Hélène Barre (35 years old) lost her sense of smell – aka anosmia – after contracting Covid-19 in November 2020.
Her recovery from the illness was slow, and was further hampered when the condition didn’t go away. Peanuts smell like shrimp, bacon smells like butter, and rice smells like Nutella chocolate jam. Hallucinations of the scent of something burning can sometimes haunt her for hours.
Losing the sense of smell to ordinary people is already bad. But for a wine expert like Barre, it doesn’t stop at the word “bad” anymore. Her career, her life, her passion, all depend on her sense of smell. And she no longer has it.
Hélène Barre said to a wine expert, losing your sense of smell is like a disaster
Lost everything for a “mild” symptom
“It (the nose) is a tool to work with, a way for us to identify problems in the product,” – Barre said. She is currently working in a wine business in Limoux (France). “We use it to identify, analyze and evaluate alcohol.”
“It’s like taking a mason’s trowel,” – she said boredly. “It’s frustratingly exhausting.”
Health authorities have confirmed that the loss of smell is one of the signs of Covid-19 – at least in the millions of cases around the world, accompanied by the possibility of loss of taste. However, the condition is often considered a mild symptom, causing only a minor nuisance compared to more severe symptoms such as pneumonia or death.
But for people like Barre, their nose is extremely important, especially when they work in France – a place famous for its food, wine and perfumes. Wine researchers, wine testers, perfumers… all have had to hone their sense of scent for many years, to be able to recognize the change of the most subtle notes in a perfume bottle. , or analyze and evaluate the smell of a bottle of Bordeaux when it is old enough.
Then Covid-19 stripped them of their most powerful tool. Many people fear that their career is here to be over. Even for many in the industry, loss of smell is a taboo subject.
Barre shared, the director and colleagues understood and sympathized with her. But even when the grape harvest season began, she still could not recover her sense of smell and was forced to rely on other people’s noses to judge the quality of the finished wine.
“I keep asking myself one thing stressingly: ‘If there’s no recovery, what would I do?'” Barre mused. “I still don’t have an answer.”
Although the incidence is the same, the impact of Covid-19 on the wine industry goes in a different direction
A survey conducted by the Oenologues de France (the association of wine professionals in France) at the end of 2020 showed that the rate of infection in this industry is no different from the general public. However, the level of influence is different, with up to 40% admitting that the loss of smell and taste has had a strong impact on their work.
Sophie Pallas, the association’s chief executive officer, said many wine professionals who lost their sense of smell wouldn’t even admit it, for fear it would “affect their professional image.” Even those who have recovered are hesitant to speak out.
“We don’t have any precise measuring tools,” – Pallas said, noting that the sense of smell will return soon but it is difficult to reach optimal capacity in the short term. “It’s really complicated to gauge how resilient you are.”
“Isn’t it like a pianist with a finger cut off?”
That is the comment of Calice Becker, a French perfumer who has created world-famous scents such as Dior’s J’adore, and is now the teaching director of the Swiss perfume brand Givaudan. .
Fears that Covid could ruin a career are also common in perfumery – an extremely competitive industry. Professionals have to work for months, even years, trying each ingredient to find the right scent for their products.
It’s not just Covid-19 that makes people lose their sense of smell. There are many other conditions that can cause similar, albeit rare, conditions. It’s just that for perfumers, Covid-19 has made that rarity more real than ever.
According to Becker, top experts can still create new perfume formulas even if they lose their sense of smell, because their forging experience over the years has helped them know that scents when mixed together will react like this. how. It’s like how Beethoven composed music towards the end of his life, when he was completely deaf. You will still need to rely on others to determine that things are on the right track.
Similar to the bartender profession, people with good instincts about wine and food will still be fine. However, Philippe Faure-Brac, president of the French wine industry association, said the loss of smell would make it more difficult for them to work with chefs, or worse, not detect the presence of impurities, such as the smell of cork. .
“We’re professionals, we need to judge everything by professional standards,” – grandfather Faure-Brac commented. He himself also lost his sense of smell due to Covid in 2020.
Mathilde Ollivier, a wine expert, lost his sense of smell after contracting Covid-19
And professionals may also suffer prejudices after contracting Covid-19. Mathilde Ollivier, a wine expert in the Loire Valley, suddenly realized one day that she couldn’t smell her shampoo. She tried everything in the house and couldn’t smell anything. Undeterred, Ollivier spent several weeks practicing and waiting until her sense of smell had recovered well enough to return to work, but her colleagues thought otherwise. One person found it difficult to understand because she reported this “embarrassing” symptom to a client. Others thought she made a mistake by releasing it to the media.
As for Ollivier, she pursues the concept of needing to be transparent with customers to build trust. “We need to talk about it without hesitation, to break the taboo.”
Ollivier comes from a family of winemakers. From a young age, she was very familiar with the smell of alcohol in every family meal. “But taking over a vineyard without being able to smell a thing is unthinkable,“- Ollivier used to think so. “When what you’re doing is also your passion, it’s hard to imagine what else you can do.”
Source: NY Times