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Malcolm Jolley: Five books wine nerds should read this year

Commentary

The internet has transformed wine writing and wine reading substantively.

If ever there was a subject matter that wanted to be organized by searchable categories, it’s the ever-expanding world of wine. The majority of wine writing is now for websites that are essentially databases storing information on the contents of this or that bottle, or the rules of production for a given appellation.

Like most other forms of knowledge, access to wine facts, figures, and product details has become fast and easy. The big picture, however, might be better appreciated at a more leisurely pace, between the covers of a real book, free of the distractions of the online world.

Here are five wine books I found both useful and entertaining. The first, I find essential to have on hand, and much more fun to browse than a browser. The second, I re-read every few years to recapture its spirit and compare my reading to the last and first ones. The next two offer an engaging, if disparate, look at the pre-pandemic fine wine scene in the late 2010s, and touch trends that are still very much in play. And the last is a deep dive into wine history that has given me great insight into how contemporary things came to be.

Oxford Companion to Wine

Jancis Robinson, OBE MW, may well be the most respected wine writer in the English-speaking world, and her praise for a wine or a winemaker will elevate its or their status in a way that few, if any, others can. A great deal of her reputation is built on her position, since its inception in the 1990s, as the editor of The Oxford Companion to Wine. This giant reference book has eight pages of listed contributors, all with impeccable credentials. If there is one essential book for the wine curious, this is it.

Rarely a week goes by where I don’t consult the OCW. Sometimes it’s just for fun, if I’ve bought a bottle of something I don’t know much about. Often it’s to check or refresh my knowledge on a subject I am writing about. 

Like all good, well-written and edited reference books, it can quickly become a rabbit hole. Looking up one subject will inevitably lead to checking another. My copy sits on my desk next to my laptop and from it protrudes, at any given time, at least half a dozen bookmarks.

The Fourth Edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine was published in 2015; Robinson has Tweeted that a Fifth Edition should be available in 2023, “if all goes according to plan.” Paid subscribers to jancisrobinson.com have access to a digital version of the OCW, as well as The World Atlas of Wine she co-authors with fellow OBE and esteemed wine journalist Hugh Johnson.

Adventures on the Wine Route

Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France, by Kermit Lynch, was first published in 1988 but reads uncannily fresh all these years later. Lynch is in the wine trade, and established his own Berkeley, California wine shop and import business in 1972, in the centre of what would become the good food and wine movement in North America. Adventures is a travelogue, and each chapter covers a wine region and his visits to the vineyards, cellars, and winemakers there. The ideas about making wine that Lynch discovers and celebrates were, then, considered old-fashioned and dying out. Now concepts like making wine that expresses terroir are mainstream and considered modern.

The real charm of Adventures on the Wine Route, though, is the quality of Lynch’s writing and talent for setting up a good story. Lynch is always the foil, the fish out of water, so his discovery becomes the readers’. Adventures is the book I go back to when I need to be reminded that the best writing about wine is really writing about people.

Cork Dork

Bianca Bosker is a 30-something journalist based in New York City who went full gonzo into the contemporary fine wine scene by studying for and writing the exams to be a Master Sommelier. Her account of the adventure is 2017’s Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste. Bosker explains why the sons and daughters of bankers and lawyers are increasingly opting to go into the wine trade. Much of the book is spent hanging out with the elites of New York’s wine scene, and Bosker’s Millennial version of a fish out of water in the wine trade bookends nicely with Lynch’s Boomer one, a generation later.

Godforsaken Grapes

Jason Lewis’ 2018 book, Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine, gets its title from a quote by the American über-critic Robert Parker, who suggested many lesser-known, or planted, varieties of wine grapes deserved their obscurity. Wilson does not agree, questions why 80 percent of the world’s wine is made from just 20 percent of known varieties, and seeks out original and interesting vineyards and the people who champion them. Wilson is very much in the zeitgeist of renewed interest in so-called indigenous grapes, pioneered by organizations like Slow Food in Italy. He also pays attention to hybrid grapes in North America: crosses of European and American varieties that can withstand a cold climate and are gaining traction among the hipster wine set.

French Wine: A History

Rod Phillips is a long-ago transplanted Kiwi who is a professor of French history at Carleton University. His French Wine: A History (2016) is a tour-de-force and a fascinating look at the place of wine in French culture. As a professional historian, fluent in French, Phillips has combed the archives of France’s wine regions, which he knows inside and out from his side gig as a wine journalist. His books are as funny as they are informative, as he brings a sardonic Anglosphere view of Gallic efforts to promote its original consumer product and export.

Labour Market Insights: High absence rates, working from home and other labour market trends in Ontario

Commentary

It’s no surprise that COVID-19 continues to have an ongoing influence on employment trends in Ontario. Throughout the past 22 months, employment has ebbed and flowed as all sectors have been impacted by the public health measures put into place by the province.

As readers may know, between January 5 and January 31, Ontario moved backwards to Step Two of its Roadmap to Reopen plan. This involved the reimposition of public health measures including reduced social gatherings, encouraged remote work, closed indoor dining and gyms, and reduced capacity to 50 percent for retail and various other businesses. It also resulted in students were learning virtually until January 17.

As we will see from the following data, courtesy of Workforce WindsorEssex’s unique data source which covers job postings from across the province (excluding the City of Toronto and the far north-eastern region), these restrictions certainly impacted some sectors more than others. The employment data bears out these differentiated impacts.

The 10 most in-demand occupations in January 2022 compared to the previous month were as follows:

Over the month of January, the top-10 in-demand occupations constituted over one-quarter of all job postings (46,528 job postings or 28.8 percent) in the covered regions. The number of active job postings decreased by 1,321 in January 2022 relative to December 2021 from total postings of 162,852 to 161,531. This represents a month-over-month decrease of 0.8 percent in terms of active job postings.

Looking at Statistics Canada’s labour numbers for the whole of Ontario, the province lost about 50,000 jobs – from 7,601,700 in December 2021 to 7,551,000 in January – which represented a 0.7 percent reduction in total employment. Yet these employment levels are still up 5.5 percent compared to January 2021 and 1.5 percent compared to January 2020.

Two occupation groups – (1) Food Counter Attendants, Kitchen Helpers and Related Support Occupations and (2) Cooks fell in demand for the third straight month (down 26 percent and 15.7 percent, respectively, in January relative to December). This is to be somewhat expected. The public health measures in place in January were challenging for restaurants and bars, which were closed to indoor dining and had to rely on delivery and takeout options as demand for outdoor dining dipped due to cold temperatures.

In fact, according to Statistics Canada, employment in Accommodation and Food Services decreased 7.2 percent province-wide in January as compared to December with 361,700 employed in the sector in January and 389,900 in December. This is up 11.3 percent from 324,900 compared to January 2021, but still more than 19 percent below employment levels in January 2020.

Job postings for Other Customer and Information Service Representatives were up 3.7 percent in January as compared to December. Other Customer and Information Service Representatives includes customer and information services representatives who answer enquiries and provide information regarding an establishment’s goods, services, and policies and who provide customer services such as receiving payments and processing requests for services. They are employed by retail establishments, contact centres, insurance, telecommunications, and utility companies and other organizations throughout the private and public sectors. As this work is typically performed in an office environment, it is likely that the majority working in this occupation were engaged in remote work during the month of January.

Those employed in Transportation and Warehousing in Ontario increased 0.5 percent province-wide with 386,000 employed in January compared to 384,200 in December, according to Statistics Canada. This is also up 10.2 percent from 350,200 in January 2021, but still below pre-pandemic levels of 396,700 (or 2.7 percent) in January 2020.

This sector includes organizations involved in transporting passengers and goods, warehousing and storing goods, and providing services to these establishments. The modes of transportation are road (such as trucking, transit, and ground passenger), rail, water, air, and pipeline. Important to note is that the Transportation and Warehousing sector also includes national post offices and courier establishments and in fact Canada Post was 11th on list of top-10 companies hiring in January with 862 active job postings. We also saw employers increase the number of job postings for Transport Truck Drivers in January by 14.7 percent over December.

The top-10 companies hiring in January 2022 compared to the previous month were as follows:

We can also see the impacts of the public health measures here. McDonald’s Restaurants, which ranked second on the list in December, did not make the top-10 in large part because it typically hires (1) Food Counter Assistants, Kitchen Helpers and Related Support Occupations and (2) Cooks—both of which saw declines in job postings.

We do see places like Lowe’s Canada, The Home Depot Canada, Walmart Canada, and others that would hire Retail Salespersons prominent on the list. Other companies, like TD Canada Trust, Scotiabank Canada, and Rogers Communications Canada Inc. would account for the increase in postings of Other Customer and Information Service Representatives.

With the restrictions in place throughout January now somewhat relaxed and further restrictions slated to ease on February 21, we may see increased numbers for job postings next months as businesses across the province grapple with the changing employment landscape.

For more information about Workforce WindsorEssex and their valuable LMI, please visit workforcewindsoressex.com.