2020 has been the hardest year in the drinks industry in living memory. The incredible damage that Covid-19 has wrought on bars, restaurants, breweries, wineries, and more can’t be overstated — not just putting businesses at risk, but leading to massive unemployment in the service industry and forcing many others to risk their health to keep their jobs. In addition, devastating fires struck most of the West Coast, the U.S. government continued to impose senseless tariffs on many imported wines and spirits, and, in many cases, state and local governments were slow to provide flexible outdoor options for both business owners and consumers alike.
Yet with all that, there are some genuine reasons to be thankful in 2020, and those are what Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe explore on this week’s episode of the VinePair Podcast.
Or Check out the conversation here
Adam: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter.
Zach: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is a version of the OG VinePair Podcast, because we have no guest hosts today, Zach.
Z: Just you and me, man. Just like back when we were young whippersnappers, trying to plant our flag in this whole podcasting space.
A: I feel like people are gonna be like, “Oh God, I don’t want to just listen to Adam and Zach.”
Z: I mean, that is a lot what a lot of them said back in the day too, to be fair.
A: Hey, so what’s going on, man? I mean, I know we had banter, we also talked drinks. What have you been drinking recently?
Z: Well, my favorite fun story lately was I got an email from my mother, who I do see on occasion. She takes care of my son once a week, and she comes down here and usually has dinner with us. And she emailed me and basically said, “Oh, a friend of mine was telling me about this thing called ‘orange wine.’ Do you know anything about this? Or can you tell me a little about it?”And I was like, “well, yeah. And if you’re interested, I have some, we can try one when you’re down here.” So, she was down here last night for dinner and she tried her first orange wine, which was from a producer here in Washington called Two Vintners, and it’s an orange wine made from Gewürztraminer that I quite like, actually. And, I wasn’t sure what to expect but, yeah, Mom was into it, which was cool. She wasn’t like “buy me a case,” but she was like, “I would drink it again” which is great. So yeah, that was kind of fun. And, I don’t get the opportunity to pour something new for people ever anymore ’cause you know, here I am locked in my house. But once in a while, I get that opportunity, at least with my mom, and occasionally my wife, but my wife has definitely tried more wine in her life than my mom has. How about you?
A: So I had a really cool — have we run the Popina interview yet?
Z: We have not, that’ll be out for those of you listening to this on Monday, it’ll be out Wednesday and it’s very fun.
A: Yeah. So, I interviewed James O’Brien, who owns Popina, which is a great restaurant in Brooklyn. So he basically has like the tiniest indoor space, like it’s very small. And then in New York before Covid times you would call it cozy and you’d love it, because you’d basically have to make sure the other table knew you were getting up and you were going to squeeze by their’s and maybe your butt would like bump their glass or plate, but you loved it. Right? But then he has this massive outdoor space. I mean, so big that it’s crazy. I’m like, “This exists in Brooklyn?” It’s just a huge backyard. He used to have a bocce court back there now there’s tables on the bocce court and then like a driveway. And so I interviewed him just about what’s going on for him. And then he invited me to come by on Friday of last week and have a glass of wine. And so I went with him and then a friend of mine, Dave, who I’ve actually also interviewed on the podcast who owns Lalou in Brooklyn, as well. And it’s funny, I got to try a wine that you and I have talked about before, but I’ve actually never had before. So there’s a wine that I think we’ve chatted about, Zach, that has blown up in New York. That doesn’t seem to have really expanded much outside of New York, but in New York, it’s like a very hard Barolo to get. And it’s Roagna Pajé, so sorry if I butchered that, and in the city it sells for $150 to $200 a bottle easily, and it’s very heavily allocated. I think it’s either brought in by Polaner or Skurnik, one of the two. And it’s just very prized by somms here. And I’d never had it before. And because, sadly, there’s been restaurants that have closed, some of these wines that were allocated are now easier to find again. And so, James had a few bottles and I just was mentioning that I’d never had it before, because the way he’s now doing his whole restaurant is obviously a counter service. And you can see all the wines on these beautiful racks, across the counter. And I saw it, I was like, I’ve never had that before. And he’s like, well, do you want to pop it? And so we did. And it was a really delicious Barbaresco. I thought it was great. I’ve had other really amazing wines from other Barbaresco and Barolo producers that I think are as good, if not better. But I did think it was a really beautiful bottle of wine and so then I just tried to chat with them about why it has become “the thing.” And it just seems to have become the thing in the way that a lot of things become a thing. Right? Initially this was a producer that obviously is, I think they’re organic and biodynamic, but about 10, 12 years ago, they were more affordable on the market. And so a lot of somms are discovering this one, ‘cause it was a producer they could afford. And then everyone in New York got more and more excited about it, and it became “a thing” because everyone was drinking it. And so then it became more and more allocated and that’s what drove the price up. But there wasn’t a random piece of press that came out about it or a big collector that had a huge collection of it. Again, it was a bunch of people in the industry in New York who got so excited about it that everyone just started buying it. And so it got more and more and more expensive. And originally they were just excited about it because they were originally able to like sell a glass of, I think he was saying their Dolcetto, which is delicious, for $8 a glass. And that’s how people got into the producer, and then it drove from there. And I think that’s really interesting how that can happen in wine markets. Beer markets, too, spirits, too, but especially in these little pockets ‘cause I remember when I was talking to you about it when we were in Italy and you were like, “What producer?” And you know Italian wine. So it was very funny. And that happened to me, too, with a well-known somm from D.C. I said the same thing and I’m like, “Wow, we’re only four hours from you.” And it just proves it. Yeah. It’s just like a weird phenomenon here in New York that has always been funny, but it was fun to try it. And I’m glad that I had the opportunity to. So this is coming out right before Thanksgiving. We thought we’d take the time to have an episode about what we’re thankful for this year. And I know that it feels like for most of us, there’s not a lot to be thankful for. This has been a really insane year. Probably one of the most insane years of most of our lives. Not to discount anything that anyone might’ve gone through personally, that probably could have been just as hard if not harder than this year. But this has been a year of collective hardship for everyone around the world, but there are still some things to be thankful for. And so Zach, I thought I’d kick it off to you first to just ask what are some things that you’ve thought about as we’ve reflected on this episode that you’ve been thankful for this year?
Z: Yeah, well, it’s actually interesting. One of the things that was on my list, and it’s such a natural transition from what you were just talking about is that one thing that I think has really been nice in a sense as a side effect or silver lining of Covid, and unfortunately all the harm that it caused the restaurant and bar industry, is that it has reset the wine allocation market. And I think that we’ve talked about this a little bit in past episodes and at least in passing about one of the real unfortunate elements of the way that wine wholesaling tends to work in this country is that there is a lot of wine that you would think that as a restaurant or as a bar, or even as a retail shop that you’re willing to pay whatever the wholesaler wants for it, but because you don’t have a long track record of buying it, or you haven’t been around for a while, or your sales rep isn’t super well connected, or who knows what — you have a really hard time getting those wines. And it can be a long process to work your way onto those lists. And you know, that isn’t a thing that’s unique to wine or unique to the wholesale business. Obviously there are certainly wine clubs out there that if you as a consumer want to join, you might have to wait on the list for years for but I think that one thing that’s been kind of nice, as I think you’re seeing, some distributors and the importers start to reconsider whether a model where these wines that are considered “some of the prize gems” in their collection, does it really do them good in the long run? Does it do the producer good? Does it do the importer and distributor good to have those wines keep going through the same few accounts over and over again? And that in the end, if you’re an importer, producer, or distributor who wants to both get more people drinking your wine and frankly, eventually be able to sell it for more. It actually probably behooves you to have it a few more places. And I think that you’re going to see, even as we move back to a slightly more normal restaurant and bar situation, whatever that looks like in 2021, or whatever. I do think that I will be curious to see and I suspect that a lot of these wines that were so difficult to get are — for one, there’s going to be just more of them out there because people aren’t going to have as much capital to invest in very high-end wines. But also, I really do think people are going to say, you know what, maybe it is better for us if we have a little bit more presence in various different restaurants, instead of only high-end retail shops, instead of only selling to a few because they’re the longstanding partners.
A: Yeah, man, I agree with you. I think that’s something that I’ve been thankful for as well as there have been just a lot of really cool wines that I’ve now been able to get at places close to me that they’ve all told me they never would have been able to have before. And that’s been great. And I get the allocation market. I get why it exists. There’s just producers that don’t produce a lot of stuff, but it’s cool right now to see that there’s people who are getting that access to wines that they might not normally have been able to have access to because they’re not the friends of the person normally selling the wine or whatever. And so they don’t get first dibs. So that’s been great. I’m really thankful for the fact that I think a lot of us have rediscovered how pleasurable it is to make cocktails at home. I think I have really challenged myself and watched my friends challenge themselves as well, to make really delicious drinks in the comfort of their own home. I discovered the Daiquiri this year. I mean, it’s always been a drink that I liked, but never thought enough to make often. And in the summer, I think we talked about it, I made it every Friday evening. I discovered why you should alway have a bottle of simple syrup in your fridge. I challenged myself, making really interesting whiskey cocktails and things I wouldn’t normally make and looked up recipes from bars I used to love. And I think that that experimentation has made me actually a stronger appreciator of cocktails when I go out, because I actually understand what’s going into the drinks more. And I understand the craft that it takes to make really high-quality drinks, but it’s also made me really enjoy being home and whipping something up as well. That has been a really nice thing and an excuse. ‘Cause I don’t think I would ever have delved as deeply into making cocktails at home as I have had we not been in quarantine for the months we’ve been in quarantine.
Z: Yeah. And I think that in general, cocktails are the biggest example, I think for sure, but in some ways I think one of the things I’ve been thankful for this year is like just remembering how nice it can be to just have a drink at home, period. Whether that’s a cocktail, glass of wine, a beer, whatever. There are things I love about going out and I miss desperately, but because it’s been all that most of us have had, or the main thing that most of us have had, I have had to remember, yeah, it can be really nice to not have the stress and pressure that goes with being out and even something as simple, which is probably not as big a consideration for you as it is for me in Seattle, but yeah it’s nice to be able to have that third drink and be like, I literally just have to walk up a flight of stairs. I don’t have to do any more to get home. I wonder, I’m curious about this, Adam, do you sense that for you or maybe for people more broadly, that when hopefully we move — whether there’s a more widespread vaccine distribution or whatever in the six to 12 months down the road — do you anticipate being more willing to entertain and have cocktail parties? Is this newfound knowledge or at least expanded knowledge and comfort gonna translate into sharing with people? ‘Cause to me, that’s the one thing that I do miss, really, is being able to have drinks with people besides my immediate family.
A: So, yeah, I think that the first time I get to entertain, I’m probably going to go crazy. We have one friend who’s in our pod. She lives alone and is really close friends with Naomi and I, she’s been coming over, and even when she comes over, like every other week and she’ll stay over for the night in our spare bedroom, I go crazy. ‘Cause it’s another person, and I get to entertain. I think I will do that to like the thousandth degree. And I definitely think I will be more likely than I used to, to have a cocktail when people arrive. Like I used to always be like, “Oh, I’m already cooking and stuff.” And you know what I mean? When Naomi and I are busy getting ready we would have people over for dinner and say “Oh, here’s a bottle of bubbly,” and don’t get me wrong. I love a bottle of bubbly, but now I feel like I’ve gotten really good at making cocktails, I want to show that off. Right? So it’s like, I’ll have cocktails ready to go, which is super fun and exciting and something that I didn’t used to do that often. But I think I’m really thankful for, and I think we’re talking about entertaining, but the perspective that this has given. And I’ve seen you on Instagram doing this as well, and I love that we’ve realized that we just need to open shit that we think is delicious. There used to be so many bottles of wine that I had gotten and I’d been saving, and these past nine months, I’ve just opened so many of those, and it’s been awesome. And I’ve always thought, “Why was I saving this?” Like, this made Friday night even better. And so Saturday night, Naomi and I are obviously having another night in, but someone, a good friend of ours, sent me some truffles. And so I’m just going to make fresh pasta with butter and open one of these really amazing bottles of Nebbiolo I have. And, it’s Cigliuti, one of my favorite producers. I’m going to open her Barbaresco. And I’m really excited about it. And I think, again, that was a bottle of wine that I would’ve saved for a dinner party probably, and I’m like, no, no. The best thing is to make fresh pasta with butter and truffles and eat it with Naomi. Like, why would I not want to do that? You know? So I think those are things that we’ve all kind of realized we should be doing more of and has been something to reconnect with in all of this.
Z: I’m going to switch gears a little bit and talk about something else that I’ve been really pleased by, which is that you’re and it’s again by necessity, not necessarily by choice, but I think we’re seeing a really interesting shift among craft brewers to really canning and bottling almost all of their production. And I say this as someone who lives around a lot of craft breweries, one of the downsides for me about that in the last couple of years is that with a young kid, pre-Covid, we would sometimes go hang out at a brewery and have a beer or two, but like, he’s not super happy to do that and wants to be entertained. And I don’t want to ruin other people’s experience if they’re not out with kids, which is a challenging thing. But the problem is with a lot of these breweries, yeah, you can buy a bottle or a 6-pack or 4-pack or whatever of some of their core beers, but most of the things that they’re doing that are really interesting were only on draft. And I totally get why. For one, in many of these cases, the beer itself is maybe slightly better when it comes off draft, as opposed to out of a can or a bottle. And I also understand that the margin is much better on a draft beer and they don’t have to pay for canning and all that. But I will say, selfishly, as someone who does most of his drinking as previously mentioned at home, and we’ll probably be doing that even when Covid is not as big a concern, I really love being able to go get really cool, interesting beers from breweries around me and there’s more than ever before, from breweries all over the place in distribution now. And I think that’s hopefully something that persists. I get it, I won’t fault breweries for returning to the previous model of saving a lot of their special beers for taproom-only, draft-only release, but I really hope that there’s a recognition that they’re missing certain bits of their potential customer base, who just can’t go to a brewery all the time. You know, they just don’t have that ability for whatever set of reasons.
A: I agree, man, that’s been super cool. I think we’ve talked about this before, but all of a sudden, the grocery store two or three blocks away from me, that’s not a Whole Foods and not a Trader Joe’s, it’s one of these corner grocery stores, one of these local chains that we have in New York. It’s not an Associated, but it’s kind of an Associated for those of you that are New Yorkers that also kind of get what I’m going with. And all of a sudden their beer selection has just gotten way better. And they have Threes, and KCBC and all these really great beers, and they are beers that, you’re right, I wouldn’t have been able to get unless I’d gone to the brewery. And now they’re there, and it’s cool. And I also, a lot of breweries have started really getting heavily into delivery and that’s also been awesome. So I’ve been able to do cool beer deliveries from places like Torch and Crown, and there’s so many. I want to say KCBC again, ‘cause that’s what I just did recently. But, all these really great breweries in New York City, Other Half, that you just normally wouldn’t have been able to do, you would have had to go to the brewery to get them, and I think delivery has been dope for that, and for cocktails, to be honest. There’s been really cool cocktail bars that have done really great delivery menus that have really added to my weekends, you know? So those are things that I’ve been really, really excited about as we’ve continued to watch people innovate. I think that’s my overall thing I’m thankful for, is that the restaurant and bar world never fail to disappoint when it comes to innovation. It’s always pushing forward. And that’s what I think makes this industry so exciting to you, me, and everyone that listens, is that it’s an industry that’s never stagnant. There’s always people trying to do new things. Always people who are pushing the envelope and even in Covid-19, when and I know we talk about this every week, but it’s true: Please write your congresspeople. Even when Congress has failed to provide restaurant relief, the people who work in these businesses are still pushing forward, and they are still trying to figure out how to have the most amazing experiences for their guests outside. They’re trying to figure out what menus look like. They’re changing their models. They are creating incredible cocktails that you can take to-go. They are figuring out how to turn their restaurants into hybrid wine shops, they’re creating to-go cocktail bars on wheels, like we talked about the company in L.A. that created an ice cream truck that was also a cocktail bar. Like people were just doing the most amazing things. It just proves that there’s a special kind of person that goes into this industry and cannot be held down by anything, even when the government is not wanting to support them at all, which, what the f*** is happening. So that to me has been really awesome to watch, and to watch how much the industry is supporting each other. We talked about it in one of these other interviews that I did recently. I think it was with Ruffian or Popina, there’s just not the competition. Everyone just wants to help each other succeed. And everyone’s really sad when they see something go out and I think that’s just awesome. And it proves that there’s just a special kind of individual that goes into the world of restaurants and bars. And I think it’s great that the other side of the business, the producers, have been supportive. I would encourage the producers to be more supportive. This is not me on my soapbox, but I’m seeing a lot of restaurant people who were very vocal when they were trying to help a lot of the producers stop the tariffs. And were trying to help a lot of the producers make sure that the prices were the way that they should be. I’m not seeing as many producers, to be very honest, being as vocal on social media and things like that in helping the restaurants and pushing Congress to pass relief. And I understand that’s because a lot of producers are making a lot of money right now because your channels just change to off-premise, but it’d be great to see that same kind of support that the industry gives when there’s wildfires and things like that for the producers, that the producers give the restaurant industry. I’m not saying it’s all producers, let’s be clear, but I do think that there should be a much louder voice than people like Bobby Stuckey always on Instagram and Twitter and whatever, reminding people to constantly call their congresspeople and elected officials and say, look, like we gotta help the restaurant industry because if we don’t, we’re going to be screwed come January. And this has got to happen before then. So, I’m thankful for the amazing camaraderie and resilience the restaurant business has, and the people, and I’m a little disappointed in some of the other stuff.
Z: Well, we’ll try and keep things on the positive note. I think actually to that effect, a thing that as someone who spent a long time working in restaurants, I have felt a lot during this year is that one, I think it’s a positive thing for me is that the “reality” of the restaurant industry is being examined and explored in a way that it just had not previously. And that’s in part about just the financial realities of the industry and how precarious it is, even in good times, and how unsustainable in some ways a lot of the things that we took for granted pre-Covid were. It also goes to some really, really painful and hard conversations about representation, and frankly, discrimination, and abuse and all these things in the industry. And again, these things coming to light are painful, for sure. They’re painful for most of all the people who have suffered in these situations, but also for people who generally love the industry and love things about it. It’s never fun to have this stuff come to light, but it’s so essential to moving forward as an industry, moving forward as a broader conversation about drinks and their place in society. And so I do think that one of the great things, in addition to all the innovation you talked about, Adam, with service and delivery and even how drinks are made and designed, and all that, there’s also been some real incredible forums created, conversations started around inclusion and equality and fairness in these industries. And there’s a long way to go. I don’t mean to say we have arrived, but 2020 feels like a year that we will remember for a lot of reasons. And I hope that this is one of them.
A: I agree. I completely agree. I feel like there’s a lot to be thankful for, to be honest. There has been some really good stuff that’s happened this year in a year that has been also really shitty. And these are just a few of them. But I don’t want to have an hour of us rallying off all things we are thankful for. I think we could. But I think these are a good amount of things that we feel really good about and that we think are things that will continue to persist moving forward. I just think we have to have perspective and support each other and continue to enjoy the things we’re enjoying and don’t be precious about those bottles that you’ve been holding. And if you’ve got a beer or a Bourbon County Stout, pop it now, and just enjoy yourself.
Z: Yeah. And let us know what you’re thankful for. We would love to hear. Is it these things? Is it other things? Is it this podcast? That would be delightful.
A: We’ll just give ourselves a little compliment there.
Z: I mean, you know, gotta kind of look out for the home team on occasion.
A: Yeah. As always, shoot us an email at [email protected], and let us know what you’re thankful for. We’d love to hear it. And we’ll read some of those off on a future episode, ‘cause it’d be great to share with everyone who’s been listening to the podcast since Covid, pre-Covid, et cetera to know what you’ve been thankful for this year as we continue to push forward as a beverage industry. Zach, you’ll be here next week. We’ll be talking about Bubbly Week, which is one of my favorite weeks of the year. And for everyone else, thanks for listening. We’ll see you back next week.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair Podcast. If you enjoy listening to us every week, please leave us a review or rating on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show. Now for the credits, VinePair produced by myself and Zach. It is also mixed and edited by him. Yeah, Zach, we know you do a lot. I’d also like to thank the entire VinePair team, including my co-founder, Josh, and our associate editor, Cat. Thanks so much for listening. See you next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.