Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Day the Vines Cried

When appalling events trigger knee-jerk drama

Caronne Ste Gemme after the attack
Earlier this year, after Vinitaly, I went to Bordeaux for the en Primeurs tastings. One of our hosts, Francois Nony, looks after Château Caronne Ste Gemme, which had just been the target of severe vandalism in the vineyards. Described by Tom Stevenson as “a superb island of vines on a gravel plateau south of St. Julien estates,” the property is one of those little gems that has been enjoying an upsurge in quality and popularity. Below are excerpts from the report on the vandalism of the property in March 2012 by Jane Anson in Decanter:

About 2,000 young vines have been vandalised causing tens of thousands of euros damage at a Medoc estate.

The plot of Merlot vines at Chateau Labat, a 7-hectare cru bourgeois estate in AOC Haut-Medoc, was attacked on Friday night, possibly by a gang, the owners suspect.



‘We have been racking our brains as to who could possibly have done this. Clearly they were very determined. For one person alone, cutting this many vines would have taken around six hours of work, so I have to assume there may have been more than one criminal.’

Nony is vice-president of the Alliance Cru Bourgeois, working to promote the wines of the Medoc. ‘As part of the promotions team, I deal with the good news, not the bad news, and can’t see why that would attract anger. We do have occasional staff issues at the estate, as does everyone, but again I can’t see that they have been so severe as to cause this anger towards my family.’

It was reported that the vines had been vandalized and destroyed, possibly by more than one person. Note, the word gang was used, not mafia or mafioso.

I have kept up with situation though a colleague who talks to Nony weekly. There was word of a person who worked on the farm, a pruner, who was fired and seemed to be very emotional about the firing, maybe even to the extent of violence against the vines. The case has yet to be resolved, according to my source, although now they think it was essentially a one-man job. It was a big job, whether it was done by one or a gang. But the French, and the English journalists who wrote about it, didn’t go crazy. They reported it and didn’t resort to hyperbole or invoking the evil mafioso.

This month, some nine months later, 60,000 liters of wine at Gianfranco Soldera’s Case Basse estate in Montalcino was lost in a similar act of destruction. A problem with the initial Italian reporting on the incident focused on possible mafia involvement. Marisa Fumagalli and Marco Gasperetti reported in the newspaper Corriere della Sera that Gianfranco Soldera called the act, “un vero atto mafioso.”

Subsequently Soldera was later interviewed at IlCittadinoOnline.it and noted in a post at DoBianchi, In it, Soldera clarifies that he never spoke of mafia.”

Unfortunately on that same interview at IlCittadinoOnline.it there was a commenter that affirmed their bigotry (even after Soldera said it wasn’t so), suggesting this is an ongoingl'incedere delle mafie nel nostro territorio (march of the mafia in our territory).

Perhaps the Italian language uses the words mafia and mafioso in the same way some Westerners throw out the phrase “Middle Eastern,” with the subtext that anyone from the Middle East is a terrorist. Consequent raves on the internet found people saying:

@patriziacantini
I'm sure that what happened to #Soldera in #Montalcino is a revenge. He is right when he talks abou [sic] #mafia.

A restaurant in Rome, La Veranda, tweeting as @LaVeranda3
"Non ci faremo intimidire da questo atto mafioso e intimidatorio" Famiglia #Soldera #Brunello #Montalcino pic.twitter.com/La0olGCs

and linked the official Soldera statement, which did not include the words “quoted” above.

Giampero Nadali was more restrained when he wrote with sadness but in a calm tone:

Mentre proliferano le reazioni online e offline sul "chi" e "perché" (mafia, invidia, antipatia, vendetta...), ad Aristide mancano sinceramente le parole. 

Thank you, Giampero, for resisting hyperbole.

The problem with the internet and with many of the knee-jerk reactions found on it are the subliminal messages suggesting that all people from the south of Italy are mafioso. I find using the word, whether it be a victim venting frustration or a blogger gathering “page loads” on an internet site, to be lazy and irresponsible. Like, oh, the maid must have taken the silverware.

Nelle Nuvole from Montalcino dispatches the mafia conspiracy theory with another word: Faida (feud).
Per la rubrica "parole di cui non possiamo fare a meno, purtroppo: MAFIA", ci viene riproposta riguardo al vinocidio operato a Case Basse. A caldo, la eviterei. Un comportamento mafioso avviene quando c'è un crimine organizzato che lo opera.

Nel caso mi sembra forse più utilizzabile la parola FAIDA.

Dopo lo sdegno ci vuole silenzio in attesa di sapere gli sviluppi delle indagini.

On her Nelle Nuvole’s Facebook page one of her followers, Alberto del Buono, wrote this:
“Mi sembra lampante si tratti dun atto di Mafia. I grandi produttori di vino non perdonano a Soldera il fatto di produrre attenendosi al disciplinare e denunciando le deviazioni. Questo è un Paese a mafia diffusa e quella del vino è solo meno potente di quelle delle droghe, ma quanto a metodi non ha nulla da invidiare. D'altronde nella (ex) provincia di Siena quella del vino non è la sola. Ce n'è un'altra che risale al 1472, ben prima di quella siciliana.”

Is there yet a measure of prejudice in the hearts of some Italians, a reserve that hasn’t yet been drained?

The important thing to remember is that a man’s work, six years of his life, have just been flushed. No he wasn’t murdered, and yes he had insurance. As if that will make up for the loss. But moreover, why, at so early a juncture, do folks resort to the hackneyed use of the term mafia without knowing what they are talking about? It’s insulting to Soldera and the rest of us.

It fuels the “industry of outrage,” as writer Salmon Rushdie calls it, an industry co-opted by folks who would rather lob an outrageous accusation than wait to discover who really perpetrated this heinous act.

I find it refreshing and enlightening in these two similar situations that the French with their Gallic control realized there might be other issues at play in the world of misdeeds besides an endless conspiracy of calamity the Italians get so wrapped up in.

Fortunately the Consorzio in Montalcino, DoBianchi reports, is also taking a more restrained approach. Jeremy’s post had this note about the Consorzio statement:

"The [Consorzio’s] post also quotes the mayor of Montalcino, Silvio Franceschelli, who expressed the town’s 'utmost solidarity with Case Basse for this villainous and cowardly act.' ”

Franceschelli is also quoted as saying that “any allusion to phenomena that bear the mark of the mafia are entirely imaginary.”

The sky is not always falling. I for one will embrace my inner sfumato (over fear of mafioso). Things aren’t always so chiaroscuro. Areas blend into one another through miniscule brushstrokes. Yes it makes for hazy viewing at times, without the clear-cut edges and direction we all want so very much in our lives. Better to take a deep breath and step back for better perspective.

It's a lesson to learn from our French brothers. Calm, restraint, pursuit. We have only to look to Da Vinci’s La Giocanda in the Louvre to recall the serenity of sfumato and surrender to the facts, not manufactured drama.




wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

3 comments:

Do Bianchi said...

Thanks for the shouts out, Alfonso.

In all the coverage of this episode, the only one from the winery who used the word "mafia" seems to have been son Mauro Soldera, in the Corriere interview.

Of course, many Italian observers used it, as you point out, in a knee-jerk reaction.

But even Franco quickly pulled back from that position. And Gianfranco Soldera swiftly told the media that he didn't believe it was mafia but rather intimidation (as I reported).

I do think it's worth noting that the concept of organized crime as mafia has been romanticized greatly in Italian pop culture and even some high-brow literature and cinema.

The TV show, "The Octopus" ("La Piovra"), was hugely popular in Italy long before the Sopranos. Just one example...

In some ways, mafia is to the Italians what sex is to us. It's a taboo that always emerges from a nefarious act.

In any case, I agree wholeheartedly with your wisdom here.

And I do think the fact that it's Montalcino (and not Bordeaux or, say, Langa, where there have been plenty of scandals and insurance fraud etc.) add a patina of conspiracy...

anyways, my two cents...

jeg said...

So, just what is JR pointing at?

Directions to a small bistro most likely.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks Jeremy - kind of you to say so...

jeg- I think he was asking for directions to Mouton ;^)

Real Time Analytics