What would you do if the entire economic backbone that supports your business looked like it could collapse? Some might throw in the towel, but not Florian Schuhmann-Irshik (Quantum winery). A young winemaker based in Austria’s Weinviertel, Schuhmann watched as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded around him, and then decided to act. He came up with a simple, de-centralised concept that allows winemakers to support the ecosystem that they depend on to sell their output.
Drinking-Against-Sinking is in fact so simple that I thought I must have missed something at first. But then I listened into a video conference held by Florian and half-a dozen fellow winemakers last Saturday. Not only was the strength of the community impressive, the penny also dropped. Here’s how the scheme works in a nutshell:
- Winemakers download the Drinking-Against-Sinking label from the website, and then label/bottle one or more wines (the quantity is up to each winery) with it.
- The wines are sold for a minimum price of €20 per bottle, either direct to customers (where the winery does this) or via importers/distributors in other countries.
- Most, or all of the money from the sale remains with the reseller (who can keep it) or is donated by the winery to restaurants, retailers or anyone else in the sector who needs it.
- The only requirement for wineries who want to join is that they are either making natural wine, or at the very least farming organically.
- All wineries are requested to use the official label, and to respect the minimum pricing.
Effectively therefore, wineries donate their wine for free (or close to it – Maria Koppitsch mentions that they have to charge a nominal Euro per bottle, otherwise the bottles can’t be processed by customs) and then ensure that the funds raised go to those who need it most. Koppitsch also adds that in most cases, wineries are shipping the wines for free as well.
The scheme is completely flexible and decentralised – each participating winery decides exactly how they want to utilise it.
Some might be surprised to hear that small artisan wineries are coming to the support of import and retail (rather than the other way around). Yet as Schuhmann explained during the video conference “As winemakers we’re actually OK. We have our land, we have wine in the cellar. If we need to go to the bank and get a loan, we can do so. But it’s not the same for many of our importers and distributors. They’ve got nothing without our wine.”
He’s also aware that the retail and hospitality sectors need to get through the crisis, otherwise wineries like his own could also collapse: “If all these businesses go under, we have nowhere to sell our wine. We have to make sure they survive!”
His colleague Maria Koppitsch (one half of Weingut Koppitsch in nearby Burgenland) paints the same stark picture: “There is no Koppitsch without the resellers, that’s why we need to make this work.”
Schuhmann first realised there was a problem when Live Wine (a natural wine fair) in Milan was cancelled at the end of February. Then the virus began to penetrate Austria, as he recalls: “It was something unreal, very strange. It was an incredible agony. Everyone knew this will hit the economy.”
Then around 11th March, things got serious: “I had a lot of phone calls in this week. I realised it will hit me hard and it will hit my business hard. I had resellers saying let’s wait three months until we do the first shipment. I realised no shipping is going to happen apart from Japan!”
This was the point when Schuhmann realised he had to mobilise. After coming up with the Drinking-Against-Sinking concept, he immediately phoned Maria Koppitsch as a reality check: “If she liked the idea, then I knew it could work” he says. Milan Nestarec, a fellow natural winemaker in Czechia also came on board immediately. Maria Koppitsch notes that “within three days of Nestarec joining, we had 24 wineries in Czech”. Schuhmann pressed family members into service, and within days had a logo and and a website up and running.
At the time of writing (two weeks after the scheme’s genesis), around 100 wineries from 13 different countries (mostly Europe, but also Argentina) have registered to participate. The site has just been amended to also list those importers and retailers who have Drinking-Against-Sinking bottles. The first registered reseller is Yanflorijn wines in Amsterdam, who have already taken delivery of Quantum’s first bottling for the scheme – a light 2018 Portugeiser.
Co-owner Yannick Slagter is enthusiastic about the scheme: “It’s wonderful to see the community come together in support of each other!” he says. Slagter, like most importers, has lost the major proportion of his business, dealing with restaurants and bars, and is now reliant on private customers – who he says are being supportive.
Slagter touches on an important point about community: “It’s never just about business, but it’s always also about friendship and about like-minded people finding each other in – in our case – organic, natural wine.” His thoughts are echoed by Maria Koppitsch, who notes that as most natural winemakers are small, family-operated business, their relationships with their resellers are frequently more like friendship than anything else.
Everyone involved is aware that the scheme needs many more participants if it’s to make any significant impact: “One winemaker can’t make a difference, but 200 can” says Koppitsch. Quantum has already distributed around 240 bottles of their Portugieser, and Schuhmann says he is about to bottle another 300 of Quantum Weiss. Koppitsch plans to donate a similar quantity to the scheme, starting with a Rosenmuskateller Pet Nat, and moving onto “our best barrel of St. Laurent carbonic”.
If each of the wineries currently involved works with similar quantities, the scheme would generate around a million euros of revenue. It’s a drop in the ocean perhaps, yet it feels significant in showing that this is a community that cares deeply about all the links in the chain.
I’ve just taken delivery of a case of Quantum’s DAS Portugieser. I’ll be uncorking a bottle tonight, knowing that I may not have solved the problem, but at least I put my shoulder to the wheel. Cheers.
What you can do
If you’re a winery, join the scheme today and help it grow
If you’re an importer or retailer who works with one of the producers, ensure you receive some of the specially labelled bottles and sell them.
If you’re a wine lover, contact your local wine retailer/shop/importer to see if they’re getting a shipment of DAS wines that you can buy.
You can also buy from any of the wineries direct (contact details are on the DAS website), however this is probably only a good solution if you live in the same country as the winery in question.
Use the hashtag #drinkingagainstsinking on your social media channels and make sure the world knows about this initiative.