Diary of a Wine Merchant: The Covid Years – Part II

April 16, 2021

Diary of a Wine Merchant: The Covid Years – Part II

12 months ago, shortly after the destructive reality of Covid became evident, I wrote a piece for a trade magazine (recently uploaded to our blog here…) in which I opened with the very real sense of helplessness and fear which I am sure I shared with the vast majority of the planet. At the time, it seemed almost like staring into a black hole, knowing that you had to take the next step but blind to whatever lay below. I remember thinking (and saying to anyone prepared to listen) that this was “our generation’s war,” we’d never experienced anything approaching global conflict and in 2020 we’d reached payback time, only to be faced with an adversary that responded neither to bombs nor white flags (nor bleach). Frightened for ourselves, for our friends and families and frightened for businesses and careers that we’d spent lifetimes developing, all we could do, it seemed, was to keep washing our hands and hope for the best.

Fast forward 12 months and the overwhelming emotion is one of gratitude that we and our close friends and family have, to date, remained relatively unscathed whilst recognising the grief that others are suffering. As the numbers continue to tick upwards I’m reminded of Stalin’s quote that “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic” but every one of the 150,000+ excess deaths is somebody’s tragedy and our hearts go out to all those mourning lost loved ones or continuing to deal with the effects of long Covid.

Insofar as Connolly’s and Arch 13 are concerned, it’s been something of a curate’s egg of a year; in common with hospitality operations the world over, Arch 13 has been largely closed aside from a brief respite last summer but outside of that, the “Arch 13 at home” delivery service has allowed regulars to test their presentational skills and recreate the Arch 13 experience in their dining rooms whilst, at the same time, Abi and Victoria have been building a steady following for their weekly cheese market within the Dovehouse Parade store. As I type this, we are still holding our breath and keeping fingers tightly crossed that re-opening on May 18th remains possible and can scarcely control our excitement that the City Council have given permission for us to go “al fresco.”

On the Connolly’s front, Oh my days but it’s been exciting. As the hospitality industry brought down the shutters, we furloughed much of the team and then had to reinvent ourselves as warehouse managers and drivers when the home delivery service went a bit nuts. If I ever get onto Mastermind I’m having “Roads of Brum” as my specialist subject. We’ve learned how to use Zoom and have hosted some brilliant tastings – guest speakers including winemakers, vineyard owners, Masters of Wine and more have steered our growing band of intrepid tasters through some fabulous ranges of wines and nobody had to leave their kitchens (and, in fairness, some of those kitchens are pretty spectacular.) Finally and, perhaps, most importantly, we have completely refocussed the business, transitioning out of the wholesale market altogether to focus on our retail and internet business. It’s a decision that’s been coming for a while and, in truth, probably has its foundations in the early days of Star Trek. Inspired by the 5 year mission of James T Kirk (the T stands for Tiberius btw) we’ve kicked the “new life, new civilisations” idea into touch and have moderated our ambitions into one of scouring the globe for great wines. Obviously, things have been put on hold for the time being but rest assured that the moment we are able to, globe scouring will be our priority. In the meantime, the fallout from the pandemic has led to numerous ridiculous bin-end offers hitting the inbox so stay in touch and sign up to our newsletters here for all the latest.





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