It’s hard to believe that just a year ago we were emerging from Covid, having escaped a Christmas lockdown by the skin of our teeth. We had, although we didn’t quite dare to believe it, a more-or-less Covid-free year ahead of us.
It’s customary for January to be the month of predictions, but instead of speculating about what lies ahead, I’d prefer to reflect on what has passed. January is the month to get back on track, but that better describes nearly all of 2022, which was a year that saw most wine shops go back to what we do best.
Rumours of the death of traditional wine retailing have long been exaggerated. Although there is no doubt that supply chain pressures, high inflation and staggering government incompetency made 2022 a difficult year, it appears that the new normal is rather closely modelled on the old normal.
Few of us have bothered with Zoom beyond a tasting or two, while in-person events have resumed their customary formats as though nothing had happened.
Disruption, in the form of digital delivery and online shopping, was tried from necessity and found wanting, with many customers in 2022 desperate to get back to bricks-and-mortar shops in a way that was both reassuring and vindicating for many retailers.
The medium was the message. If we’re going to say that wine is about sharing, experience and connection, then its enemy is tiny screens, faltering webcams and oxidised miniature samples. There is no doubt that when it comes to toilet paper, online is the future. But wine is not toilet paper, despite the best efforts of some to confuse them.
Much of the brave new world we uncovered during Covid turned out to be fittingly dystopian. It was a salutary reminder that new is not always better.
Before I get told that I’m living in a wine bubble, let’s note that this phenomenon is not just observable in the wine world. Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion is nothing if it isn’t a film about the speciousness of “disruption”, the clay feet of digital gods and the vacant smugness of innovators.
As Moneypenny observes in Sam Mendes’ glorious Skyfall, another big-budget film about going analogue, sometimes the old ways are the best. Who will really disagree that the return of Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5 isn’t a considerable improvement on his remote-controlled BMW 7 Series?
Analogue is back, and gaining ground. High-end stationery thrives despite so-called digital advances. The printed book, declared endangered by the ebook a decade ago, flourishes.
It’s not necessarily a zero-sum game. Vinyl co-exists in the home with Spotify, Chromecast with the turntable. “Do it like your grandfather” is increasingly used for everything from double-edged safety razors to fountain pens. And in case this might seem rather tender of me, don’t forget that white socks and black leather loafers are also back, a Gen Z development that troubles me more than their apparent lack of interest in fermented grape juice.
Like those wine regions that didn’t get the memo about pulling out their native varieties to replant with Merlot, the fact that the wine industry went back to its old ways in 2022 rather than going gaga over bitcoin or Zoom could turn out in the long run to be an advantage in a world that caught a glimpse of a life that was all too digital.
It’s not to say that online and digital innovations don’t have a place – of course they do – but reflecting on the year that has passed shows us they’re not the only future.