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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Tim Atkin

It was inevitable, given the scale of last week's horrific events in New York and Washington, that the frigid finger of death would touch the wine trade as it did so many others. The losses suffered by our industry may look small when set alongside the devastation visited on the financial sector, but that does not make them any easier to swallow. No one can say what the final death toll will be in America. At the moment, we know of two wine-related tragedies, although there may be more to come. The first was the death of the enormously likeable Christian Adams, export marketing director of the German Wine Institute, aboard UA flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco, the plane that crashed in Pittsburgh, apparently on its way to attack Camp David. The second was the loss of Windows on the World, one of New York's most famous restaurants, and its spectacular wine list. Hundreds of staff and breakfasting customers lost their lives on floors 106 and 107 of the World Trade Center. At the time of writing, we do not know if Kevin Zraly, the restaurant's figurehead and one of the wine trade's great educators, was among them. It is difficult to know how to respond to what happened on 11 September. Anger, disbelief, pity, horror and an enervating sense of sadness are just some of the emotions we have all been through in the last few days. At such a time, the wine trade can seem like a small, even irrelevant backwater. While we chattered about Malbec at the Argentinian tasting in Whitehall, extremists were killing thousands of innocent civilians. And yet Harpers believes that wine should be part of a civilised response to such ineffable acts of barbarism. Writing in The Guardian, Jay McInerney, author of "Bright Lights, Big City", admitted that he drank several bottles of 1985 Lynch-Bages with friends on that fateful Tuesday. He was certainly not alone in raiding his wine collection for something memorable. Usually, favourite bottles are reserved for more auspicious moments, but many of us must have sought solace in our cellars that night. As one online forum member put it: "I raise a glass in solemn tribute to the dead, the wounded, the families. I raise a glass in thanks to the workers and volunteers who risked their lives to help." And to the terrorists, "I raise a glass in substitute for a middle finger." He could also have raised a glass in defiance of religious fanaticism, as a tribute to humanity, as a hymn to life. Wine at its best is about landscapes, communities, history and tradition, but most of all it is about people. Drinking a good bottle of wine won't resurrect the dead, but in its own simple way it's the most appropriate epitaph there is.