From the Archives ~ Sept.13, 2006
This week I have been immersed in Piedmont. Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga, Cuneo, Barbaresco and on. Sorting out some information for the young sales force. This link between humans and the land that makes one wine taste one way and another, over on a hill 2 miles away, taste another way. The Italian wine trail ends today in the Langhe, but starts in the Marche.
15 years ago I landed in a little town, Matelica, to taste the wines of Aldo Cifola from La Monacesca. On that visit we were looking at his new vineyard, Camerte, where his Merlot and Sangiovese vines were newly planted. That will be another story for another day. What happened on that day, and how it leads to Piedmont, is something totally out of the linear way of seeing things. They really have nothing and everything to do with each other.
The inspiration for this came from a photograph I took back then at the estate, of the La Monacesca caretaker and his sons. After a wine tasting, in a little room, with prosciutto he prepared from his happy pigs, they brought out the accordions. Now I’m a sucker for accordions, used to own a couple of them till I donated them to some missionaries in Central America. Maybe it’s the um-pap-pah music of Calabria or the Zydeco of our beloved southwestern Louisiana nearby. If there’s an accordion nearby, count me in. Accordions, the mobile musical terroir machines, for me.
To see this father and his sons, now grown up, let’s back up. The food was raised at his farm: The grapes were made into wine, the prosciutto, the bread and so on. The children were raised here, too. Heart and soil. That’s Italy in a New York second.
This man and his wife took on the stewardship of a land he didn’t even own. They are caretakers. Correction, they are caregivers. From the dirt to the denim, the family was infused with caring, for their vines and their children. The Camerte vineyard, when I first saw it, I wanted to lie right down and die in it. And that’s not a morbid wish, please understand me. I wanted to be a part of what was going on there, on a molecular level!
There are other occurrences. Italy is rampant with them.
In Calabria , in the Veneto .
Three years before that trip to the Marche, I was looking at some newly planted vines in Barbaresco. The area was called Montestefano, and the family there was quite excited about this vineyard that would be ready in a five or so years. Five years! We’ve gone through a mate or two, two cars, two houses, a stereo system, two computer upgrades and 3 cellular phones in that time. And for what? Those vines on those steep hills, patiently working their way up, easing the love from the dirt into the vine, year after year, grape after grape. And what do we understand about that, back in the meeting rooms? What do we need to know about that, how do we convey that sense of connection to our fledgling wine-drinkers back in the U.S.of A.?
Look at the way the youth of Italy are exposed to the traditions, but even more important, the love for the obligation to share in the caring for the land and the fruits of one’s labors. For the young boys in Matelica, it first started with a baby pig. The young sommelier, for her, it started walking with her grandmother, picking chestnuts in the Langhe. It grew in them, and they grew into it. Not another new Game Boy or another new pair of designer jeans. Not just that. Time, the influence of the daily communion with the earth.
That’s what makes it so difficult to help our wine industry professionals and the clients. I can’t put that on a sheet of paper with a score and a good price. I try. But it seems so much less than the inspiration that I feel when I take an hour and think about it, reflect on it. Question is, as it has been for some time, how do we get folks to slow their world down to take a peek into this wonderful Emerald City of Wine? How do we impart this in a meaningful way, to the person who decides which wines go on the rack at the wine shop, to the neighbor in the new house who wants to know more about Italian wine? And how do we get it to stick?
This ain’t plug and play. This is day by day…really hard work. But it is so rewarding when, at the end of the day, one is drawing a glass of Nebbiolo or Barbera and looking at some incredible site across the hill (even if it is only on this page or in your mind). The neighbor’s house may not be new and improved, and the internet connection might still be dial-up. That’s right. Very, very right.