Tasting organisers work hard to tempt back nervous indies

Trade calendar is gradually being populated with events, but some merchants remain keener than others to go along

Trade tastings are slowly returning to the calendar – though the approach from organisers and merchants alike remains cautious.

Despite the vaccine roll-out, Covid looks likely to remain a worry for the foreseeable future. A wider problem for event planners is that for some merchants, the past 18 months have become habit forming, and travelling to tastings is no longer the ritual, or the necessity, it once was.

Wines from Spain recently held a tasting at One Great George Street in London after being forced into cancelling previous events due to Covid.

Charlotte Dean of Wined Up Here in Norbiton, south west London, says it was “wonderful to have attended my first trade tasting of 2021”.

She adds: “It was brilliantly organised with the attendees sitting at a table and the wines being brought to us in sets of four, lending itself to a very quiet calm, measured and focused tasting – brilliant for someone as scatterbrained as me.

“It was a little like a WSET exam room, but hey – I came away with a very clear set of buying decisions.”

The Washington State tasting was scheduled to take place on July 13 and as The Wine Merchant went to press, Arnaud Maltoff of organiser Sopexa UK was working hard to make the event a success.

“We have had to make adjustments as lockdown restrictions initially should have been lifted further by July 13,” he says.

“We are going ahead with the usual tasting set-up with the wines on the tables and the producer or representative behind the table.

“We will have a one-way system and we have pre-booked everyone to make sure we don’t have too many people arriving at the same time.”

He has increased the number of masterclasses running throughout the day in order to meet demand while staying Covid compliant.

“No-shows will be more problematic because it is a real balancing act of numbers,” Maltoff explains.

“We want to make sure people are coming but we want to make sure we are not over-booking. It is about constant communication.

“We will do everything we can to make people feel comfortable and safe, like giving individual spittoons. There is extra cleaning and extra staff to make all those things happen. We are being extra cautious.”

Hatch Mansfield is organising a portfolio tasting on September 7 but has not yet released details of the venue.

Trade events manager Rachel Hollinrake says: “At a tasting you have to manage it for the people who are cautious and the people who are slightly more laid back about things. You have to look after everybody because you are responsible.”

She adds: “We’re really waiting to see if we have to do a seated tasting, but we are working within the guidelines to deliver. We did an en primeur tasting at Vagabond last year which was all in Enomatics and taken to tables, and that was successfully done.”

Riaz Syed at Stonewines, in Whetstone, north London, is one of the many merchants who will be forming an orderly queue as tastings return.

“What I’ve really missed is bumping into people and sharing notes,” he says. “Face-to-face contact is what I think this industry is all about, it’s what we thrive on. I want to interact with other people in my job. Customers are all well and good, but I want to see other professionals.”

Syed admits that as a London merchant he only has to factor in minimal travel and accepts it might be a different story for those based in other regions.

Mike Boyne at BinTwo in Cornwall is a case in point. But while he’s happy not to face the expense of a lengthy train journey, that’s not the reason for his preference to keep things virtual.

“I don’t know if I’ll be bothering with big trade tastings again,” he says. “Being forced not to do them over the last 18 months, I’ve found I prefer to work with suppliers who know we are requesting samples with real intent to buy.

“We taste in batches of 20 to 30 wines at a time, with none of that palate fatigue from big tastings. I get more time with the wines and I find I’m making better buying choices. I can’t think what would be the draw to make me go to a big tasting now.”

Syed adds: “There are big advantages to a Zoom tasting. You can take the time to appreciate the wines and you get a fuller story because the winemaker has time to talk to all of you in one go. I think there is a time and a place for both.”

July 2021