An ever-inclusive circle

Liz Sagues looks back on the birth of the Let’s Talk About… series of Circle webinars, a ray of vinous light in otherwise trying times, which have not only served to be keep members informed, but have also brought them together. She, as one of the organisers, also reveals that these wonderful web sessions will continue in 2021 and will be held twice monthly.

Good can come out of bad: the coronavirus pandemic has made the Circle of Wine Writers far more inclusive for its worldwide membership. The idea of the weekly Let’s Talk About… Zoom webinars came out of a committee discussion very early in the first UK lockdown – and Circle chairman Colin Hampden-White presented the first of them, on Scotch: Region v. Style, on 3rd April.

From then on, the webinars have run very nearly every Friday, with the last of the year scheduled for 10th December – a total of 34 sessions.

Just as the Circle membership stretches across continents, so too have the webinars. We’ve been to both South Africa and the United States three times, to Chile and Spain twice, to Switzerland, Spain, China, Bulgaria, Australia, Argentina, Moldova, three different regions in Italy and six in France.

Presenters have led us through tradition and innovation in classic wines, shown how to make the ultimate Chimichurri sauce to go with steak and Malbec, described impressive sustainability initiatives, explained the thinking behind an iconic wine brand, shown how vine varieties can find a happy new home in a different continent, and much, much more…

Sessions have stretched beyond specific wine places and winemakers. We’ve returned to whisky and even ventured into likening cider to wine. Two Circle members gave a valuable introduction to self-publishing. There was discussion of politics in wine, of the effect of Covid-19 on the UK wine trade and of global sales trends post lockdown. The best-attended session, led by two Circle members with guest speakers from three continents, discussed the post-pandemic future of wine tourism.

And there have been unintentionally entertaining moments: one presenter suddenly ending up with his feet in the air as he slipped during a vineyard tour shared from his phone (fortunately, he and his smile emerged unscathed), others disappearing and emerging like ghosts through virtual backgrounds, behind-the-scenes panic when the technology went wrong.

The numbers of members, Friends and guests attending each session have fluctuated quite a lot. The average figure is just shy of 25, pretty good when you look at figures for some of the trade Zoom sessions. Apart from the future of wine tourism and wine and politics (72 and 44 attendees respectively), others that were particularly popular included Californian Cabernet – regions and blends (3rd December), Chinon organic grower Jêrome Billard’s vineyard tour (22nd May), Jane Anson previewing her important new book on Bordeaux (24th April) and Caroline Gilby MW revealing undiscovered Moldova (13th November).

Importantly, there have been members regularly attending from South Africa, India, the east coast of the States, Canada and many countries in Europe. We know that the Friday 2pm GMT timing (modified on a few occasions) is difficult for Australasia and the US west coast, but it’s impossible to find a time to suit everyone.

Members have instigated a number of the sessions, for which we are very grateful, and a big thank-you is due to Circle Friends, who contributed excellent ideas and made them happen. The presenters themselves have been a pleasure to work with, cheerfully joining in preview sessions to check technology and answering the many questions put to them during the webinars. We’ve been invited to some splendid locations once everyone is free to travel again!

Organising a weekly schedule hasn’t always been easy – at times, Andrea and I have felt particularly well suited to new careers as circus jugglers. But that’s not the reason why there will be changes in 2021. The Let’s talk about… sessions will move to twice a month (first and third Fridays – circle those dates on your new calendars now, with the first one 15th January) because the committee feels there are a lot of other virtual attractions vying for members’ time. Also, we hope that, slowly, there will be a return to more normal face-to-face tastings and seminars. Alongside Let’s talk about…, we’re planning occasional tasting webinars, with samples – though these may have to be restricted to UK members due to logistical issues in delivering wine worldwide.

Moreover, given the success of the Circle’s virtual seasonal party, an annual online social event may very well become a regular feature, whether or not there are restrictions on meeting and travelling. After all, encouraging mutual support and friendship is one essential reason for the Circle’s existence.


Old vines with Rosa Kruger


The future of wine tourism


Savoie and the French Alps by Wink Lorch


The wines of Poggio Tesoro with Marilisa Allegrini
Covid-19 and the UK wine business with David Cartwright
Cabernet Franc and Chenin with Jérôme Billard of Domaine de la Noblaie
Cider is wine with Alistair Morrel
Terroir in Bordeaux with Jane Anson
In search of the perfect bubble Pieter Ferreira
Philip Cox – Emerging global sales trends, post lockdown
Wine and politics with Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac
English Still Wines with Sam Linter of Bolney Wine Estate
Where whisky’s flavour comes from with Billy Abbott
Winemaking in the Aconcagua Valley with Francisco Baettig
Changing of the guard for Swiss wines with Laura Paccot, of Domaine La Colombe
Rioja Tradition, Modern Innovation with Victor Urrutia CEO of CVNE
Self-Publishing with Stephen Quinn and Wink Lorch
Mountain Wines with Sebastián Zuccardi
Sustainability & Building Resilience in the Wine Industry with Jackson Family Wines
Sangiovese in Montalcino with Jgor Marini from Banfi
Carmenere – Costa v Andes with TerraNoble
Meat your Malbec with Gabriel Bloise, Chakana and Fernando Trocca
Sustainable Sicily with Stefano Girelli
Rueda – Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc with Sara Bañuelos
‘The Mentors’, the making of a South African icon with Izele Van Blerk
Understanding Terrasses du Larzac with Gavin Crisfield
Modern Bulgarian Wine with Caroline Gilby MW
Undiscovered Moldova with Caroline Gilby MW
Australia’s alternative varieties with Kim Chalmers
St Chinian – the appellation and its geology
California CAB: Cabernet, AVAs and Blends