Simple. Make sure the people you are trying to convince think it is their idea.
Last week I was talking to a Tuscan wine producer. And I was lamenting that too many wines from Italy are over-oaked and too alcoholic. He looked at me and said, “I agree.” And then a few seconds later he said, “But you don’t think my wines are like that, do you?”
I looked him straight in the eyes and said,” Do you want the truth or do you want me to tell you what you want to hear?” He replied, "Oh, we know each other well now, I want you to give me the truth.”
Still, I wasn’t sure he really wanted the truth. Something from the last twenty years gnaws at me, a little voice on my shoulder that whispers in my ear, “Don’t show it all, just show ‘em a little. Let them guess what is underneath.”
So I respond, “Would you like to save $150,000 this year?” “Of course,” he replies. Now I’ve got him. “Then buy only half of the barrels you normally would and use them longer. Surely you have strong enough wines. And it would be such a reduction in your carbon imprint.”
The winemaker now has food for thought. I haven’t scolded him for his virtually undrinkable wines. But hopefully I have put him on the road to recovery. And it will be all his idea.
A week later, I am talking to a producer from Piedmont. Over the phone it can be easier to convince winemakers to change. But now I have an anecdote. And over the phone they don’t see my face, so it is my little voice inside of their head this time.
I relate to him my concern that too many wines from Italy are over-oaked and too alcoholic. And then I proceed to tell him the conversation that I had with the Tuscan producer. When I finished with the point about the producer being able to save $150,000, my Piemontese friend affirms that said producer would exactly do that, and that would be wonderful.
We call that imprinting. Now we are starting to change the Italian wine world. One barrel at a time.
It’s been one long battle of San Jacinto for the last 20 years. My opinions haven’t been popular. People don’t want to hear that they need to change. Change is uncomfortable. But inevitable. The next generation is going to do it anyhow. So I load up my jackass cart and head into the marketplace of ideas with my sad and crazy ideas, looking to plant them in the next garden.
You’d think these folks would want to know. After all the business I follow in America represents 8% of all Italian wine coming from Italy to the USA. That’s a fact. But often I feel more like I am the Invisible Man.
The measure of a master is his success in bringing all men around to his opinion twenty years later.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thank God for Emerson. The quote above gives me strength. As long as I have strategery. And I do. I feel this battle in the hinterlands of wine-drinking America has, for the last 20 or so years, seen some advance. But we are still considered backwater by our Italian colleagues. I’m convinced if I lived in SF or LA or NY that I’d get a similar response.
No, the key is to plant the idea, water it occasionally and then let ‘er grow. If it grows, then we all win. If it dies, hey, it’s a big wine world out there. Someone will get it. Every dog has his day.
But right now, I’m feeling good. I am embracing mastery. And the world will be a better, safer, happier place for Italian wine.
Images by Simone Martini