I’m a young winemaker in Italy. Let’s say the Marche. My grandfather had vineyards. He grew grapes, on 20 acres. Sangiovese and Montepulciano. And some white varieties. Made a little wine for the house and family and sold off the rest to the local Cantine Sociale. Pretty common occurrence all throughout Italy.
As a child we would spend summers there, it was in the hills. It was cooler. the kids could wander. There were birds, warblers, nightingales, mourning doves. The vineyards were filled with song from dawn to sunset. I loved walking in the vineyards with my nonno.
My father wasn’t really interested in the wine business. He got some law or economics degree. Went off to a bigger city for fame and fortune.
Here I am, I’m 28. My grandfather lived his life. My dad lived his. And I am looking at the history and decide to go back to the Marche, make wine as sincerely as possible and see what kind of a life I can make of it. So far, so good?
My grandfather was well respected for what he did in the community and my dad was highly considered because he did what people did in his generation, and that was to go out and look for a better life.
Meanwhile, in other villages and in other vineyards, similar stories have been unfolding.
Some of the people, who had other things going on, maybe in commerce, maybe in real estate, made a lot of money. Maybe they were wealthy to start with; maybe they just kept banging away on the drum. A few of them became wealthier and famous for their wines. Publications like Gambero Rosso, Decanter, the Wine Spectator, they would write about them, put their pictures on the cover. They were becoming superstars in the wine world.
Their wines were getting more and more expensive, and their reputations were swelling even more. The bubble was expanding around the aura of their life and they were being seen as the face of Italian wine.
It’s 5:30 in the morning, dark outside, I have to go out and work in my 20 acres. It’s cold; the autumn dew cuts through my bones. Having my coffee and looking at the internet feeds before I head out, I see pictures of famous Italian winemakers, dressed in expensive clothes, smiling with tanned faces, from gala events in New York, London, Las Vegas. I am beginning to feel like I will never rise from the mud, it’s too late; everything has already been set for the hierarchy of Italian wine. The princes have been appointed, their constant re-anointment in the world wine press see to it. Who wants to taste Ciliegiolo out of my cement tanks, in a cold cellar, when they can sip a fine Nebbiolo, well aged, with a steak and famous faces, in Glitter Gulch?
What am I doing? I ask myself. Italy is the way it is. The politic, the hierarchy, the class structure. Nothing will change in my lifetime. And my lifetime is barely starting? No one wants to drive up into the vineyards in my dirty little VW when they can cruise from Milan to Alba in a sleek Ferrari, listening to Laura Pausini, feeling so fine.
I am at a crossroads. Those who came before me came through a very difficult time. They were poor, they were hungry. I hear the story the Alba winemakers tell me at Vinitaly. I see their wives, short stocky, peasant gals, now scrubbed and stretched, and layered with the filigree of finesse that comes with success. And status. And Italy is so much about getting to the top. I am young, the economy is changing, I’ll never get there. I am part of a lost generation in the future. I am apprehensive.
It is so very Italian to be jealous of these people. They have it all. The only thing they don’t have is time. They are 50, 60, 70. I am not even 30. I have time. With all due respect to those giants, Piero Antinori, Angelo Gaja, and all the princes and counts and royalty of the Italian wine world. Auguri, enjoy the fruits of your labors. Count your blessings. File your reviews, note your scores. You earned it.
I may never make it to your heights. But I have my little hill and my Sangiovese and Montepulciano and Ciliegiolo and those funny little white wine grapes that no one has a name for. And the music from the little birds that live to give joy and need no adornment other than a little sunshine and some seed. And I have time.
And there it is, my dream. The mud says to the mountains, "Buon Lavoro!"
Happy Birthday, Rafael