So Wilson has finally taken complete control of what will soon be the former Moodie Davitt HQ.
‘Wilson’ is, as readers of my earlier Blog will know, a reference to the true-life film Castaway, in which FedEx executive, Chuck Nolan, played by Tom Hanks, gets stranded on a desert island after his plane crashes in the South Pacific. To help him remain sane and feel less isolated, Nolan paints a face on a volleyball that he nicknames Wilson and begins talking to.
In my case, Wilson is a signed All Blacks rugby ball (a gift from Lagardère Travel Retail General Manager New Zealand Grzegorz Cuber during my late 2019 visit to my homeland). On Sunday 22 March, my last day in the office before our whole operation went fully remote due to COVID-19, I left Wilson on my office chair, surrounded by all my papers, personal belongings and office equipment and left him in temporary command.
Now only Wilson is left. Last weekend I cleared out the office altogether, prior to its shutdown at the end of August. As mentioned, I am on the move to Hong Kong in coming days (don’t worry, I am having Wilson collected rather than abandoned), from where I will steer the ship along with Dermot Davitt in the Galway Bureau. Just as we were about to leave the office for the final time, my wife spotted something metal by the side of my desk. It was the plaque that used to adorn our former building (which we still own) when we were known as simply The Moodie Report. A nostalgic reminder of our 18-year journey.
This pandemic weighs heavily on everyone. Most notably, of course, those who have lost loved ones, while countless others have lost jobs. Every day now LinkedIn is full of messages from talented, loyal, hard-working people in travel retail who have become unemployed through no fault of their own. The pandemic and the Darwinian fight for survival by companies of all sizes has been the culprit. We have managed to place a few people in jobs through our Travel Retail Talent Retention Scheme, but I emphasise a few. It sucks.
The past few surreal months of lockdown have, however, brought plenty of enriching moments. I’ve engaged with so many good people through the wonders of Zoom and Microsoft Teams; got to know some outstanding souls through our In Crisis – Travel Retail Voices podcast series; and (here’s the real upside), been able to sample some amazing wines & spirits at home courtesy of multiple virtual tastings and product launches that have had to be conducted remotely.
I’ve even created my own rotating top shelf at home (pity I can’t fit all these beauties into my suitcase, they will have to wait for my next trip back) comprising my favourites or those that I simply want to try next. What a great opportunity to remind myself of the amazing variety of products our channel sells.
I really hope that the crisis will not crush the life out of smaller brands as bigger retailers seek to simplify their operations and maximise stock turn and cash flow, but many believe this is a serious danger. The consumer needs diversity as well as household names and hopefully as the recovery gathers pace – and ultimately a vaccine is found – the small too will survive.
This week, courtesy of Christoph Henkel at Miami-based distributor Innotri, I got the chance to sample the first XO rum to be exported from El Salvador. It’s called Cihuatán Xaman, and it represents the artisan craft work of female master blender Gabriela Ayala. It’s accompanied by a limited-edition Cihuatán Sahumerio, also new for 2020.
There’s a great story behind these two rums. Described as the “ultimate ode” to the Cihuatán valley’s Mayan heritage, the XO takes its name from Xaman, god of the North Star and protector of the valley in local mythology.
Cihuatán Sahumerio, celebrates fire, regarded by the Maya people as a benevolent and transformative force. Chantico, the goddess of fire and love, who, according to mythology liked to take the shape of an eagle or snake, is featured on every numbered bottle.
What about the rums? Let me declare my bias right from the outset. I consider rum to be the most under-rated spirit on the planet, at its best every bit as good as, say, a fine whisk(e)y or Cognac. I first fell in love with the spirit courtesy of Ron Zacapa, long before its Diageo days (the multi-national giant has done an outstanding job in building the brand globally since) and I have loved the sense of provenance that many of its peers bring as well as the rich viscosity of their blends.
Both the Cihuatán rums, featuring standout presentations, are excellent. The Sahumerio lives up to its tagline of fire and love with its rich, honeyed texture; deep, layered flavours; and long, sweetish but not cloying finish. I nosed it alongside an old (1972) vintage Armagnac and it was interesting to pick up similar notes of dried fruit and spice. Gorgeous.
The XO has a lovely orange/amber hue, a more understated, more complex nose and a simply wonderful rich flavour profile. If you ever wonder what wine critics are on about when they talk about ‘mouth feel’ try this rum and you’ll know. An ode not just to the Cihuatán valley’s Mayan heritage but to the joy of great rum.
The first cases have left the distillery in El Salvador and are currently shipping to Europe and US for distribution in domestic and travel retail markets. Let’s hope the latter begin to flourish soon and great products such as this get the airing they deserve.