I suppose I’m not alone when I say I’m glad not to be in Gov. Jared Polis’s shoes as he writes, revises and re-revises the lengthy list of “do’s” and “don’ts” governing our behavior during the ongoing pandemic.
I’ve seen the effects of COVID-19, and I fully support the governor’s measured and cautious approach to reopening the state.
Already, however, we know there will be a new normal and judging from what other countries have been dealing with, it likely will be months before there is any certain stability in our lives.
Which brings us to the state wine industry.
The wineries and winemakers I’ve spoken with still are figuring out how to realign and reopen their tasting rooms while offering their customers the security and freedom needed to get life moving as smoothly as possible.
Seeing the way many wineries have stepped up their outreach efforts online, I’m hopeful the confusion will be minimal.
There is, perhaps, somewhat of a similarity between the coronavirus epidemic and the challenges the wine industry faced several years ago when phylloxera officially became a problem.
Degrees of magnitude, certainly, along with other inherent concerns don’t allow a direct comparison. Rather, it’s how the industry responded to phylloxera that gives an idea of what the future might look like.
During a seminar that year, state viticulturist Horst Caspari spoke about phylloxera, a microscopic bug that lives on the root-hairs of grapevines and eventually kills the vine. Caspari said, without revealing names, that phylloxera was and likely had been in the valley for several years and that grape growers had better start addressing the problem. Like right now.
There was the inevitable finger-pointing, but it wasn’t until a couple of courageous and respected winemakers stepped forward to admit their vineyards were infected did the rest of the industry confess that the problem was widespread.
The point being that once the industry came together to address the problem, solutions started to appear.
I’m not sure Colorado winemakers are that much different from winemakers in California or Chile or Italy or Spain or anywhere. But I am sure our local winemakers are blessed with some necessary attributes including hardworking, creative, resourceful and innovative. I’m sure there are more, but you get the point.
All of those talents, and more, were essential when the industry had to figure out how to continue producing prize-winning wines while dealing with phylloxera.
Coronavirus and the concomitant rules concerning social distancing, avoiding crowds, cleanliness and staying at home won’t be the end of the wine industry, only the wine industry as we knew it.
But it’s probable some tasting rooms will need more time than others before reopening while addressing such challenges as ingress and egress to offer the “social distance” needed to feel secure.
This could take several paths. I’ve seen some stores with a clerk stationed at the front door counting every customer who leaves before allowing another to enter.
This is slow and certainly won’t work everywhere but, for now, those mass wine tastings and festive-but-raucous bachelorette-style parties are gone for the foreseeable future.
I haven’t spoken recently with Cassidee Shull, executive director for the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology, but in our last conversation (via email) she reassured me arrangements for the 29th annual Colorado Mountain Winefest, Sept. 17–20, are going as planned.
She’s fully aware of what Winefest means to the Grand Valley and Colorado’s wine industry, and she’s determined to continue the tradition in whatever form it may assume.
By the way, thanks to support from several area Realtors, the official name now is Colorado Mountain Winefest presented by the Grand Junction Group. Information and updates are available at coloradowinefest.com.
As I said, there still is a lot to learn.
Pickup, delivery (when I talked with Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards, she was doing door-to-door delivery for her wine club) and mail-order are likely to rule the local wine market until a vaccine is available, but that’s just my guess.
The data-tracking firm Nielsen recently reported wine sales in stores rose 14.8% from April a year ago while online sales from March 7 to April 18 jumped 234% from last year.
This is an entirely new world, and trying to foretell what will happen in three to six months is impossible.
Well, not entirely.
Janes recently shared on her Facebook page a photo from her vineyard showing a sprouting of new grape leaves, while over in the North Fork Valley, organic orchardist Steve Ela is busy planting new apple trees.
And 5,000 miles away in Tuscany, my friend and winemaker Susanna Crociani continues sending out updates and short videos on her Facebook page, chronicling the return of spring to the vineyards of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Italy, too, is slowly reopening its daily activities, including its considerable wine industry.
“I think it’s important to stay in contact with my clients and friends and to be able to remind them that we still are here and we look forward to seeing them again,” Crociani said recently. “I think it’s a good break for them to see friendly faces and beautiful places and to know, even amidst the suffering, that there still are places that welcome them.”
It’s reassuring and in no small way comforting to step back and realize life continues in the vineyards and on the farm, no matter what else may be affecting the world.