Let me fan-girl Halloween for just a moment.
For me, it’s the welcome chill in the air at this time of year. It’s sweater season and new-boots weather. It’s tucking a warm blanket around bare shoulders, and lowering the open, fresh-air window at night a few inches. This weekend, it’s also about making extra batches of rice krispy treats with my sons to supplement the Halloween candy they’ll hand out tonight with their teenage friends.
Halloween is all of those things at eye-level, and it’s a favorite time of year.
As a wine person, at the zoomed-out perspective, I’ve always seen Halloween as a turning point for the industry. By now, the velocity and excitement of the busiest, most lucrative time of year is operating at full throttle. Fourth quarter earnings are top of mind, and a source of anxiety, for many businesses this year as supply chain challenges persist, and the Great Resignation has thrown down the gauntlet for staffing directors everywhere.
Scary. Fun. For the wine world, this time of year is a healthy mix of both.
Today I’d like to point to two themes that for me embody the wine industry’s experience at this particular moment in time: the impact of COVID on wine’s demographic shifts, and getting a jump on holiday gifting.
COVID-Driven Demographic Shifts
COVID has opened a Pandora’s box of dynamic shifts, and I’m curious to observe their impact on this wine and spirits industry. One notable and traceable impact is a demographic shift, both in terms of consumers and their alcohol spend, and in terms of industry professionals and their choices of location and focus.
From the consumer perspective, I’ve got an eye on enthusiastic wine lovers who have relocated from high-income metro areas on the coasts (like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles) to areas where the cost of living is less but the allocated budget for wine remains relatively high. It’s a micro-redistributing of wine spend and expectations when it comes to available options and level of service.
I’m also interested in the shifting demographics of wine and hospitality entrepreneurs. In our neighborhood of Atlanta, for example, my friends and I are the beneficiaries of an influx of professional experience in the wine and cocktail space that’s been transplanted from Brooklyn and brought to life at Academy Coffee. Connan Moody is an Atlanta native who honed his craft in New York as a barista and mixologist, before moving back home to open the multi-faceted coffee bar / wine shop / butcher / specialty sandwich destination around the corner. The owners’ taste in natural and organic wines is also apparent from the selection on offer; their network and ability to source such wines is a transplanted, demographically-shifted boon to wine lovers in the neighborhood.
Creative Holiday Gifting Ideas
This will not be the year to wait until the last minute to holiday shop. Instead, here are a few outside-the-box suggestions I’ve seen recently from individuals and organizations put into place for their wine-loving colleagues and friends.
- Virtual Wine Programs, with a Twist. By now, many of us have figured out what works (and doesn’t work) about virtual wine tastings. The one variable that gives a program the best chance of working well is the personality and quality of a presenter who can adjust “on the fly” to the flow and quirkiness of the audience. I’ve seen virtual wine tastings that ended up having very little to do with the tasting itself; the focus of the conversation instead was on “how to talk to a sommelier” or “best wine gift ideas for your co-workers” or “mindful consumption of wine and spirits.”
- New Wine Books that Are About Far More than Wine. Here are two brand new books to put on your radar, either for yourself or other wine-loving friends on your list: Foot Trodden: Portugal and the Wines that Time Forgot by Ryan Opaz and Simon Woolf (full disclosure: I backed this project on Kickstarter earlier this year) and the not-yet-released offering from Natalie Maclean called Wine Witch on Fire. Both are eye-opening and provocative. Both are well worth the read because they open the door to views of wine that are unique, personal and fueled by emotion.