Swirl Wine Group is the fruit of collaboration between a small, dedicated band of freelancers who we are greatly missing in lockdown. Call it an excuse to catch up – but we wanted to shine a light on the little team who’re keeping Swirl moving in these straitened circumstances.
We caught up with our founder Sarah Abbott MW, who’s busy cooking her way through lockdown to help her local community.
Sum up your lockdown in five words
Zooming, gardening, cooking, reading, learning (Georgian)
Apart from the obvious, what’s been the biggest change for you work-wise during lockdown?
Staying put! Last year I was away for nearly 60 days. And the weird thing is that, when I totted it up, it shocked me. That’s 2 months of the year away from home. And that pace of travel had come to feel normal to me. I love travel, and I love my work. And I know how lucky I am to experience the world through wine. And to have such a patient and supportive family. But I was too busy to notice how tired I was, and how absent I was. My family really, really love having me at home. And not just because of the improvement in catering. And I really, really love being here, and participating in all the (currently virtual!) family and community occasions. I know it’s strange and a bit silly that I hadn’t clocked just how much I was giving up. So, I have reset, gently. With consideration and thoughtfulness, it is not only possible but sometimes better to connect virtually. And it’s right that I give others coming up through the industry and my own small business the opportunity to take up trips. Even if the world were clicked back to normality tomorrow, I would not return to my old travel ways. I’ve learned to take care of myself, as well as business.
COVID-19 has obviously had a massive impact on both the on- and off-trade drinks industries, but Swirl has worked hard to keep our brand personality and tone intact. What other drinks brands/ companies do you think have nailed it?
67 Pall Mall, the members’ club for winelovers in St James. This is essentially a hospitality business centered on real-life wine events. Within days of their physical closure, their events team had created a diverse program of virtual wine presentations with great speakers. And then they added sample wines into the mix. I know from our trade Virtual Tastings what an undertaking it is to get wines to the right people at the right time, and the 67 team not only got on top of the logistics, but also executed with flair and grace. They teleported the spirit and service of the club into people’s homes. And I really like that they have created something new in the process of that problem solving, and now offer virtual memberships. From adversity comes creation, and this is a great example.
The launch of Swirl in the Cloud has allowed us to keep our community (and our clients’) engaged when we can’t host them in real life? What are you doing to connect with your community?
We have a weekly Pop Quiz (yes, on Zoom). I actually love shopping and cooking, so am gladly doing that for older relatives and neighbours who are in the vulnerable group. Our immediate neighbour has a fine vegetable patch, and he passes produce over the fence and I cook it and pass the results back to him. His spring rhubarb was a highlight of April. My husband is an NHS volunteer, and that system works really well. He gets alerts on his mobile and goes to pick up medication and shopping for those who need it. My son is schooling from home and the WhatsApp group of (for some reason mainly) mums trying not to LOSE IT is always pinging.
Everyone is super focussed on what they’ll do when lockdown is fully lifted. But what will you miss when ‘real life’ resumes?
I’m aware that I am very fortunate. I have lost nothing beyond the freedom that I was taking for granted. Everything that I could view as a ‘gain’ from lockdown has always been here for me. It was just waiting for me to notice it. And I don’t think I’ll stop noticing, now. I will try not to.
But of course, we also what to know the first thing you’ll do when lockdown ends!
Cuddle my sister – we miss each other so much. I’m going to hot foot it over to her garden with a nice bottle of fine sparkling (which she loves) and jump into her hot tub. And go swimming. I’ve really missed swimming.
Where do you check in for your essential content?
Ian Dunt’s Twitter, but trenchant, sweary, hilarious takes on politics and terrible recipes. I’m very interested in current affairs and follow BBC, Sky, Channel 4 on TV, online and via their correspondent’s twitter feeds. I also follow the US news sites and correspondents. For all their flaws and struggles, independent media are still vitally important and valuable. This “anti MSM” sentiment is dangerous, and facile, and I happily subscribe to several newspapers and journals. I also subscribe to and read the website of the London Review of Books, for a distillation of great non-fiction writing. And I love the laconically hilarious Twitter feed of their London bookshop (which is, by the way, an amazing bookshop in Covent Garden, for when we can visit bookshops again). For soul-feeding I highly recommend Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings.
What does your daily drinks routine look like?
I realise I may be swimming against the tide, but I’ve reduced my alcohol consumption during lockdown. While my personal circumstances are not in the least perilous, I can’t quite shake a feeling of low, simmering anxiety and (at times) anger, and so I’ve been very deliberate about how and when I drink. I have a glass or two of wines that interest or intrigue me at the weekend and make full use of my Coravin. And I’ve surprised myself by keeping really quite fit. I’ve been stricter with my yoga, meditation and (very little short, pathetic) jogs daily than I was before. Somehow I’ve managed to lose weight, despite the daily cooking for the 5,000.