As I look through the wines in my closet, or study a wine collection from a deceased doctor or lawyer that the widow is trying to make sense of, I wonder about the nature of one’s relationship with wine. Odd to say it that way, as wine isn’t a person, how can one have a relationship with it?
What one can examine, though, is one’s way of relating to wine and the people and places that make up the story of wine.
Loads of people write me and ask me to tell them where to go eat and visit when they head to Italy. Often they are going to Tuscany. And I have a list of places I and others have found that are off the touristic path. So I send some of these folks a note with ideas. I usually end with something like this: “No matter where you go in Italy, you are in Italy, and there is sure to be a wonderful place right under your nose, just waiting for you to step in with an open heart and a sense of adventure.”
And more often than not, that is what I have been doing. Sure, I take my guides and notes, but the real find is the one I haven’t found before. And the palimpsest that is Italy, when you scratch beneath the surface, will emerge and something wonderful will happen.
The other night I went into the wine closet and pulled out a bottle of Chianti Classico. I had been needling a newspaper friend who was twittering about what kind of wine he should take to a B.Y.O.B. We got to talking about Chianti and he mentioned one he recently had that was lovely. Good old Chianti, in good times and in lean times, it is a staple. And this one I opened, a 1988, was still lively and vibrant and kicking. I had gathered a case of the wine and was going through it slowly. In the time since this wine had been made, the family had lost one of the elder brothers and the grand nephew and niece were now in the wine business. Kids when I first met them, the boy played soccer in the field with my son while we toured the vineyards. Now the son is married, is having his own children. And the daughter keeps in touch on Facebook. I don’t just love the wine; I love the people and the greater story of the wine.
To go into a store only to find what one is looking for, whether it be a best value or the most natural wine, is to limit oneself to one’s own story. It is to go in with pre-conceived notions, and that is really all they are, notions, about what and how and why a wine should be. It doesn’t take into account anything outside of one’s own bubble. And that isn’t natural, to me.
If the farmer doesn’t use pesticides and fertilizers and makes a wine that is wholesome, all the better. But better the farmer take their cues from a higher authority than us city folk, trying to tell the country folk how to live and grow and farm. Who do we think we are, really?
I keep going back to the farmers I met, in Puglia or Liguria, Sicily or the Marche, and their stories are what I collect. I connect with the people and then, their wines. If a man runs his winery by the biodynamic principles so in vogue these days, but is rude and callous to his neighbors or his clients, what good are the wines to any of us? I have stopped putting these stories in my closet. They have been given away to be opened, drunk and forgotten.
That is what I am interested in these days. The whole story, not just some technique popular with urban enophiliacs.
Just like the bees in my tree that have grown and out grown their home or the crazy parrots who escaped their cages and now zoom across the sky with their shrieks of joy, or the lone coyote that has everyone on the neighborhood nervous for their cats, or the little lizards that sit on the large Hoja Santa leaves and sun themselves before they grow too large for the leaves to support their weight. These are my local markers; these are the reasons to connect with the good things on earth. And like that, if it just so happens that some of those good things end up inside a bottle and compel me to gather one or more, I now want it for the connection; not some meaningless collection that someone’s widow or orphan child will have to figure out how to get rid of, long after they're gone.
Photos by Daniele Giuntini