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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Giving up Brunello for Lent

Just when you thought Montalcino was settled down, they go and show everyone that this is the dysfunctional wine center of the earth. From the scandals of the early 21st century up to the singular assault on the stocks of the Soldera winery, it seems that things are just not right in that town.

I’m not really surprised. Montalcino isn’t different from many little towns in Italy. There is a lot of fear of change and a lot of entropy, make it hubris, which keeps them and the wine they make from really making it to the top. Let’s face it, Brunello can be great, but not with a small-minded approach. I’m not talking a slick Madison Avenue approach to marketing, but this small town, old fashioned mentality that refuses to look further than their own nose, well, let me be clear: it makes it easier for me to say the first thing I am giving up for Lent this year will be Brunello.


What got me here?

In November, while in Verona for the Vinitaly wine competition, one of the folks I met, a journalist, asked me if I was going to be at the Benvenuto Brunello premier in February. I replied that I had never thought to go, but was interested, what did I need to do? He told me, “Don’t worry, I’ll get in touch with the right people and get you an invite, get you over here.” Not knowing what that meant I interpreted it as a politeness that a new friend was extending me.

A few months later I got in contact with him, to see if there was any follow-up I could do in regards to the event which was coming up (in a month). I was told by my journalist friend, that they were in contact with someone at the Consortium, on my behalf.

As a follow up to that I wrote a note to the person, and indicated my interest in attending.

Dear ___________ ,

Happy New Year

On the advice of my friend and colleague, _____ _______, I am contacting you to let you know of my interest in Benvenuto Brunello in Montalcino this year.

Please advise me, at your convenience of the events and of my possible participation in the event this year.

I work in the Italian wine arena and have the blog, On the Wine Trail in Italy, as well as write for various publications and judge at international wine events. If you need me to send you my CV, please feel free to ask, if you need further information

Sincerely,


Crickets….

A week later, after I am told the invites are being sent out I send another note to the person I sent the first note to, explaining perhaps my email got stuck in their spam file.

Crickets….

I also reached out to another friend in Montalcino. A couple of days later I get an email from her.

Hi Alfonso,

______ _______ wrote me that she can't get through in sending you a reply. She asked me to transmit it to you:

Dear Mr Cevola,

Excuse us for our late reply; I was quite sure I’ve replied to your email!!
We have registered your name on the press list for the Saturday’s tasting on February the 23rd.

At the main entrance you will find your budget which will give you the possibility to taste all the wines at the walking around tasting to the producers table.
Looking forward to welcome you in Montalcino

Kindest regards

I think that when she writes budget she means "badge". The message was also copied to ______ (another journalist I know). If you want any further help, just send me a note.
Ciao


Look, I am not a hard person to find. I check all my emails, along with the spam files. I never successfully received any note from anyone at the Brunello Consorzio, only the follow note from my friend with her note. This is typical of folks in the bureaucracy; they’re not at all connected to their marketing efforts to know who they should extend a little professional courtesy to. Bordeaux or Napa Valley Vintners would never make this mistake, and I don’t even write about their wines that much. Meanwhile I have a blog devoted to Italian wine for 7 years, 10% of my 900+ posts reference Montalcino, thousands of people read the posts and I can’t even get a return email that isn’t ultimately routed to me by a concerned friend? Montalcino doesn’t need me, I get it.

Guess what? I don’t need Montalcino either.

As a sidebar, one would think these paper pushers would have done a little homework. In my day job, I represent a company that moves tremendous amounts of Brunello through America. Last time I checked, in my work, and with the companies I work with, we represent, conservatively, 8% of all Brunello that is imported into America. Brunello is important to me and my professional colleagues. But the apparatchik of Montalcino, the Consortium and the P.R. machine is offline.

To put the icing on the cake, a few weeks ago I get an invite to a Benvenuto Brunello USA tasting in Houston the end of this month. I am told I am invited to a tasting, with a seminar by Kevin Zraly. Really? Look, I know Kevin, nice guy, got himself a gig, nothing against that. But what do they need me there for? For the body count?

Montalcino has not just done this to me. One of my colleagues who lives here in Texas has infinitely more credit to direct a seminar, but do they know this guy either? I have to send these folks his contact info, and he consults for a top Italian restaurant in Houston as well as writes for a blog in Houston. He gets an invite too, like he needs that. Are these people sitting under a rock?

Did Montalcino lose internet service recently and suffer an information blackout? Or just more hubris?

Look, many of us in America and Italy know Italy is going through a particular time where Italy seems to not give a damn about their image or their business. Funny, the winemakers know the challenges. Harvest is down, prices are rising and world competition is up. But the folks who run the events for the consortium in Montalcino are either playing “collect-a-check” or they just are not very bright. If I were paying the consortium the fees they ask, I’d expect more bang for my buck.

We want to sell more Brunello in America, but the folks in Montalcino need to open their eyes and participate, consciously, in raising the image and bringing their best game to the table. And that’s just not happening.

Montalcino, you want our attention and our market share? You've got to try a little harder. The stakes are as high as they've ever been.

When is someone going to get it? My friends and colleagues do. It's not for lack of them trying. But, once again, the old-fashioned bureaucracy, that, don't-give-a-damn-"who is this guy anyway"-attitude, trumps authentic engagement.

Lent begins February 12. Like I said, I might as well give up Brunello for Lent, seeing as these folks gave up on folks like me from the get-go.



wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

13 comments:

  1. You had me at the title... ha!

    Thanks for the kind words, man... It's so crazy how America is so engaged in all things Montalcino but Montalcino is so disengaged from us. It's one of life's greatest disconnects.

    I'm actually going to the Zraly seminar in NYC.

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  2. After reading your post, I think your ego is as much a part of this as Brunello's communication challenges. This comes across to me as just some inside baseball stuff and your lament that you were not treated in the fashion you desire. Brunello is likely to carry on just fine, with or without your interest.

    Interestingly, I find their recent troubles beneficial to me as a consumer, as their prices are really great for the quality of the wine. But that's just me.


    Mark Oland
    olandm@gmail.com

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  3. Was Walter Speller at the Vinitaly wine competition last year?? I don't remember seeing his name in the lists.

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  4. Nicely written, though I must say it's not just Montalcino. I do wine tours here in Umbria, mainly in the Sagrantino area, and presentation, part of marketing, is serving freezing cold or too hot wines that they've just opened, despite writing on the labels that it needs a couple of hours to breathe, and despite me always making appointments. The local tourist office don't recognise me, and tell tourists that there is noone doing organised tours. Welcome to Italy. But keep up the good work.
    Mark Stafford. (Gusto Wine Tours)

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  5. Mark

    If you read this blog over the years you will read a lot of insider baseball stuff. It’s what I do. Commentary from the dugout, along with any number of perspectives.

    Yeah, this is a rant, no doubt. But if my ego were out of control I probably wouldn’t have approved your comment. I don’t even know you and here you are free to express your opinion, unfiltered.

    What it is is passion, and concern for the Italian wine industry. Yes, Brunello will carry on fine without me or you. But my job is to grow the Brunello business. And with partners who are asleep at the wheel, that makes for a rough road to success.

    Hope that clears it up a little better for you, and make sure to check back in when I’m doing all my flowery poetry stuff and junk…

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  6. Mark, dude, you need to chill out. Take a puff, bro, and listen to the music... that's the only response worth making to such an idiotic comment by you...

    In other news, a nordic country colleague of ours recently wrote me about the Gambero Rosso tasting that he had attended in his nordic country. He said it reminded him of the Soviet days.

    Italian public relations have remained stagnated since the days of Brezhnev. (And I write this as a devout enlightened Marxist.)

    But it's not so much the fault of the PR firms (or internal PR firms) as much as the Italian media is to blame: conflict of interest and a confusion of advertorial and editorial are endemic in Italy and have been for generations. The Italian political system is another example of this.

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  7. Alfonso,
    There's the real mafia they were talking about during the Soldera incident, the silent "omerta" treatment.

    Montalcino is broken
    -Alberto M.

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  8. Raffaella Guidi FederzoniJanuary 21, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    Dear Alfonso,

    I am sorry but I think that regarding the Consorzio di Montalcino's attitude is more a misunderstanding than anything else. You might find it strange but in this area (Montalcino) we have, unfortunately, episodes of bad connection - literally, not ironically -.
    I wouldn't be so touchy if I was you. I was happy to help, less happy that it ended in this way and even less happy to read this post.
    Miss Tacconi is only an executive and she really tried to get in touch with you, it's not an excuse.
    Mentioning her in this way, I am sorry, it is not fair.
    I hope that everything will be settle in the best way, maybe with a good glass of Brunello.

    Raffaella Guidi Federzoni

    PS Mr Alberto M., what you wrote is exactly what I despise, the stereotype of Montalcino as a "mafia" place.

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  9. Sorry that you feel this way Rafaella.

    I'm not a hard person to "reach".

    In any case, I've moved on.

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  10. Dear Mr.Cevola,
    with regard to what You write on Your blog, we would like You to note that it is not true that we have not considered Your request for participation.
    The office has in fact replayed to Your e-mail on January 15 at 18:14, but the message came back.
    Given the impossibility of a direct contact, we kindly asked Raffaella Guidi, with whom You are in contact, to forward our replay, and we never received any follow.
    On the blog you say that we have not taken You into account. And this is absolutely false.
    We kindly ask You therefore to correct what you have written in relation to the citations of the staff of the Consortium that obviously should not be held responsible in this regard.

    Ps. By the way, today we tryed to contact you once again by email, and the email came back!!

    Kind Regards.
    Stefano Campatelli - General Manager

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  11. Dear Mr Campatelli

    I have sent you an email to your address. Hopefully you will get it. Feel free to respond to me with the three email addresses I put on the email .

    Thank you

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  12. Mr. Campatelli why don't you say to Alfonso Cevola excuse me sir and please come to Benvenuto Brunello we are very glad to invite you?
    Is a mistery for me that this mistake and misunderstanding don't arrive with the wine writers you, Consorzio Brunello, like. And arrive, surprise, with wine writer and wine blogger that are critical regarding Montalcino wine scene and wine establishment. Such a "mistery"...

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  13. Dear Alfonso, as a longtime reader if your blog, and a fellow winemarketer in Italy, I must say I have had this identical experience from diverse quarters all over Italy time and time again. The consortium, the commune, always the body to keep one as far removed from the source. I have found over the years that the only people who give any value are the winemakers themselves, they are the ones who suffer most due to this behavior you have described above.
    I find after years of vinitaly and winetrips, that organizing my own visits to the winemaker and helping them directly if they so choose, makes my work enjoyable and valued, the rest is nonsense and broken as one of your readers wrote.
    their loss not yours.

    see you around vinitaly, or in Milan for a tasting. email me wisequeens@gmail.com
    Yours in wine
    Donna Amanda

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