It’s been a while since I posted: A delicious, lingering stretch free from long-haul travel and it’s accompanying physical and mental fatigue. A blissful down-gearing dedicated to family and friends, domestic chores and beach swims at dusk. Ah, the slow life.
Apparently I’m not the first to discover the joy of this mode. An i-Phone google in the early hours (old habits die hard) confirmed that there’s a whole global movement geared towards slowing down. In New Slow City, William Powers sets himself the challenge of slow living, whilst residing in a 31 square metre micro-apartment in the middle of Manhattan. He fully recommends ‘idling’, focusing on one thing and doing it well, stopping and taking the time to have a conversation, and delaying gratification.
It seems that when we’re able to slow down, we appreciate that the most satisfying things in life aren’t the most obvious, and – for the most part – require time.
Artisans – whether cheese, whiskey or wine makers – have long understood the importance of slow in crafting and enjoying exceptional products. As consumers we may have ploughed headlong down the rabbit hole of fast, disposable rubbish, but true artisans have kept on doing what they’ve always done, and waited for for the tide to turn. And it’s starting to. We’ve been an over-producing first world populated by frenzied consumers for too long. Eventually the frenzy fizzles, replaced instead by overwhelm or apathy. In this setting values like quality and longevity are rediscovered. And with them new values of sustainability and traceability come to the fore. This is particularly true for millennial consumers, who – having been born into a paradoxical world of hyper consumerism and ecological awareness – are the first generation to ever consciously pay more for a product that is higher quality and sustainably produced.
The rise of craft beer globally is testament to the reach and pull of the slow, crafted ideal. Beer, a product that has long been the domain of behemoth global breweries, rationalised beyond recognition, has at last been reclaimed by small, local brewers. And the consumers are lining up.
Wine production on the other hand, has been trending the other way (towards rationalisation and FMCG status) for a number of years. Part of this is to do with the cost of making wine – companies need to acquire more vineyards and bigger facilities to realise economies of scale. The upsides can be higher product quality, improved value, greater availability for consumers. But if pushed too far, wine rationalisation could undermine the very essence of wine. Diversity (from grape type, geography and winemaking) and the capacity to age are – in my opinion – the most majestic qualities of wine.
It’s not all doom and gloom in the wine sector though. In New Zealand for example, while there is undoubtedly rationalisation, there is also ongoing interest and investment in the more crafted, premium segment as well. Nearly 100 new small wineries have been established in the last 10 years. Also, as noted in my last opinion, premium wine is an exciting category, where – alongside vine age and winemaker maturity – wine quality, personality and complexity seems to improve year on year.
After a stint in the slow lane, and as I bend the throttle into another busy year of travel, I find myself cherishing ever more the deliberate steps and contemplative moments that are necessarily part of my tiny winemaking operation. Preparing to label up my Cedalion 2015 wines, which have been resting and improving in cellar for the last 12 months, I turn my mind to the artisan’s conundrum: the desire to retain product so that it will be enjoyed at ‘optimum’ age, versus the need for cash-flow. Of course, business dictates that cashflow must prevail and while the quality of the 2015 wines already exceeds that of the 2014, I can’t help but instill every bottle with a silent wish: that it is enrobed with dust in a loyal customer’s cellar, to await discovery in 5-7 years.
Ways to slow down (and simultaneously rebel against the rationalisation of wine)
Spend some quality time in a good independent wine store
Between supermarkets and online wine retailers many specialist wine stores are now struggling. The good ones know their niche is in providing expert, face-to- face advice, tastings and access to interesting wines that won’t see the light of day in most major supermarkets.
Wine tourism is booming. In New Zealand in particular this a great thing for consumers, as wineries and eateries up the ante to cater to every possible whim.
Whether it’s tastings, workshops, winery tours, music festivals or just a stunning setting for a lunch, never has there been a time where the wine industry has opened its doors so fully.
Delay the gratification
If I sound like Ebenezer Scrooge, it’s for good reason. If you have the means and the space one of the most fascinating and rewarding parts of being a wine lover is to cellar wine and see how it evolves over time. Up the ceremony stakes by cellaring wine from a special occasion. Nothing like uncorking the wine you had on your wedding day to celebrate 10 (or 20) years of a good thing.
Share the love
There are tiny wine operations doing amazing things. Literally putting their livelihoods on the line for their craft. Seek out the good ones and support them.
They may not be able to offer a 3 Michelin star lunch in an award-winning cliff-side monolith, but they’re far more likely to take the time to share their passion over a glass.