I have signed up to #winewichteln, which means I am mulling over the wine I should pack and send to someone I don’t know. #winewichteln is the winelover’s version of Secret Santa in Germany.
#winewichteln started seven years ago, when Paul Truszkowski, a Berlin based wine trader, blogger and publisher took inspiration from a group of coffee wonks that secret-santa’ed coffee beans across the globe. The basics are simple: put your address in, get an address out, send a gift to someone, get a gift from someone. #Winewichteln is, of course, all about wine. In the first year, about 450 ”wichtel” took part (wichtel btw are the Teutonic version of Santa’s elves). This year it has grown four times over with approx. 2,100 participants from over 15 countries throughout Europe. ‘With this many participants, it’s a challenge to organise’ says Paul. ‘Some people even opt to participate multiple times a season. We had to code an app to cope with the demand and to facilitate the distribution of addresses. Also, we had to find volunteers to deal with questions and issues.’
My draw, Peter, lives in Wachenheim, a prime wine village in the region of Pfalz. Further stalking reveals he is a winemaker. Now, what to send to a wine professional?
I take inspiration from the #winewichteln community on Facebook. Idling for 10 months of the year, the group is now bustling with excitement – virtually any of the 3,600 members is active with quite a few posting regrets about having missed the deadline for the draw. For those in, it seems that sending wines is as satisfying as receiving them. The activity feed is full of posts picturing boxes packed, decorated and ready for the mailman; but there are also the first pictures of wines received. Apparently, people send anything from 1 (mostly) to 6 (sometimes) bottles… from inexpensive to high end.
‘Send a wine that you would love to share in person, too – the price tag should be secondary. To calibrate things just a little we recommend starting from a value of 10 Euro a bottle, and it should be an estate wine from a quality vintner – de facto no bulk wine. The rest is up to you’ says Paul. ‘The idea, really, is to connect total strangers through the appreciation of wine. It works! There are plenty of stories where #winewichteln is the origin of lasting friendships, sometimes even business partnerships.’ Indeed, usually in January and February the #winewichteln feed on Facebook fills with suggestions for local, in-person wine tastings and meetings.
Now – (totally asking for a friend) – what if one just ducked out? Or just one sent some cheap wine, perhaps?
‘Of course, people are sometimes disappointed – it’s a bummer if you spend a lot of effort in putting together a nice gift, and you receive a bottle that you consider plonk in return. But then again it could be the sender’s favorite. Real disappointments are exceptions, and people do come back every year’ says Paul.
This round, Volker, a collector with a wine cellar the size of a living room, and participant from the very first year has drawn 24 addresses. He says it is the fun of the random connection with winelovers that keeps him returning… and to discover wines that other people enjoy. Same as most of the participants, he just shrugs off the risk of a disappointment – the group’s relaxed response here is #keepcalmandwichtelon.
Meanwhile, a courier delivers a parcel from Sabine in Karlsruhe: a half-bottle of 2017 Riesling Auslese from a well-known producer in Pfalz. A dessert wine, definitely not an everyday drink, with potential for another 5-10 years maturing. There is no note with the parcel – I would have enjoyed a personal message. But I smile at the idea the bottle might be a white elephant from last year. In any case, to me it’s a keeper.
It is about time I get on with my wichtel-duties. I feel like being generous: I pick a bottle of Sekt méthode traditionelle and a bottle of village level Riesling, both from great winemakers in Rheinhessen. Something I would open with pleasure on a Friday night with my wife.
There, simple as that. Merry Christmas, Peter from Wachenheim!