One sunny morning in June 2020, Philippe de Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild’s then managing director Philippe Dhalluin smiled from my computer screen, thanks to MicrosoftTeams video conferencing, which I’d just figured out how to use. The duo, at Mouton, plunged into the back story of the excellent 2019 vintage in Bordeaux, while I sipped, and discreetly spat out, barrel samples they’d shipped over to me in rural Connecticut, some 5,700km away.
At my desk, I balanced bottles, glasses, spit bucket, pen and notebook, and scribbled notes.
For US merchants and wine writers, dozens of these remote experiences on Zoom, Teams, Webex and more were 2020’s Covid-19 lockdown version of Bordeaux’s hectic annual en primeur week, usually held two months earlier, in April.
The contrast with the previous year’s tastings, when I drove madly from château to château, travelling some 600km over two weeks, could not have been greater.
‘Virtual’ en primeur in the US brought different challenges – technological, logistical, practical. With Eric Kohler, technical director for Château Lafite Rothschild, who was in the south of France, the video worked perfectly but not the sound, so we had to talk via phone while watching one another savour Lafite 2019. Samples from one château made a two-week side trip to Ohio before reaching me, but were nevertheless okay.
The big question was whether anyone in the US cared about 2019 Bordeaux in the midst of pandemic turmoil, with people dying, restaurants closing, unemployment at nearly 15% and tariffs of 25% applied to wines from France (and Spain, Germany and the UK).
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