Dream fragment: A great hall filled with people. Two men who must pass through the crowd to the other side of the long, narrow hall. From a distance above this appears to be set in a Gothic cathedral. Is this a ceremony? As the men make their way, they walk directly through the people, who have become formless but not invisible. They have no presence, no corpus, they are all ghosts. Except for the two men, who advance towards the other side of this great passageway.
Before the earthquakes in Italy last week, another dream: We are in the countryside. It is a perfect day, sunny and temperate. From over the horizon a missile bears down upon us. I look above and realize if this thing drops I am dead. It is heading in my direction. There is nothing to do, no time, everything is finished. The bomb dropped, maybe a half mile from where I was. The earth shook relentlessly, feeling like we were all going to be pulled towards the core of the earth.
As I walk the great halls of Vinitaly, I see people I know. Sometimes I don’t recognize them, sometimes they don’t recognize me. Some of these folk I have known now for almost thirty years. Some I have just gotten to know in the last few years. All of us, living our lives, how much this collective honey gathering has been done for the sake of making Italian wine a greater expression of the culture and people and land of Italy?
Over the years I have had passionate, lively and sometimes explosive polemics over the direction Italian wine is going. I remember in 1985 talking to a producer of Barolo about his exclusive use of French barrique for the aging of his wines. I told him then that I thought the wine would suffer under all the weight of the wood, not to mention how much more it would raise the price of the wine. He responded by telling me that I was a young American and that the world is a large place, larger than the way I learned about it in school in America. Yes, I was young and inexperienced and an American, all sins which I was guilty as charged by my more learned and experienced farmer colleague in Castiglione Falletto.
I have had more than my share of passionate discussion about Italian labels. I was an art major at the university, design was my background, coupled with an intimate feel for American marketing. Over the years, I have seen labels that had as much appeal as a mullet haircut. But as we have recently seen, in Italy the mullet is enjoying a renaissance. Wonderful step forward for all of humanity. Why is it a label is so important? I imagine Caravaggio or Simone Martini looking forward several centuries from their time to see their work and how it had survived the fashions of time and wonder why the label designers don’t understand this. But it is after all a product, to be opened and consumed and then to be sent to the trash bin. It isn’t art, no matter how much we want to imbue it with nobility and grandeur. It is sustenance; it is a measure by which we get through the day. Art? Art is not essential for survival of the species. Nourishment is. And perhaps it is because our farmer knows that we will ultimately need the fruits from his harvest, that a misplaced label, or too much wood won’t really matter all that much in the greater scheme of things.
When I was younger the older wine producers would listen to my thoughts, about their wine, about their labels, about their expensive barrels and they would make this barely perceptible grimace on their foreheads. The tell on their face was that I was young and inexperienced and that they were Europe, they were Italy. They knew what would be better for all of us, especially gli Americani. So I would pack my luggage and head back to America to spread the word as they so ordered.
A generation later, the younger wine producers hear an older man rant, about their wine, about their labels, about their expensive barrels, and this time the frown on their forehead is more pronounced. What it tells, without words, but without doubt, is that they know better. They are young and this is a different world, and one must be positive about all of these changes. Or else. So I pack my luggage and head back to my post, the one from which I will never be called back, and ponder on all these “changes”.
In search of the timeless I have run smack dab in to the middle of the transitory, once again. Except this time, I have walked to the other side of the great hall. I have seen through the folly of the mullet, and have no time for delusion.
Images from the Abazzia di Novacella Museum