Been a couple of months now and I still don’t know what to say or where to start.
First there are all the victims. Far far too many people have been taken by this terrible virus. The numbers are unimaginable. Today over a hundred had died in Spain and by comparison that was considered good news. 496 deaths on one day in England only made page 4 of one egregious newspaper. And the totals, even manipulated as they have been by governments more concerned with public opinion than public safety, are staggering. What is worse, every one of those too easily spun numbers is a person, a parent or a grandparent, a husband, wife, brother and sister, son or daughter, and perhaps most tragically doctor, nurse, hospital porter, ambulance driver, policeman, fireman, bus driver or other public servant. It is hard to imagine their suffering or that of their families, and it is just heartbreaking that there are so many.
Second, those front-line workers. Hard to put words to the respect, admiration and gratitude felt for all the workers putting themselves in harm’s way for our sake. One hopes that their contribution will not be forgotten and that they will get their reward at the end of this – it is absolutely clear that they deserve so much more than they get now.
And just behind the doctors and nurses are untold numbers of anonymous heroes: shelf stackers, checkout girls and guys, truck drivers, delivery men and women, bus drivers, police officers and so many others that have not stopped and whose efforts have meant that life could go on even when the world was falling on our heads. In particular I cannot but remember the tech team, the messenger and repro departments, cleaners and security that have kept my own office ticking over and made it possible for me, my own team, and the whole firm to work from home.
But as grateful as I am to those that have kept working my heart also goes out to those that have not been able to, and in particular all those restaurants, taverns, bars of all shapes and sizes, and all their suppliers, the distributors and bodegas. A lot of sectors have been hammered in the last several months and I spend a lot of my time speaking to companies that are fighting daily to hold things together, but I really just don’t know what to say to my many friends in the restaurant and wine businesses.
Possibly closest to my heart are the winemakers and their distributors and there is no over estimating the challenge that they face. It is heartening to see that off-licence sales of wine have increased more rapidly than sales of beer in the period everything has been closed but even if they had tripled, cuadrupled, they would not make up for the loss of sales through restaurants. Forget your plans for a beach body – summer is cancelled this year. Instead, keep buying wine, enjoying wine at dinner and lunch, and breakfast and afternoon tea if necessary – a glass of bubbles with your cucumber sandwiches, Fortnum’s style.
Because for restaurants, well I cannot imagine what it must be like to see a thriving business, that you have spent years building up in the most competitive market possible taken to the cleaners by a natural phenomenon on this scale. I cannot imagine how hard it must be, when you have spent years in the business of making people feel at home, to have to get on your motorbike and take them the food there. And I cannot imagine how it must feel right now to all those friends who have made a career in table service, making a connection with customers and helping create the unforgettable experiences that are the real objective of the restaurant business. It must be simply heartbreaking, and I wish I could offer some kind of solace.
I am lost in admiration for the many businesses that are fighting it out and making huge changes to their lives. My neighbour, Pepe Moran of de la Riva, has been an inspiration, my good friends at Zalamero Taberna sent us a sensational dinner home on their first day back and the other day I ordered a takeaway from Trifiker and, when I went to give the rider a couple of euros tip discovered it was Trifón himself! (And there are many more – I only have one stomach but will get myself sorted with a post soon.)
And the impact on the wine business is also severe. Wine is one of the great ingredients of the great experience of dining out, and one where restaurants, taverns, bars and the rest, and most importantly the sommeliers, waiters and maitres d’ play an outsized role in educating us and encouraging us to find those wines, those pairings that can make a good dinner great, and a lovely evening special.
My enjoyment of wine is so bound up with epic lunches and dinners in the many outstanding restaurants in Madrid that at times I find it hard to distinguish one from the other. This blog would not exist and would not make sense without Madrid’s restaurants, bars, taverns, vinotecas and botellerias, and so many wines – particularly sherry wines – are only accessible in the special venues that feature on these pages.
But way upstream from the urbane sommelier who opens our eyes and wallets are the growers – the people that plant, tend, and harvest the magic bushes of vitis vinifera that are the heart of the whole business. For some of them, the decrease in sales caused by this virus can mean a loss of a year’s, or even a lifetime’s work.
It is vital that we keep drinking, keep buying wine, that we order food (and wine) from our favourite restaurants, and that we do everything in our power to keep these wonderful flames alive. All our lives would be so much the poorer without them.
But more importantly, their lives have already been turned upside down, and obstacles we cannot imagine have been put in the way of people who had already overcome enough barriers for several lifetimes.
I promise that I will do what I can to keep consuming, and to keep encouraging consumption, and I hope that the many friends that have done so much to contribute to my enjoyment and passion over the years know that if I can help in any way – any way at all – they only need to contact me. Stand by me.