This is a defining moment all across Italy. Men with names like Alfredo, Dino, Antonio and Piero are handing over their life’s work to their sons and daughters. A lifetime, several generations worth of time and work and sweat and tears, and it all leads up to this moment. Handing over the keys of the kingdom to the next generation.
But it isn’t as simple as that. It never is. For these men are Big Trees, and the shadow that they make is daunting for the ones who follow them in succession.
Who has the hardest time of it, the man who has spent 40 or 50 years building an empire, or the daughter or son who has to find a way to grow outside of the shadow of his great effort?
Sometimes it isn’t even the simple transition from a rustic winemaking scenario to one which relies more on science and technology. Sometimes it is more about the character of the person and their presence that is almost indomitable. When that becomes more important than the wine or the land, then the tree can sap the energy of the spirit of wine.
Sometimes it is a vision thing. Whether it is in an established region like Tuscany or an up and coming one like Sicily or Puglia or Abruzzo, the personality that defines the impetus for the wine and the estate can sometimes be the overriding influence.
Then the idea of the wine gets bigger and if it gets bigger than the person that brought it into prominence, there has to be some kind of succession plan in place.
But that is often hard; the Italian child is often trained to be deferential to his parent. Then, a child in their 40’s is still responding as if they were still 8. And the wine, and the family, suffers.
The energy, while it is given its start from one person, draws from a larger wellspring of energy. And it is the difficult responsibility of the generation that follows to take the lead, to be wiser beyond their years, to take on faith where they must steer the estate and the wine into the future.
A couple of things the Big Tree must realize. Because it is large and rooted deep, the big tree cannot move with adroitness. Part of the energy of its greatness comes from making a stand, putting down roots and staking their claim.
The Big Tree casts giant shadows. Makes it hard for the little trees around to find enough sunlight to grow. Not bad in terms of survival and making sure that those who do make it out of the shadows are strong and will endure in the greater world.
Doesn’t quite sound like a walk in the park, does it?
This is nothing new. But in Italy, now, this is tipping point for many estates from Piedmont to Calabria, from Liguria to Molise, in the recalibration of the Italian wine standard. Many of the young from winemaking families have traveled the world, selling wine, making wine and learning about wine. When they come back home and see what a beautifully unique opportunity there is for them to make these one of a kind wines. Do they see it with those eyes? I sure hope so.
We don’t need anymore ill-fitting shoes, with Italian sounding names, from China. And we don’t need anymore Napa Valley Cabernets from Bolgheri.
We still need the Big Tree (and the old vines) to remind us to never disregard our essence. And we need a new generation of Big Trees, young men and women, to rise up out of the vinelands of Italy.