Sunday, September 20, 2015

Wine – made by dead people – for people not yet born

With autumn’s beginning, Italian winemakers are now home from the beach and the mountains, and busy working in their wineries. Gone are the long dreamy days listening to the lap of the sea. Faint are the memories of lunch that went from 1:00 until 4:00 PM, and which included a nap after that. Distant are the long nights, sipping frizzante wine and eating fresh fish, pasta and fruit at a nearby chalet way past midnight. Now is the time for no-sleep, meals on the fly and little time for reflection. Oh Daniele boy, the grapes, the grapes are calling.



But for those grapes which called so many years ago and which are now wine, sleeping in a dark cellar somewhere, what about them? I recently went into a wine store that I once called on, back in the early 1980’s. There in an armoire set up as a display for important wines was a magnum of 1971 Barbaresco. I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was more than déjà vu, I’m telling you. It was the closest thing to time travel I can imagine. And it set off a series of inner reverberations and reflections that are still crashing on the shores of my mind.

I thought about old wines that weren’t yet ready to drink. Like the bottles in my wine closet, Barolo and Brunello from the 1980’s, still resting there, not yet ready for optimal drinking. Many of those wines were made by souls who no longer lie under the sun by the beach in August or wait by a gurgling tank of Nebbiolo waiting for the right moment to punch down the cap at 4AM. Their work is done, but their works are far from finished.

For young wine lovers, it’s all the rage to find a connected person with a rare stash of wine and cozy up to them with the hope that they might expand their repertoire of wine tasting (and bragging rights on Instagram) by tasting far back into the past. Like the wine I came across last week, which I remember vividly tasting a time or two, made possible by a winemaker who no longer trods this earth. Odd, in that most of the people I work with, on a daily basis, weren’t born when I sold that bottle of wine, let alone when it was made. What of it?

What is that connection that we can have between the dead and the not yet born, that wine makes possible? Is it really “tasting” history rather than reading about it? Is it just one more narcissistic tumble in century 21 that gives the holder of the ticket another selfie moment? Or is it time travel?

Before we were as self-aware as the age of social media has made us, one might have jotted down a note about it and put it in a notebook, perhaps to surface in an article, a shelf talker or maybe even a book. Along with the corks and the ashtrays filed with cigars, the bottle would often go into the trash bin, never to be thought of again.

Funny, in that we seek old wines, trying to reach back into time, but we often disregard those who made the wine possible. Yesterday I walked into a group home for the elderly. In the main room, very cold and with a large screen TV blaring, was an assortment of lounge chairs and couches. Deposited in many of them were very old people, in various stages of sleep or consciousness. They reminded me a little of the cool bottles that are sleeping (and in various stages of their life) in my wine closet. Here was a 1917, there a ’21, over on the couch a ’24. All but forgotten, their lives not yet over, but technically their life development halted. Waiting for what?

Later that day at lunch with one of the residents of that house, a “1915”, I said something; don’t even remember what it was. But the ‘15’s response was positive, jovial, happy. He’s not waiting to die; he’s popping corks every day.

Meanwhile, our Italian compatriots are keeping their night-long vigils over the bubbling brews of soon-to-be-wine. Who will drink it some day? Who will write about it in 2061? Who will grab a shot of it and share it with their peers? Who knows? All I know is that this has been going on for a long time, and to have been engaged in it, even if for a short 30 or 40 years, has been a life-changing experience. I hope those who are not yet born, and who might drink wine made by winemakers today who might not be around then, will have that sense of wonder and surprise and beholding that makes this miracle of wine so marvelous



In Memory of Pietro Berutti



wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

James Biddle said...

The dance between continuity and change has always captured my attention. Sadly, whether in politics, religion or winemaking, too many dance only with their own kind without the significant quest for some “golden mean,” sense of balance/harmony, or connections across time/space. Some wines, too far down the change axis, will likely become quasi-vinegar long before the winemaker passes. Although there may be a few wine makers locked in some extreme continuity track, it seems to me that many Italian producers in particular prize the multiple links/bridges/connections that preserve a holistic view of past, present and future. The immediate activity of making wine from “aged” vines to “age” for however long should be the occasion for dancing!

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