Do I miss travel? Ok, good question. For the last four years before 2020 I was spending around 300 days of the year travelling. It was for work, mostly (some may have been for ancillary reasons, yes, tied in to work), and it was productive. But there was an element of escape involved. There was a slot in my diary, I got an invitation, I said yes, and got on a plane. My carbon footprint was obscene, and this did weigh on me.
Come 2020. The year commenced normally, for me, with back-to-back travel. I began with a tour of France. Four cities in four days, presenting a seminar on wine faults. I was one of a team of four and we took part in a morning seminar for winemakers, then drove to our next destination, had dinner, and performed again the next day.
After this, Uruguay, and it was a brilliant trip – the sort I really like. Exploring a wine region (well, a few, but you know what I mean) that’s new to me, meeting great people, being inspired by progress. And then having a chance to help the good folk win by writing it all up.
Millesime Bio was next, in late January. A fair dedicated to organic wines, held in Montpellier. Then lecturing in the Netherlands, including a chance to visit Dutch vineyards.
Then Portugal for Simplesmente, which was a beautiful time spent in Porto. Then my third trip to the Nagano wine region in Japan, just as the first alarms about Covid were sounding. I got back and had a big week in the UK out at events, then got sick, then the country locked down.
Everything changed suddenly. For many in the wine trade it was a disaster – especially those working in or with the hospitality sector. For others – such as the supermarkets who were allowed to remain open – business was better than ever.
For me: no travel. The core of my activity was taken away. Fortunately, although I lost work, I gained a bit. Survival wasn’t going to be a problem, and the skills I have gained moderating and talking to camera helped with all the new Zooming and IG Lives. I also started tasting wine on camera, and this gained quite a bit of traction.
Do I miss the travel? Predictable answer coming: yes, and no.
For four years my life has been anything but predictable. It has required constant adjustment, tweaking and adapting. There is no routine; no normal that then becomes the new normal. In this sense, it’s easier for me than many others. I don’t have any family ties, I’m used to change, and my work life is highly dispersed across many media and clients, as well as the fact that I have a significant social media presence and my own website.
Add to this the fact that I knew things had to change. Being constantly on the road isn’t sustainable in the long term. It isn’t conducive to having a happy partner, or a stable relationship at all. 2020 forced me to address this.
As I write, it is very nearly a year since my last long-haul travel. I flew back to the UK from Japan on February 2nd 2020. Covid was beginning to be taken seriously, and the lounge at Tokyo had a vastly reduced food service, with all items separately packaged. The following day I had a co-chair meeting for the International Wine Challenge, and then the week that followed was a busy one in London, with a Washington State Wine tasting and afterparty, and then quite a few evening activities. On the Friday (12th) I visited Vagabond’s urban winery and went to the Warhol exhibition at the Tate, followed by drinks near London Bridge. Then I was sick, and by the time I’d recovered we were all locked down. Apart from two short trips in August (the Languedoc and Wiesbaden, Germany), no flying since.
I’m not sure when long haul travel will resume; short-haul might be sooner. The only thing in my diary is some lecturing in Italy in May, but as with most people I guess, my diary has anything other than virtual events only pencilled in.
When things open up, I’m not sure that there will be the celebrations and crazy unshackling of restraint that everyone predicts. There will be a sober realization that this pandemic has left a lot of people in a financially precarious position. And perhaps people will have realized that the trajectory we were on wasn’t a sustainable one. I think there will certainly be a big sight of relief. Am I too naïve to hope that we might emerge from this a little wiser, with a desire to rebuild a society that works for all – that is functional, with a thriving economy, for sure – but one that doesn’t leave too many people behind.
For the wine world, there will be a post-pandemic resetting. I think, bizarrely, the lack of travel has probably made us better at communicating. We have tools like Zoom and Teams, and Instagram has shown its value with the IG Live/TV combo. Clubhouse, the invite-only audio app, looks extremely promising. And the pandemic has seen the rebirth of the QR code, which might finally realise its potential now that people have actually been forced to use it, and it doesn’t require a separate app.
So do I miss travel? Not as much as I thought I would. I’ll be back visiting wine regions, but in a more controlled, thoughtful manner. But of course: the big thing I miss isn’t really the travel. It’s the people. You can sustain already-made relationships using modern communication tools. The relationships are built face to face. The big loss of the pandemic and its resulting lockdowns has been human contact. That’s hard to replace.