implications. And that applies as much to the wine world as to chefs and restaurants. 

Darwin is often quoted as saying that “it is not the strongest or the most intelligent of the species that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. The fact that he never used these words does not undermine their validity. 

I am expecting to see many changes in the wine trade over the next year or so. Here are some of them, in no particular order: Wineries that were slow to adopt direct-to-consumer sales will have learned their lesson, but US wineries, in particular, which have relied on costly cellar-door tastings for customer acquisition and sales will need to rethink. Possibly they will need to take their wines to the people — with pop-ups — rather than vice versa.

Building stronger, more local, markets may become more valuable than attracting international visitors. There will also be value in working in various ways with non-wine businesses, both in food and other sectors. In fact, it may already be happening, as restaurants become wine retailers (where legal). Sommeliers have also become wine educators and that’s not going to change either. Changes are happening throughout the chain, as wholesalers that majored on restaurants have switched to private clients. They’re here to stay too.

Online tastings and video conferencing work. Turning digital will mean fewer planes than before. The trend towards sending sample-sized packs for online tastings has caught on and will likely continue.

After the pandemic, both customers and trade will remember who behaved well and badly — to their staff and others.

And we’ll all have to be a lot better at pivoting. 

Robert Joseph

This article first appeared in Issue 3, 2020 of Meininger's Wine Business International magazine, available online or in print by subscription.

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