COVID and wine

No debate 2020 has been annus horribilis. COVID-19 worldwide. Worst fires ever on West Coast. How has this horrid year affected the wine world?

If you produce wine in a box, this has been a good year. Sales of boxed wine surged 31% in the first quarter of the pandemic. Growth has slowed, but continues. Days of “card-bordeaux” are past. Quality wine makers moved into the box wine segment, filling bags with same quality wine they sell in bottles.

Boxed wine can hold three or four standard 750 ml bottles, and you can count on it staying fresh for a month after opening. Boxed wine does not age well, but in the COVID era, people are buying wine to drink now, not five or ten years hence.

West coast fires are a different story, but not universally terrible. Very bad, but not Armageddon terrible. Smoke taint is real issue, but there are workarounds.

Smoke taint is least noticeable in higher alcohol, high pH wines with some residual sugar, the sort of wine California wine makers make. There also are ameliorating things to do in the winery. Rosé wines, with minimal skins contact, reduce the smoke impact. Smoke taint is on the skin of the grape, not inside the berry. Reduce skin contact, limit smoke taint. Expect more rosé from this vintage—no problem, rosé has been ascendant for years.

The future is not so rosé for Washington and Oregon pinot noir and syrah. Both grapes have tougher time with smoke. Pinot noir is delicate, so smoke can stand out, particularly in the sublime, etherial offerings. Syrah has a natural smoke component. It is a plus in normal year, but might be minus in the horrors of 2020.

Interestingly, machine harvesting exacerbates the problem. Machine harvesting treats grapes significantly rougher than hand harvesting, which means the juice gets exposed to smoke-tainted skins sooner. We will see if more vineyards go with gentler hand harvesting, although that strategy collides with issues of COVID-19 and available labor.

Yes, 2020 is annus horribilis. Trust, however, distinctive wines will come out of this. And some of them will be a bag in a box.

Last round: Attractive woman in a wine bar hears small voice: “You look really nice.” Few minutes later: “That dress really looks great on you.” She looks around and only sees the bartender. “Who’s talking to me?” she asks. Bartender: “Our peanuts. They always are complimentary at our wine bar.”