An email from Robert Hunter (Owner – Vinergia, our Spanish wine supplier)
Thanks for the message. I was thinking of you this morning, as I have been writing long-ish e-mails to people in different countries to get their vision on this unique and strange experience – it truly is a global phenomenon, but we all have slightly different perspectives. I usually spend a lot of time on the road, across Spain and around the world and every year I make myself a photo album to remember where I’ve been. This year, I think I’m going to have to make a compilation of e-mails, whatsapps and memes.
Goodness knows how we will emerge from the end of it, but definitely we will emerge; in the meantime, it really does feel that we have a shared goal, people are in many ways pulling together and trying to find a way through it. Some people will have an incredibly tough time, like a friend of mine who manages a chain of hotels – he’s looking at the potential of no business at all this year. Friends in the on-trade have had to shut down and hibernate in the hope of reopening in the summer. Others are getting on with life in a bunch of different ways.
Here in Spain we are on what I call Day 10 of our lockdown. It’s actually the eleventh day, but as the first day was a Sunday, it just felt like the best, laziest Sunday in history – so that was Day 0. Your comment about your country not getting a grip on the situation strikes a chord – I think everyone in every country has made the same comment, about how they feel that the country was not prepared enough, the health system being overwhelmed etc. I would just put it down to the fact that human beings have (at least) two flaws: we find it virtually impossible to learn from or truly value the experience of others and secondly, we just don’t understand the concept of exponential growth – time is lineal, we understand that more instinctively, but geometric growth is beyond our comprehension. The speed of change has caught everyone off guard. Two weeks ago I was still intending to use my Prowein ticket to go see a couple of clients in Holland. Now I don’t believe that I’ll make any international trips before September, maybe not till next year.
So, day 10 of a grip that has slowly tightened. The police have gone from gently warning people to a more pro-active stopping and fining of anyone on the street. The news cycle has gone from hysterical and anecdotal to more epic and statistical. For the moment the wineries have still been working, we’ve been shipping to Sweden on a regular basis, but as the number of deaths and infections continues to rise and there appears to be no dip in the curve yet, there is a growing pressure to close down all non-essential economic activity, which means we’d no longer be able to load anything – transport of goods has been unaffected for the moment, even though all borders have been closed to the movement of people.
More than ever, I oscillate between what is totally macro and the utterly micro. We live in a small, semi-rural town about 100km north of Barcelona, but the lockdown is taken as seriously here as anywhere else. Compared to many people in Spain, who tend to live in relatively small apartments, we have a decent-sized house and with a surrounding garden which we can get out into. My wife and I are used to working from home, she has a couple of big projects which require a lot of reading and writing, I am keeping up with people and doing a lot of ‘business housekeeping’ like updating the website, improving the management software and today I hope to start making product videos with the help of our 16 year old (who is currently upstairs in Latin class at on-line school). At the end of the day we’ll do a bit of yoga and learn a bit of Russian.
Business-wise probably 80% of our clients have juddered to something of a halt or a hiatus, though, thankfully, our single most important client, the Swedish monopoly, has been moving ahead solidly. Our other big client was a group of four cruise ships sailing out of Barcelona and that has died a singularly spectacular death, although at some point that will return from the grave – I mean, what else are they going to do with the ships? With regard to the industry in Spain, prices have fallen a little bit all over but most notably in Rioja, as they are very dependent on the Spanish on-trade and that has now completely dried up. So we are starting to see some very enticing offers come out for Rioja, both for young wines at well under 2 Euros and Reservas at around 3. Of course right now is not the time – Australia is just at the beginning of the process, it looks like it’s about 2 to 3 weeks behind us – but there are going to be some enticing prices on the table for the next 6 to 12 months (though probably not forever, if history is to be trusted).
So: stay safe, rein in as much of your costs as you can, though some generosity is required to make sure we all get through this together.
All the best, keep in touch,