MASKS will be REQUIRED today at Houston’s first in-person wine trade tasting since the pandemic began.

A photo from the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Taste of Italy Houston trade show in 2018 (image via the IACC Facebook.

When the Miami-based event planning company I.E.E.M. first began discussing today’s Maremma Consortium trade tasting in Houston with the Italy-America of Chamber of Commerce, one thing was clear to everyone involved. This gathering would be Houston’s first in-person wine trade tasting in over a year, everyone on that first Zoom call acknowledged, and all parties — including attendees and staff — would need to make safety protocols a key element in the event.

When roughly 30 Houston wine professionals meet later this morning at a once popular events space, masks will be required (except when tasting) and each taster will be seated at their own table to ensure social distancing of a minimum of six feet.

It’s important to underline the fact that masks and social distancing will be mandatory: even though our state’s rollback of the mask mandate doesn’t officially take place until Wednesday of this week, many Houstonians — at least the barflies — shed their masks and began ignoring safety measures this weekend.

Once the seminar and guided tasting portion of the event have been completed, the walk-around tasting of roughly 40 wines will be divided into four tasting stations, each with a professional sommelier. Tasters will be assigned a color (using a poker chip) and then will be asked to observe social distance while tasting with their group at their assigned station. They will then be asked to follow their group to the next station. The systems is intended to avoid logjams at each station and ensure social distancing.

I’ll be the featured speaker and moderator of today’s tasting. And I’m also one of the organizers through my affiliation with the chamber. It’s not without some trepidation, tempered by hope and faith in human nature, that I’ll pull the cork on that first bottle of wine this morning. But the overwhelming response in the run-up to the gathering has been wonderfully positive and heartwarming. People want to get out and taste, we learned to our surprise when we first announced the date. And they’re ready to do what it takes to make it safe.

There’s no doubt in my mind that it will be a momentous occasion for all concerned.

Today, we will also spend a moment in silence remembering our colleague, beloved sommelier Thomas Moësse who died unexpectedly last month.

We will also take a moment to observe International Women’s Day, which is today.

And in case you hadn’t already seen it, the IACC is hosting its second-annual Taste of Italy Houston Virtual Trade Fair next week and throughout the month. It’s a great model for tasting safely: the food samples and wines are delivered directly to the taster’s home or office and then the IACC coordinates virtual meetings between trade members and the producers.

Please visit this link for information on who’s presenting and how to sign up.

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