How things have changed

As we all know, things have changed a lot in the past month. The changes that have affected the world are shaking the foundations of our cultures and civilization to such a degree that things that we once felt were extremely important are now less important than they used to be. The biggest change is that money is no longer the reason for our decision making.

I posted this thought on my personal Facebook page a few days ago. “This may be the only time in my life that I’ve ever seen the world value something more than money.” It got a little attention and raised some discussion. As I said in a reply, “A little virus from China has suddenly rendered things that seemed important (professional sports, travel by airlines, concerts, etc.) less important. Environmental degradation couldn’t stop the NHL or grounded airplanes, but this virus has. Where 6 months ago, society would have only made decisions for economic reasons, we are now making them for health reasons.” Luxury manufacturers are retooling in the effort to fight this virus. Ferrari is making ventilators. Local distilleries are making hand sanitizer.

Political leaders whose entire lives have been spent chasing wealth (the best known of whom is not worth mentioning here, but everyone knows who I mean), now find their value system at odds with new priorities and they do not know how to cope. Decisions aren’t just labeled as dumb or moronic, they are now seen differently and clearly outside of the new social reality, almost to a point where we don’t know how to understand it. This is a dangerous time for any society, which only compounds the anxiety over the seemingly unfettered rampage of a deadly virus through the world’s population. Nobody is immune. Everyone is at risk. Cough once in public and suspicion is quickly focused on you.

The isolation we are now experiencing (some mandated, some self-isolating) is going to create a real cultural shift in how we conduct our lives. This is where the wine industry right now is panicking. Wineries, particularly those in BC who don’t export and how are dependent on visitors to their wine shops (tourism), are not sure what to do. John Schreiner has posted two extremely helpful articles that summarize the situation.

One quotes heavily from an email by Sandra Oldfield, former winemaker and owner at Tinhorn Creek, with industry-specific suggestions to help weather the storm. She has experienced the devastation to the industry after 9/11 and various forest fires over the years and has always had a clear vision for the industry. Her prediction; “Tourism will be impacted to an even greater extent because during this crisis, even locals may start staying away from wine touring. In contrast, after 911 the locals seemed to still support our industry and it was mainly the international tourists that stayed away.” She makes 5 main suggestions for wineries to help weather the storm of this crisis. Her goal is to help the BC wine industry as whole and, though it was not in her game plan, her departure from Tinhorn in 2017 thankfully means that all of BC wine is now the beneficiary of her wisdom and experience.

In the second article, John writes about the reaction of wineries with the proliferation of online shipping promotions. To generate sales, many wineries are offering free shipping to customers across the country. Judging from wineries’ social media feeds, this appears to be working. But is it profitable or sustainable over the long-term? That is something that we will have to wait and see. Wineries can’t just give things away for free. Shipping costs money and that can’t be swallowed as a cost forever. I used to get given a lot of wine, often enough that when choosing wines for dinner, I started only pulling bottles from my cellar that were given to me. The idea was that I would blow through the free wine in a couple of weeks, have a giggle at how quickly I used my free wine, go back to the wines that I’d purchased myself, and recognize how lucky I was to have all this free wine.

Something weird happened. I ended up giving up after a few months because I never ran out of free wine. At some point, I forgot about it altogether. It wasn’t the hefty challenge that I thought that it was going to be. This doesn’t happen much anymore (sadly, in some ways) because I don’t write for that publication anymore and (for better or worse) I am not offered wine for free as often anymore. I also offer to buy wine more often because I want to support the winery as much as I can. It is worth noting that most of the wines were given to me were from wineries who are either now no longer in business or whose owners have sold and moved on. I never assumed that any winery was going to give me wine for free, but I have met other writers who do have that expectation. Will consumers could begin to expect free shipping from now on? How about supporting a winery that covers their costs to allow them to make a living? It’s not as sexy for marketing but hopefully consumers will understand that after this CoVid-19 situation has settled.

So, where does that leave us now? If we weren’t utterly dependent on social media before, we most certainly are now. It could be the lifeline that has helped people in isolation or quarantine stay connected with loved ones. It could be the fastest access to current information on the situation. It could also be the thing that distracts us enough to trivialize the changes in our society such as we miss out on making good decisions in the future. This is where we need to be careful. It has been proven years ago that social media platforms can deliberately alter the moods of its users. Let’s keep social media around to inform ourselves but make decisions based on keeping ourselves (and our fellow humans) and our businesses healthy. There has got to be a balance there somewhere.