Sunday, August 03, 2008

Hotter Than a Pizza Oven in Pozzuoli

Whirlwind week. Three days in Chicago, marathon wine tastings and food forays. Korean, Italian, Pizza, New American. Sicily, Piemonte, Campania, Wachau. That’s right. Wake up at 4:30 AM to catch a flight from Dallas to Chicago. Meet up with my colleague and Master-Somm, Guy Stout. Three days later, back to Dallas in the evening. Unpack, rest a few hours and wake up again at 4:30 AM to drive to Austin and then to Blanco for the Syrah harvest at Stout Vineyards. Arrive just as the last of the grapes are being rounded up and taken to a nearby winery for crushing. Fruit was good (24-26 brix), a small but healthy crop. From Nerello Mascalese on Etna to Syrah in Blanco, quite a week on the wine trail, from Italy to the hill country of Texas. And did I say it was hot?

Chicago was cooler, only in the 80’s (°F). The city really feels comfortable this time of year. I know it sounds crazy, but 105°F has a way of making 85°F seem like a cool front. I realize every city has its good and its bad but we had some great Italian (and Austrian) wine and food to match. A little less hectic than NY, more like a bunch of neighborhoods closer by. Love them both, but it was nice to reconnect with Chicago.

On the road again in Texas, to the Syrah harvest. A great time to connect with colleagues, co-workers, friends, clients and sit under the stars and talk to each other about wine and food and where the heck this is all taking us. That’s something about the Texas experience that is pretty unique. We all spend time talking to each other, moving this ship a few inches at a time. There is a great energy in this area, along with the heat, that I have not seen anywhere else in the country. I know some folk like to discharge Texas as some nameless, faceless place along the flight patterns from the East coast to the West coast. That would be a dismissive and erroneous; something very definitely is going in this country below the skies.

How does harvesting Syrah have anything to do with Gragnano or Gruner? I reckon it is all in the way one might understand the synchronicity of apparently unrelated experiences and how they add up to a whole new direction. We’re in the middle of something right now; I can’t even put my finger on it. But I know it’s there and it’s coming and it’s a pretty exciting time.

So sitting under the porch (where it was only 92°F) we were chatting about Aglianico and Valtellina Superiore, all five of them (Sassella, Grumello, Inferno, Valgella and Maroggia). One in our group was relating the difference between Fiano on the coast and Fiano inland and at higher elevations. She should know, being our resident Southern Italian wine expert. Another was on a mission to learn everything he could about Valtellinese wines. Kids after my own heart.

In Watermelon Sugar Grappa

Here we have the making of a group of young and engaged professional enthusiasts, just wanting to delve into the deeper aspects of Italian wines. The wine trail in Italy intersects the Blanco River from time to time and this is how it all weaves itself together, makes it relevant that we go to Texas Hill Country to harvest Syrah and Italian wine lovers, at the same time. All this over a platter of paella and some cool Dolcetto.

We spent some time talking to George Vogel, a peach farmer near Johnson City. Decided to go visit him and talk to him about ancient farm tools for a project one in the group was researching. George just turned 80, has spent his whole life in and around Johnson City. A pretty amazing place, the feel of it, the spirit of the place is All West, individualistic, a little LBJ thrown in there (remembering a President from Texas that was bigger than life) and a time spent listening to stories about the Germans and the farmers and the peaches. Good setting for an area that from 38,000 feet doesn’t seem to important. What does at that altitude? On the ground with a real person, and a story teller to boot, that’s the strength of this place.

Driving back home on the small highway 281 from Johnson City through Marble Falls, Lampasas and Glen Rose in heat that went up to 107°F. Even the dogs are looking to cool off.

Comfort minded folks need not apply. Stick to a comfortable air conditioned seat in a safe and darkened movie house, or the front of an airplane, and just fly on by. Getting through the security line at an international airport isn’t the work that interests us here on the front lines. This is the part of the wine trail for those who aren’t afraid of the heat or the streets. This is where we will build our trade, in the 21st century, from the rustic vineyards in Italy to the rugged frontiers of America.



4 comments:

Marco Pazzuolo said...

Bravo! You make palpable the feeling of the buzz that's happening there. Makes that trip to San Antonio and northward more likely soon.

Tracie B. said...

oh there was certainly a buzz, marco. mmmhhmm.

Marco Zoppo said...

Tracie that's a given, non?

Val said...

As a native Texan - north Texan to boot - I salute you. (I always do!) It may be hot, but I just embrace it along with all of the other things about this place I call home. I'll be heading to the Hill Country later this month myself to enjoy the view and the wine.

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