5 Trends For The Future Of Wine, From Master Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier
When a prominent industry figure makes a major professional shift, it tends to attract attention.
That was very much the case when Pascaline Lepeltier, Master Sommelier, who for ten years built what is arguably the country's finest list of natural wines at Rouge Tomate restaurant in New York. Earlier this year she voluntarily stepped away from the role that brought her success and acclaim.
My post earlier this week explored that decision, from its organic evolution and her business partner's support, to the difficulties of keeping perspective in the midst of 15-hour days within the same microcosm of a work environment, to the importance of education and the time it takes to train staff in sourcing products sustainably.***
A consistent theme throughout her transition has been eating better in general, focusing on higher quality products and nutrition. "What I want to explore more is this idea that there is a future and another way for drinking," Lepeltier said, "based on an even more committed sustainable operation at the bigger scale than a selection of organic wine."
It isn't just her own future that Lepeltier is thinking about, or even just the future of wine. It's the future of the hospitality industry as a whole, including food, beverage, service, and finding balance in a notoriously unbalanced profession.
Here are five insights from Lepeltier, on what will shape the future of the industry.
Farming: Activism and Employment
For Lepeltier, it's fundamentally important to support the complete health of agriculture, which means both the environment and the people who work on the farms. That includes women, who "should continue to play an important part. They should get access to higher responsibilities and jobs, in order to change a little bit what’s happening in the [agriculture and restaurant] industries," she said.
Sustainable Marketing, Including Transparent Ingredient Lists
There is a disconnect between a certain price of production and the final price for the guest or the consumer, Lepeltier said. "I see some wineries and how they work and how committed they are, and how very little they’re getting for their wine. You see that there is an issue there. How can we really market what is really done in the vineyard? Where can it make sense for wineries to actually be paid for this kind of work?" Transparency about how the decisions are made is critical, so that we all know why we pay more, and to know that the money goes as much as possible directly to the producer and not the middle man. "It's time to think about a more sustainable change and more sustainable marketing," she said. "It’s complicated but it has to happen. People are not stupid. Give them the education and they can make the decision themselves. More explanation, more education, more critical thinking."
Sustainable Working Conditions within Restaurants
"Working in a restaurant, you see you can’t do anything by yourself," Lepeltier said, but it isn't sustainable to "ask someone to work 50 hours a week for such low pay that they can’t pay for health insurance. I believe there is an alternative." But restaurateurs like Danny Meyer have set an extraordinary example, she said. "I want to be part of that movement. The pure aesthetic of my job is something extraordinary selfish, and it won’t be able to last. How can we reorganize things? It won’t be easy, but it’s probably the path of tomorrow to guarantee the future for everybody. It can work. I think it’s important as a citizen and as a worker to be part of that."
Take Back Time
"We are all so absorbed by this frantic rhythm that’s imposed on us, that isn’t good for anybody," Lepeltier said. "How can we take back the time? What I love about wine, what I'm so attracted to, is that you have to be patient. You have to work with the season, which is something we’re so disconnected from now. I’m looking for that."
Reassess the Cult of Performance
Don't just reassess it, actually. Recognize that the cult of performance isn't a healthy thing.
"I don’t need to be tied by my job, and I’m totally fine," Lepeltier said. "It's great to be able to have an idea and not fear expressing it, and I’m very lucky to be able to feel that way. It took a lot of time to get the confidence to do it [but now] I’m not scared to say I need the time, because I’m not performing the way you expect me to perform."
Thank you note
*** I owe my thanks to several people for making this feature, and the conversation with Lepeltier, possible. Alice Feiring, author (with Lepeltier) of The Dirty Guide to Wine, introduced me to Lepeltier. Tina Morey moderated the initial conversation with Lepeltier via an online forum called Ataraxia: Yoga and Meditation for Women in Wine. Julia Coney offered her technical assistance in recording the conversation. And fellow Forbes contributor Lauren Mowery created the Ataraxia forum in the first place, whose members generated many of the questions for this interview. I am grateful to you all.