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2020: Lockdown stories – view from the vines

As our lives and horizons suddenly closed in around us, growing more limited in the year of Covid-19, it was perhaps difficult to appreciate what other people ‘out there’, elsewhere in the world, were experiencing and feeling. Peter Richards MW spoke to winemakers in six different nations to find out how they and their teams coped as events developed

Surreal. That’s the word many winemakers use about lockdown, a stark new reality that defined 2020: the year that Covid-19 struck.

‘It was like floating in a bubble – your world feels undone, uncoupled’, is how California- based flying winemaker Paul Hobbs describes it. Given the unfolding pandemic and mounting death toll, some even started to question their profession. ‘Working in a winery felt perverse, almost devoid of reason at times,’ recalls winemaker and writer Oliver Styles in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.

Miguel Torres Maczassek

Torres, Spain

What struck the Familia Torres CEO about lockdown was how, in a day, Spanish terraces, shops, bars and restaurants went from ‘noisy, vivid’ places to ‘empty, silent – like a very early Sunday morning that went on for 10 weeks’.

The Torres crisis team sprang into action, implementing ‘home-office mode’ for most and strict protection measures for the rest.

‘At the same time, we tried to help our community with small contributions,’ recounts Torres, including delivering 30,000 surgical masks to local hospitals and nursing homes, bought through daughter company Torres China. ‘My sister Ana, a surgeon, worked as a back-up doctor in a Barcelona hospital.’ The company also donated 2,000 litres of olive oil and 1,000kg of food to the Comer Contigo initiative in Barcelona. ‘I will never forget the impressive solidarity of people all over the world, their responsiveness and creativity,’ continues Torres, mentioning the parents’ WhatsApp group in Vilafranca that helped produce face shields for healthcare workers in hospitals, nursing homes and a centre for people with disabilities.

‘One of our oenologists was part of the group and realised our 3D printers could contribute. In the end we printed the headband and helped in the assembly. All contributions help in situations like this.’

Torres is candid about the ongoing ‘very negative’ impact of the situation for the Spanish wine sector, given that 62% of sales are in bars and restaurants, but adds that authorities will provide financial assistance for growers with unsold grapes and wineries with excess stock. He remains upbeat.

‘We must stay optimistic. The challenge is enormous for everyone, but we will overcome it. We’ve also learned from lockdown how much of our jobs we can do online.’ Hence, ‘flying less and reducing our carbon footprint’.

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2020: Lockdown stories – view from the vines