Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sommeliers ~ The New Wine Snobs?

Note: I had an email from a wine director/sommelier friend who reminded me that it's not all about "strolling the dining room." And he's right. This is a business and has to be successful , just like any part of the wine biz. So, I am hopeful that people will read the whole post and see it for what it is: Not a blanket accusation against all sommeliers, but a question that asks, "where do you stand in all of this?" -AC

I’m in an Asian restaurant. On one side a party is drinking Gavi on another side Chilean Chardonnay. Across from me the couple is having a Chardonnay from California’s Central Coast. I’m trying a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile. There are no sommeliers to work the floor, but we all make it through the night, our palates intact.

Now it wasn’t a night that I’ll remember forever, but it was one in a string of nights, dining out, where it was just fine.

So what do we need a sommelier for?

With the market shrinking for wine stewards, economic slowdown, hours being cut, positions being eliminated, I have to imagine that there are not just a few sommeliers asking that question too. What am I doing? How do I support my family? Where is this leading? What have I gotten myself into?

Sure there are the Michael Jordans out there, somms who have carved out a niche for themselves. Larry O’Brien, Laura dePasquale, Greg Harrington, Doug Frost. And yes all of these fine folks have risen to the rank of the Master Sommelier, they’ve passed through hell and beyond. But for all those young lads and lassies who are crawling their way up the mountain, what are some of the biggest obstacles in their path?

I’d say that many of the ones I have been encountering lately suffer from the misperception that the world can’t live without them. Listen, the world will use every one of us in whatever way the fates decide. But to the young grasshoppers out there who really care to read to the end of this post, number 1 thing to note: The world doesn’t “need” you.

Sound cruel? Get over it.

One of the cool things about the wine biz is how everyone talks to one another. Winemakers, reps, distribs, brokers, retailers, restaurateurs, export managers; it’s one extended cocktail party. Kind of like Twitter. It’s ongoing and there is no end to the conversation. And while there will be an occasional dominant thread, there will be no single person or wine who will or can dominate the room. It’s a party, remember?

The next big thing? Gruner, been there done that. Greek wine from Paros? Oh please. Biodynamic wine from Georgia? Yeah, tell that to the young couple who just came in for some spring rolls and a sashimi platter. Get real. Stop trying to discover wine and bleeding all over your customers with your new found close-out that you just “discovered”. And please, stop thinking this is just about you, don’t pout, there are many out there who are thinking this way. Which makes it comical, because here we have these guys and gals going out and thinking they have just found the next “it” wine and there about 20 of them who have just done the same exact thing.

Ok, you say I’m being hard on you? Wake up. Somms have so much more support to learn their trade these days. There are groups, there is the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Society of Wine Educators, the Institute of Master of Wine, various wholesalers and importers have their very own educational programs. Thirty years ago? Good luck getting a wine rep to bring you something from the Loire, or an Italian wine that wasn’t Bolla Soave or Fontana Candida Frascati.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be interested in new and esoteric wines that are flooding the markets. But let’s put it in perspective. These are not bread-and-butter wines. They cannot sustain a restaurant or a sommelier, indefinitely. And unless you are a place like Catalan Food & Wine in Houston and have the intellectual curiosity of an Antonio Gianola and the traffic in the dining room to support an exemplary program like he has put together, than you need to learn to walk. First.

And one of the main messages that young sommeliers never seem to get, is that they walk tall because of the shoulders they stand upon. And they stand high because the shoulders are those of giants. A friend and a colleague, someone who has carved out their very own niche in this business as a broker (not an easy place, always between a rock and a hard spot) said it best, and I quote: “I'm reminding buyers every single day that they better support the generations of winemakers who created a product for them to even have a 'career' these days.”

To even have a career these days, listen to those words, folks. We don’t need any more wine snobs; fortunately, that generation is dying off. And we don’t need any dilettantes. The god of Wine is clear about this; we are all soldiers, we are all one infinitesimal piece of a multi-millennial movement of the grape and humankind, working our way through earth, life and evolution to finer expressions of humanity and vinosity. There is no room for pomposity.

Remember, Columbus didn’t discover America. It was never missing.

So the next time you think you are the first one to have this idea, feeling or inspiration, by all means, be excited. But don’t go putting your byline below it. Or you will have legions of centurions to contend with. Open the bottle, enjoy it, share it, but don’t go thinking you are the god of Wine. Scores of Ancients, from the Greeks to the Romans will attest that is a road which goes deeper than the seven layers of Hell our dear friend Dante wrote about.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Miracle in San Antonio

A rosé by any other name is Leonardo. This little guy, who looks strikingly like his handsome dad, Giulio and beautiful mom, Stacy and sister Gia, is Leonardo Galli. He came into this world not long after Jan 1 of this year, but way before he was “due.” At a little less than 2 pounds, little Leo, the young lion, roared into this world. On Mother’s Day weekend, he finally came home to live with his mom and dad and sister in San Antonio. Welcome to the world, Leo! We are so glad to see you, growing up so fast and healthy. I’m going to cry now.

But they’ll be tears of joy.

Somebody open up a bottle of Franciacorta Rosé, preferably Contadi Castaldi.

Good Times!

Little Leo with sister Gia and proud Papa

Leo the Warrior with Papa's wedding ring on his arm - long before he came home

Papa Giulio with a cold bottle of Maremma Rosé at Stout Vineyards in Blanco, Texas

Papa Giulio and sister Gia under the portico at Stout Vineyards in Blanco,Texas

Papa Giulio, sister Gia, Devin Broglie and IWG kicking back at Stout Vineyards in Blanco,Texas

A Rosé for Any Reason

As these words appear on the page, outside my window the sky has its own idea about what a rosé is. Of course, in the early morning the idea of a rosé is an evolving one. Right now we’re in a Franciacorta rosé moment. As Spring winds down and Summer is setting the stage for its moment, wine lovers love to talk about rosé.

Outside, a helicopter draws away the last of any color from the morning sky. So here we have the elusive moment for rosé. Just when you think its time to sell, drink and share this wine, isn’t autumn announcing its time to put away the toys and get back to the real stuff of wine? Well, here in flyover country we have at least four months before that will happen, and by then who knows what the world will have in store for us?

Copper River salmon are streaming into the local food shops, and at $27 a pound, one cannot always afford a Bandol Rosé from Domaine Tempier. One of my go to wines is the La Scolca Rosa Chiara. I know purists probably won’t agree with me, but they don’t run my life. And I love this wine. It’s lively, had a wonderful color and enough body to go with the salmon I love. Maybe it’s my lack of agenda when it comes to enjoying a wine, but I find pleasure in the enjoyment of this rosé. I love the color. I like the aromas. I like the fruit. And the body. It’s gulpable. And on a picnic in the park, listening to a Beatles or Stones or Texas Swing cover band, it’s pure summer. Not quite tiny bikinis, but enough skin to tempt and tantalize.

Texas foods, like chicken livers and the baked Italian chicken that my aunt taught me to make go well with anything. But if I have a bottle of a deep rosé like one from Abruzzo, Calabria or Sicily, all the better. Three that I like are the Illuminati Campirosa, The Librandi Rosato and the Regaleali Le Rosé. These are more deeply colored and with a fuller body. The spice and the fuller flavors match well with fried foods and again make for a wonderful evening on a porch or a patio, sipping with friends and your favorite warm weather comfort foods.

Seasonal warming brings out the grills and makes for a nice transition to the outdoors, if only for an evening. Here in Texas we are preparing for the onslaught of mosquito season, so while we feast we will also be feasted upon. Fish on the grill reminds me of the Maremma and so a rosé from that area is a great way to sooth oneself. Marco Bacci’s estate near Grossetto, Terré di Talamo, brings some of us his Piano Piano, a Sangiovese/ Cabernet blend (with maybe a little Alicante as well, eh Marco?). Light in color, fresh, in a word, deelish.

Last summer I trekked to Chicago for a few days. One of the highlights of the trip was to make the pilgrimage to one of the great pizza ovens in America, Spaccanapoli. These are pizzas elevated beyond mere comfort food. And to have them with beer, while that might be great, well, we just had to have a little wine. One of the wines I loved with the two pizzas pictured was the Cavalchina Bardolino Chiaretto. Same grapes as Valpolicella (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara) with a delicate color, light flavors, just one giant bottle of yum.

We started with a sky the color of Franciacorta rosé. For me the morning are serious stuff, so Franciacorta gets the nod for my serious morning rosé fix, if I were on vacation or if I stayed up all night. But a little to the east over in Valdobbiadene the Prosecco folks are jumping on the rosé bandwagon. And our friends at Bisol have come out with this little rosé called Jeio. It’s a perfect wine to sip on the porch while I watch my bees working furiously before the light of the day comes to an end. Here we are, not for me it is time to go to work, selling, not blogging. Getting through another tough month. Ah well, the bees don’t complain, why should I? I’ll just chill a bottle of the Jeio rosé for this evening. That’s reason enough.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Interview with an Italian Sommelier

By Beatrice Russo

I got a call from IWG, he was heading out, could I come over and watch his house and his tomato plants? $100 a day to look after the old man’s crap, sure why not? As the taxi pulled up he was rushing to catch up with his adventure. “Where are you going?” I asked. “To a place where these cell phones and internets don’t go.” “When will you be back?” We were changing places in the cab. “I’ll be back soon. Just watch the house, don’t let your friends leave anything in their cars if they park in front of the house. And one more thing, that interview with the Italian wine sommelier, why don’t you test drive it around my blog?” He handed me the keys to his silver bullet, cool, quick German sedan and told me to drive safe. Yeah. Uh huh.

After popping a bottle of Saten and settling in for the weekend, nothing new but Slumdog Millionaire on his DVD shelf, I called my friend and polished off the interview along with the bottle of bubbly.

I’m young and underemployed, but free. But some of my somm-buddies, here and in Italy are pushed to a breaking point. Lots of work, not a lot of money, working on all the days when everyone wants to be playing, and watching all the old folks having time and money. Meh.

So here’s my rough-form, this so-called Interview with an Italian sommelier.

My friend Andrea has been a sommelier in a pretty fancy place, lot of alto-borghese types ordering Patron and Sassicaia. The past six months have been a major pain. Hours cut, inventory cut, customer count down, cost per bottle average down. Not what Andrea thought when getting seduced into this business.

First question: So, Andrea, tell me what are people drinking?
Andrea- more quartinos than bottles, more glasses than quartinos. Our normal clientele usually were high rolling types. I think they still want to be, but their resources have disappeared. So they come in and order a Barbera instead of a Barolo, and a Rosso di Montalcino instead of a Brunello.

Q- And there’s something wrong with that? Aren’t those wines pretty goods these days?
A- Senza dubbio, indeed. But I really wonder if they liked those wines in the first place or if they just come in to order them because they think someone wants them to like them because of their place in the society. Do you know what I mean?

Q- No I don’t.
A- Well, this society worships title and prestige. Everyone wants to drive in Ferrari, wearing Dolce & Gabbana, drinking the finest wine in the world. And here it is like the higher you can make yourself to appear, the closer you will get to the people who have what you want. And with wine, it might become a status symbol too, but did it start out that way? Did Monfortino decide to become unbearably precious so long ago?

Q- Oh, that. Italian Wine Guy has been ranting about the price of wine lately, but I thought it was just because of the mark ups he has seen lately in his markets.
A- I don’t know about that, but I have read recently a good piece in the American wine press from Matt Kramer where he talks about a bottle of wine costing not more than €12 to make. And then he talked about a Chilean wine that was selling in the States for about $12 that he really liked. Maybe my clientele are finding that they like Barbera or Rosso do Montalcino for that reason.

Q- Yeah. Well that’s if your manager or accountant doesn’t get greedy. I have a friend who is a bartender at an Italian place and they just got a great review. And what was the first thing they did? They raised the price of all the food menu items $2 and then they started raising the wine prices. A bottle of Chianti Classico that they paid $11 for they already had at $46 and they want to raise even more?
A- Maybe they don’t have as many people coming in and they need to keep the doors open.

Q- They won’t make it through the summer if they do. But enough about what I’m seeing, over here most of the folks except crazy-wonderful Antonio think they have to mark things up like they’re a gentleman’s club?
A- Gentleman’s club?

Q- Lap dance place
A- Oh. Yes they mark up high here to in those places. So I’m told by friends who go there.

Q- Tell me when you buy wine from a producer, let’s say one from Piedmont, what do you expect in the way of price?
A- I think everyone here knows the relative price. We all have friends at wineries so we know the ex-cellar price, more or less. And if there is a middleman, or a broker, there is a commission. We all expect that. But a Barbera, selling for €4-6 comes to us for €6-8. And we sell it for €12-14. Everyone takes a piece but no one takes too big of a bite.

Q- What are you drinking, enjoying, pushing these days?
A- I love the Sylvaner from Alto-Adige. And the crisp Pigato from Liguria. I found a Gamay from Umbria that I currently love, and the Lacrima di Morro d'Alba right now is drinking bellissimo. We have this sexy Aglianico rose and a sparkling wine from Sardegna, dry Moscato, really a nice aperitivo. Red wine, right now we are featuring three Montepulciano d’ Abruzzos from people who have had a hard time since the earthquake. We are marking up a little more and donating 50% of the selling price to the rescue and rebuilding efforts. And of course we have a nice Barbera d’Asti and a Rosso di Montalcino.

Q- How is Brunello now?
A- We are still looking at the 2003 stocks and worrying we will miss out on the 2004. The 2005 we don’t think are as nice. So maybe the Chinese and the Indian markets will get all the 2004?

Q- Well, I don’t know. You know the Italians. They do pretty well in a crisis when they know they are in one.
A- Yes, but this crisis will need more than the superpowers of Dr. Zaia.

Q- I hear more from my friends here that getting a sommelier certification doesn’t get you the dream job? How about your life, how goes that?
A- I think people want too much to be important and famous without thinking about if their life will have meaning or not. I don’t care too much about any further letters after my name. You know, it Italy it is a mania. Everyone is a Dottore.

Q- One last question, Andrea. Do you have any special plans for summer?
A- If I can I want to go to the southern part of Elba and lie on the beach and drink Vermentino and eat fresh seafood. That is my thought for a great vacation this year. And you?

Q- I don’t know. I was hoping the Italian wine guy would go away so I can use his pool and his car and raid his wine closet, like I did last year. Or I might go hiking in Yosemite.
A- Well you are always welcome in our world.

Q- Thanks, Andrea. We’ll see. And thanks for talking with me about wine and things.
A- Ma prego si figuri.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Zen and the Art of Montalcino Maintenance

I’m in Austin this week and enjoying the company of people who are really interested in wine, even Italian wine. Business here seems to be revving up and after a day with a producer from Montalcino, the reception has been, well, humbling.

I say this because we are just beginning to get into the 2004 Brunellos after what has seemed to be one of the longest years of selling a vintage. The vintage has been the 2003, which got hit by the perfect storm of a lesser than great vintage, the “little problem” in Montalcino and the October 2008 world financial meltdown.

So the warehouses and shops and restaurants have an ample supply left of the 2003 Brunello. Pity, because today as we tasted the 2004 from Caparzo, I really felt sorry that a great vintage like the 2004 is suffering only because of the circumstances we have all found ourselves in.

What to do? Is the '03 Altesino Montosoli so terrible? Of course it isn’t, after all it is the sibling rival to Caparzo and Guido Orzalesi would tell anyone that the wine is sound and bonafide. By the times aren’t yet receptive. Or the ship has already sailed for the 2003. So, once again, what to do?

I would (and do) advise to simply take the hit and close them out. Now. Lesser wines are taking the hit. Dolcettos and Barberas are streaming through the wine bars having been discounted to ridiculously attractive levels, ones that even I would bite on. And I need no more wine in my closet.

In the case of the 2003 Brunellos if only to give the 2004 their time under the spotlight, even if it is only the life cycle of a drosophila.

Which leads me right into this question: Why is it the market seems to get so interested in Italian wine after it has been discounted to cost or below?

Really, three times in this month I have had wine buyers, somms and restaurant managers wax the glories of a particular wine or two. After the third one mentioned it, I started to wonder how wines like these got their legs so deep in the community. We’re talking Dolcetto and Barbera and from producers that are well known, Einaudi and Vietti. And let’s throw in the Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva, too. I heard that one lately too, even though it probably is a residual memory serving only to try and diminish any of the legitimate attempts to sell Italian wine for what it is worth. More on this to come.

The Dolcetto. I saw it on a list Out West and thought, what the heck, seems like a good wine that someone bought and didn’t know what they had. It was lively. And then again, I saw it, in another fancy place. Ok, good, the wine buyers have sussed out a sleeper, and we all benefit from their acuity. Hoorah for us!

The Barbera. I started hearing about this little beauty from SB (somm-buddy) who comments on this site. I knew the place, went up to the estate in Castiglione Falletto back when the crust of the earth was cooling. I got it then, just stood up a bottle of their ’81 Nebbiolo to let the dust settle. Had first communion with Alfredo, OK? I get it.

And then the dirty little secret comes out. The wines were “discounted”. Closed out. Disontinued. Disco’d. Why? Upon a little digging I hear that Remy Amerique, the importer for Vietti, is sandbagging their wine division. So these folks are possible soon without a home. No future? Time to disco? Sure seems like it.

And Einaudi, are they without an importer? They still show up on the Empson site, so it doesn’t look like that is their fate. Overzealous buyer at the distrib? Perhaps, but I’m not sure. Maybe my Empson peeps reading might share some insight. The wine is real. Good. So, what happened?

How to get excited about Italian wine when it is not on close-out?

Look, for a generation now some of us have been carrying this donkey up the hill. The Italians always undervalued their wine, almost apologizing for it because of the price. A Chianti Classico Riserva selling for $7 when a 3rd growth was going for $12. And the Italian was contrite, ashamed, sorry. So the wine got discounted down to $3 and all of a sudden lots of buzz from a restaurant here, a wine shop there. It was rampant in the 1980’s with Rosso di Montalcino, the “throw away” wine. The distribs had to buy the Rosso to get the Brunello and when it didn’t sell they’d schlep a bottle to Don Cazzu and make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Great stuff, from Costanti to Il Poggione to San Restituta. I am not kidding. How many times I sat there with my bag of wine while Don Cazzu tells me what a great deal he got for the ‘74 RdM for only $2 a bottle. And he was right! But it perpetuated the image of Italian wine value. A Rosso di Montalcino was only worth $2-3 a bottle because it wasn’t bought right in the first place and it surely was never sold right. And so the true value of the wine never made it into the hearts and minds of the wine buyers.

And now we stand here, once again, at the corner of Downturn and Summertime with Dolcetto and Barbera and 2003 Brunello and when will we ever get to the place where we can really rev it up on the Montalcino autostrada of life? I think our little vehicle needs some work on the engine, the little one that takes us up the hill, yes we can, I think we can, will we ever? Can we?

Deep breath. Close eyes. Relax. Maintenance light is flashing. Must consult the manual. Ad Occhi Chiusi.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Capote, Mondavi and Vaynerchuk

The idea of the brand, in the wine business, in American culture, has become so pervasive that now we are all being exhorted to build our own personal brands. Fame, fortune and fun have become the mantra for the American Dream. But there is also a dark side to this. Two of these three people (or brands) have become modern day morality tales for what happens when the brand and the person, from which the brand has been created, often don’t go the way it was intended. The third person is approaching critical mass and will have to hash it out. I’m hoping he will succeed.

Truman Capote was a young literary genius whose emotional maturity never quite caught up with his talent. His writing was fierce, fearless and so very sharp for the times he found himself in. A child born from a child, his life raced furiously in the fast lane until he was 59. And then, it was finished. Much has been written about his life, bio-pics have been made, numerous books and articles about his life, his writing, his escapades, his demons. But when he was alive, Truman Capote became a big star. A bestselling brand. Along the time his star was traversing across the winter skies, television and heightened attention to the new media brought many people into contact with him. I still remember seeing this funny little short, squatty man on the TV in my parents’ home when they were watching Mike Douglas or Jack Parr or Johnny Carson. He seemed a lot like some of the people in my home town (Palm Springs) so it wasn’t too out of context to see it on TV. But the number of times he kept showing up registered in my brain. I once saw a copy of “In Cold Blood” on the table in the living room and picked it up. I was probably 12 at the time. I was more interested in tennis or getting out of my parents home, going outside and riding my bike. But Capote was big. So big. What people thought of him, be it the high-society types or the artistic ones, they shaped the Capote from there on. He never had a chance. Partying and drinking and smoking and talking and twittering about. What great works of literature were stolen by taking his time? It was an era when a writer as a media star was something new, and he was so damned talented. But he was diverted. And before long, the brand “Capote” overtook the man.

Robert Mondavi was a visionary, a leader, driven to pursue a dream that shaped Napa Valley and beyond. Because of his relentless stubbornness any of us who work in the wine business today are in a better place, thanks to Mondavi. He was Moses and he led us out of the wilderness. I remember the early days in the 1970’s, when what he was talking about was so rare. Single varietal wines made in a fashion, at a level of quality that there was no market for. Yet. But he persevered, and everyone around him did too. And Mondavi became a monster brand.

I sold the wines in the 1980’s and 1990’s, at a time when the Mondavi brand was growing faster than most of us could keep up with. I remember talking to a friend of mine who was a regional manager, right after the winery went public. He was feeling good about the money the stock represented, but we also talked about what it was going to do to the family, and to the man himself.

In those days, that kind of talk was blasphemy. But the brand was careening so far beyond the bounds of control that now, what is left? It seems an American tragedy to me that someone who so defined fine wine for America and was so successful at it, lost the battle to his “brand”. Some might not agree with me on this, but I see the Mondavi battle of the man against the brand, in the latter years, as an epic battle of success vs. the soul. And what did the victorious one win?

Gary Vaynerchuk. He’s on top of the world. Thousands visit his sites daily. His number of followers on the new social platforms like Twitter have grown six-fold in two months. He’s on CNN, his American Express miles must be in the stratosphere from all the travel. He has a ten book, seven figure deal with a major publisher. And he still has time to personally return an e-mail. How does he do it?

Like he said, without the chops, he wouldn’t have gotten to where he was. And when it comes to wine, he does have passion. Youthful, unbridled and fearless. And I’m not really all that worried about it for him. But there they are, perched on the fringes, waiting to swallow him up whole, the brand-cannibals.

I hope Gary V doesn’t ever end up like Capote or Mondavi. I hope he makes enough money to buy the New York Jets. Right now that’d be about $900 million he’d need to cough up. And to raise that kind of dough, he’s gonna have to do a lot more than sell wine out of a store. And he probably will.

The wine world might lose him. I’m sure he doesn’t want that to happen. You see it in a person when they are called to do things beyond their initial plan. And he is being called. But he’s in this game early and he’s young; he’s got 20-30 years for the game to play out. And what he has to say is damn important – he sees it coming and sees it clearly.

So I just hope he has a strong enough vision where it won’t be covered over by the brand of “Vaynerchuk”, because that would be a tragedy of the American dream. It’s not like others before him haven’t been scooped up in the momentum of their brand.

25 years ago Robert Parker’s star was ascending. And while he still hangs in the heavens, he never let his brand get the best of him. He has endured and he is tremendously influential to this day. Everything has a cycle and someday his cycle will come full circle. Is Gary V’s cycle faster? Shorter? More timely for now? Is he really, as Gaiter and Brecher of the WSJ describe him as the “wine geek of the moment”? If his brand grows beyond wine, as it is doing, perhaps they are correct. But he made his mark with wine. He seems to love it. Will the power of his brand force him away from what he loves?

"The true harvest of my life is intangible - a little star dust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched” - Henry David Thoreau

photo of Capote by Tom Palumbo

Friday, May 15, 2009

Some Pound the Pavement ~ Some Twitter it Away

I had left a call and an e-mail for my friend. It had been 4 months since he started his import-distribution business in NY and I was wondering how it was going.

Since he landed on these shores, he's had the luck to have two things happen to him:

1) He moved to New York in August of 2001.
2) He left his job to start a business in November of 2008.

Timing isn’t everything. There’s also location. Thankfully he was located in an area where wine and Italian wine has a chance for survival.

He doesn’t have a blog in which to schlep his wines or his philosophy. He hasn’t sent out samples to wine writers and bloggers. He didn’t go to Vinitaly (or the alternatives) and he isn’t planning on going to VitignoItalia or Terroir Vino. He doesn’t have air-miles or instant-upgrades in which he can rely on to get him over to Italy on a regular basis. He doesn’t have a patron or a mate who is making tons of money. And it’s not that he isn’t a sociable guy. He has many friends. It’s just that he has to make it work. He cannot fail. He doesn’t have a fall-back plan. He must succeed. I’m betting he will.

This week, he called to tell me that:

1) He is paying all his suppliers on time
2) He is ordering another container
3) He has just hired another salesman

That is great news in a time when people have to fight for every bottle, when some folks have so lost their way that they think they just have to show up in their orange clogs and Ray Bans and party on. Well, let me tell you (one more time) this ain’t no party.

So another testimonial for hard work, focus and a fellow who is making his world safe for Italian wine. Considering the first time I met him in America we spent the afternoon walking around the destroyed site of the World Trade Center, still burning in October of 2001, and he and I were looking at each other wondering where all this was going to lead us.

Now he is leading his Italian wineries into a new world where the age-old principles still mean something. No amount of twittering on the tweetdeck will make up for pounding it on the pavement.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Remembering Abruzzo

There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of Abruzzo from my first visit there in the early 1980’s, when they adopted me as one of their native sons, to the years of friendship and collegiality among the many winemakers there.

The Gran Sasso, the Great Spirit Mountain that looks over the area, is as much a product of the trembling earth of the millions of the year, as the people now trying to rebuild their lives.

The land oozes soul; the grapes burst their energy forth for lively wines. When one hears about all the tankers of Montepulciano that move north at night to vivify weaker wines in the north, this is an unsung hero of a region.

My friends at Illuminati, not trampled by the crashing bricks or rumbling dirt, but none the less affected by their neighbor’s cries of pain. Over the years their wines have changed, like their labels, but always for the better. Today they are a success story for Abruzzo. Some of their neighboring wineries near Aquila are searching for their way through back to the future.

Some day they will open bottles of sparkling wine to celebrate a gathering, a success, a landmark.

For now, we remember those whom we have given up to the Greater Power.

How bittersweet it is to be so blessed to live in Italy and then have to die and say goodbye to all of that beauty.

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