Here we are at COVID, one year in.
To dog-ear this date on the calendar, I’d like to hover over two episodes from the wine world in recent weeks that struck me as high-water marks in a certain way, of this unique and complex time. One is a Kickstarter project called Foot Trodden: Portugal and the Wines that Time Forgot, a new book by Simon J Woolf and Ryan Opaz. The second is a Twitter debate that (with tongue firmly in cheek) is referenced as #coravingate, where proponents and opponents of Coravin’s wine preservation system weighed in.
Both of these examples could have developed at any moment, COVID-era or not. But the fact of their emergence toward the end of the pandemic’s one-year “anniversary,” and moreover the frankly surprising crowd-enhanced success and momentum of them both, offers an opportunity for reflection.
BOSTON – JULY 26: Greg Lambrecht is chairman and founder of Coravin. He has invented a new system of … [+]
Woolf and Opaz’s original goal for their Kickstarter campaign was $11,846. At the time of this article’s writing, they have raised $49,642 from 445 backers with five days of their campaign to go. (Full disclosure: I backed the project shortly after it was announced.) Foot Trodden has exceeded four of the authors’ stretch goals and are flirting with a fifth of $50,000, which would make theirs the most-funded wine publishing project on Kickstarter in the site’s history.
It’s an impressive showing and I’m sure I’m not the only backer who’s happy for Woolf and Opaz’s success. They have dedicated countless hours of their careers cultivating relationships within the community of wine lovers, and advocating for what are usually overlooked or off-the-beaten-track regions and wines. They asked for help from that community with their new project, and the community responded. In spades.
The results are impressive but not entirely unexpected, given the authors’ track record. The impact of the project’s COVID-era timing is worth considering and I’ll get to that in a moment. But first let’s turn to #coravingate.
There’s nothing like a crisis to drive innovation, or so the saying goes. One of the innovations for wineries that’s been driven by the COVID crisis is eliminating the waste of sending samples of their wines to the trade and critics to judge. That’s meant a sharp increase in the number of wines that critics receive that have been either Coravin’ed or Coravin’ed in a separate container than the typical 750 ml bottle. When British wine writer Jaime Goode asked publicly, via social media, whether or not he should disclose when the wines he’s reviewed were Coravin’ed, it set off a whirlwind of highly impassioned opinions that came to be tagged as #coravingate.
Why did it get such an intense response? Why, in addition to Woolf and Opaz’s loyal following of wine lovers and in addition to Coravin’s vocal proponents and opponents, why did these two episodes gather such steam so fast?
I asked this question about #coravingate to Greg Lambrecht, the inventor and founder of Coravin, and his response was characteristically well-reasoned and considered. Partly, he said, it’s that we are all spending so much more time at home and we’re looking for a distraction; wine is a focus because it’s a distraction. Partly it’s that we’re all drinking so much more at home right now. Partly it’s that people already had strong opinions, pro and con, about Coravin. And partly it’s because, in addition to those three factors, we’re spending much more time on social media.
Those variables, each with a level of potential volatility, converged. Lambrecht likened it to “stimulating passion through a loud speaker in a resonance chamber.”
Obviously as Coravin’s inventor Lambrecht is a highly interested party. He also noted the growth of the company and its product line during COVID, with its increase of more elaborate home cooking and also virtual tastings, when people wanted to participate but didn’t necessarily want to open three bottles of wine at home on a Tuesday evening.
Lambrecht’s intentionally limited involvement in the #coravingate debate online was to step in briefly to defend the efficacy of the technology, then quickly step back. Instead, other advocates for Coravin stepped in virtually and defended the system. Pre-pandemic, he said, he’d have gotten on a plane, flown to visit Goode, and blind-tasted any wines he’d want in order in order to test the preservation system. “That’s my nature,” Lambrecht said. “I defend my children.”
Despite the power of the “loud speaker in a resonance chamber” metaphor, the most striking part of Lambrecht’s role in #coravingate, to me, was his restraint. It amounted to a calm voice of reason among the swell of adrenaline that otherwise characterizes so strongly the online response, a year into COVID, to both #coravingate and Woolf and Opaz’s Kickstarter campaign.
I’m an entrepreneur in the wine tech space, and a journalist who’s especially interested in the business and politics of wine. My writing and photographs have appeared