Special commentary by guest reviewer Beatrice Russo
Italian Wine Guy has asked me to write a column while he takes time off to go to one of his favorite wine islands. (If you've been reading this blog, you might know where that is.) He will return next year. - B.R.
On his way out the door, Italian Wine Guy, said, “Talk about the new releases, maybe, the 2002’s that we will be dealing with. Point out the glut of wine, the Euro, the lack of coherence among the Italian producers, their slowness in responding to the changes in the economy, their unwillingness to adjust to reality.” Yes, yes. As I waved goodbye to him and to 2006, I didn’t need him to tell me what to talk about. It just so happens that’s what I was going to talk about anyway, but from my perspective.
I too, wish my Italian colleagues would come here and work, like I have, for a time. Maybe not in New York. Perhaps in Seattle or Cincinnati, Tucson or Hammondsport. A place where the economy is affected by the political.
Right now, a hotel room in Rome that costs €150 a night will cost the tourist close to $200. Compare that to 5 years ago when that same room was closer to €120 a night, which was then $100. That is a real difference.
It’s very hard to find Italian shoes in the stores anymore, and those shoes, when I can find them, cost me hundreds of dollars. I’m not wealthy like Berlusconi and Madonna. Most Italians aren’t either.
When the 2002 Brunello and Barolo wines are released in 2007, how much are they going to cost? Five years ago I went into a wine bar and could get a good glass of 1997 Brunello for $17. Now, what will you send us from Italy?
We were head-storming the other day as the Italian Wine Guy printed out a plane ticket. 2002 will not be seen as a great vintage. “Quality-wise, because of this year’s crazy weather, vintage 2002 has given mixed results,” said Giuseppe Martelli, MD of Associazione Enologi Enotecnici Italiani (AIS). “A pattern of ‘crazy’ weather, characterized by icy temperatures, intense heat, hail, drought in Sicily and downpours in the north, conditioned the vine’s growing cycle. Moreover, botrytis and mold spread throughout vineyards, and when most producers were praying for a September ‘miracle’ - warm sunny days and cool nights for the ripening of the grapes - the weather remained cloudy and drizzly. It’s certainly not a vintage in which we’ll see peaks of excellence.”
Michele Shah’s excellent notes on the 2002 vintage indicates a tough harvest with some losses in the vineyards.
Will we see 3-liter Brunello-in-a-box selling for $49.99? If we do, I’d suspect some wine from Sicily or Puglia was blended into it. I would love our country to give America a gift like this, if it were real. But I don’t want to become old wishing for things like this.
Piedmont was hit too, so a 1.5- liter of 2002 Barolo selling for $29.99 probably won’t show up in Chicago or Dallas. But what friends those Italian cousins of mine could make if they would send something like that.
I know I’m too idealistic and inexperienced to understand the fine points of this business. That’s the realm of those golfing vice-presidents in the upper offices at the top of the buildings. They have the keys to the executive washrooms; they have their hands on the steering wheels of the wine business in America. They don’t understand the young ones down here in the restaurants and in the aisles of the wine shops. My friends, my poor, young friends. I am losing them to the pharmaceutical companies and wholesale food suppliers. One friend of mine, she took a job with a trash removal company that specializes in schools. She makes over $50,000 a year with company car, a company laptop, all school holidays off and a bonus system that allows her to make an additional 20% of her income if she makes her goal. And she did. And she is never coming back to selling wine.
How do I tell my friends and colleagues in Italy, still living at home and maybe making €1,400 a month, to feel sorry for someone like that? How do I tell Paola in Firenze that someday she will be able to have a home and a family but only if the company she works for does not raise their wine prices for at least two years in order to compete here? And her multi-millionaire winery boss, who lives on a private plane, going from the Bahamas to Cinqueterre to Sardegna to Greve to New York, how will we ever touch his heart? Why should he care?
The problem is the Italians, when they aren't jetting around in the private Gulfstream planes of their mind, are moving too slow. Like their beloved symbol of the Slow Food. Good for food, but can we be a little more like our dolphin brothers? A little more swift and intuitive, a little more compassionate, a little less selfish?
Don’t believe all the press releases from Coldiretti. The Italian wines may be doing well in some areas of America, but Australia and France have passed the Italians in some of the cities and they know it. They aren't pulling out of the passing lane anytime soon.
And I’m not going to be decanting old 2002 Brunello or Barolo in 20 years. It’s time to wake up into the new world we live in, Italy.
Beatrice Russo is my "intern". Inotherwords, she is a creation of my imagination. She runs around on a Vespa, only inside my head.