From the "recent conversations with winemakers" department...
Q. I noticed in a recent meeting we were in one of the people was talking to you about winemaking. What was that all about?
A. Interesting question. They talking to me about how to make wine. They ask me about how high my sugar levels are and why I pick at such high levels.
Q. What did you tell him?
A. I can’t tell him much. He is too much trying to tell me how to make wine. I make wine everyday for 20 years.
Q. Who was this person?
A. I think he was accountant, or lawyer, who has blog about wine. That is what he tells me. He writes review on his web site and considers himself expert, I think.
Q. Do you get this a lot?
A. Oh yes, but more in America than it Italy. In Asia, it is totally different. No one there tell me how to make wine, but they do ask a lot of question.
Q. Like what?
A. In America, it is usually young men before the age of 40, they act like they have an answer they are trying to get me to give. Either the answer they are looking for or an answer they are looking me to give that they do not agree with so then they can lecture me about how to properly make wine.
A. Oh yes. The community on the West Coast, especially in San Francisco area, near the wine country, they love to lecture me on acidity and filtration. Also on whether or not the wine is organic.
Q. What about the East Coast?
A. One time a fellow who runs a wine bar asks me why I use oak in my wines. He was telling the producer before me that he hates oak and small barrel wines. It was really funny because he loves my oakiest wine.
Q. The other day we were in a restaurant and a fellow came up to you. I was not paying attention, but later he sent me an email telling me he thought your wines were too modern.
A. He was studying for a degree in wine masters, and his group is talking about winemaking and the difference between wine from America and wine from Europe. I am not sure what he is talking about because the wine we discuss is my entry wine, which is 12.5% alcohol, has no oak, and is dry. Of course it is a 2009, so the fruit is fresh. But modern? Healthy, yes. Modern, I don’t know what he is talking about. But I have that happen all the time. A sommelier in the Midwest argues with me about a wine I make. He has just released a wine with a label, where it says he makes the wine. I know the winery and know he doesn’t make the wine. He contracts to have a wine made. But he thinks himself a winemaker and so I think he feels he has the right to argue with me as he considered himself on the same level. That is Ok if he has been making the wine like me for 20 years, cleaning tanks and sleeping at the winery during harvest. But I look him up on Google. He flies around from one place to another. He drinks great wine in those places, but he is not winemaker. But he still wants to tell me how to make wine. I get email from him.
Q. How do you deal with that?
A. Well, if one is willing to do the work, they can then take place at the table and we can share ideas. Look, I am not an angry person, I like people. But they should stick to what they do best, whether it is serve people in a restaurant or sell in their wine shop, or even if they import or distribute.
Q. You do not use an importer? Is there a reason for that?
A. I decide to go direct because there is always a value in relation to the quality. If someone goes to Italy and buys a Tocai for €3 Euros, and after it goes through the necessary steps in importation, the wine arrives to the table in a restaurant and is $60, that wine probably doesn’t have good chance to be sold before it is too late for that delicate wine, no?
Q. And in your travels around the world you have seen this pattern?
A. Look, Italy is an economy that is weak right now. And America had a crumbling economy started two years ago. But nature doesn’t stop. The vines are growing. We need to move the wine out of the tanks. Tocai is hard enough sell, but when it sells in a wine shop for $18 when all around there are good wines for $9 - $10- even $12, what kind of future those wines will have?
Q. I know Tocai is dear to your heart, as you spent a lot of time in Friuli. What do you think of the orange wines from Radikon, Gravner, Movia?
A. These are friends of mine, when Josko’s son died last year we are all saddened. I know these people; we have same language, culture. I think this is part of philosophy of wine. These are not wine we sit down and drink to enjoy. They are like reading Giambattista Vico, a little goes far ways. But with my Piadina I want a nice glass of fresh wine like a Sangiovese or a Barbera, not a cloudy wine for a night when I cannot sleep and my candle is burning. No, like I tell the sommelier winemaker, these are not wine for drinking as much as they are wine for talking about. And here we are talking about them.
Q. So what do you like to drink?
A. I am really in love with the Nerello of Etna. I have a friend who works on the mountain and his wines are exciting. They are Sicily’s Pinot Noir in that they give a little heart break to make them. I love Tocai. And I am interested in Viognier, because I have found a climate and a terroir in Italy where the grapes do well. And Sangiovese, but not the Tuscan style. Really I like the way Sangiovese on the Adriatic coast is lighter and less muscule.
Q. Do you like rosé wines?
A. I make them for me and my friends, but the wine are too expensive to make, and really we always get them too old in the shops, and in the café’s they never show up. We make a wonderful one from Sangiovose that is a little deeper in color, but we love with some cheese and snacks. But we always lose money on rose wine and so we make a little for ourselves and leave it at that. America likes more white Zinfandel and the rosé wines are for people in wine business, or wine writers - like orange wines, only more drinkable when young.
Q. The future? What do you see in your imaginary crystal ball?
A. Wine that drink like they are $30 but sell in wine shops for $16. Less complicated wines, not so important, for people to enjoy every day. Not much dependent of Wine Spectator or Parker scores, or Gambero Rosso. People now have their I-phone; they can find out when someone tries to sell them something at the store or the table. And more direct way to get wine; faster, easier, fresher. I love America, I hope for a long time of enjoying working with the people in America.
Images from Courtyard of the Cloisters at Monreale Cathedral in Sicily