Sunday, December 15, 2019

Memo to the Italian Wine Trade: Tell Me “YOUR” Story!

Roberto Bava (L), one of Italy's great wine story tellers,
with his daughter Francesca at Vinitaly
It seems like I’ve written about this in the past. Maybe it’s just déjà vu. But for some reason, my Italian wine trade amici still need to read this. The funny thing is, my French cousins will, because they still read wine blogs. The Italians? Not so much. But I will persevere, try to help them to help themselves, even if they don’t think they need it. So, here goes.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

“喜劇結束了” - The State of Italy - Wine, Culture, All of It - in 2120

“Italian investment of time and resources in importing wine to China will ultimately turn out to be a big mistake. The Chinese will eventually get their production to a level where they can be seen as prestigious as the first growths of Bordeaux (the French are complicit in helping them get there, and along the way, have sold their souls for a buck). And when the state media of China convinces Chinese (or compels them) to be loyal to their homegrown wine, which is better than anywhere else in the world, "La Commedia è finita" [ 喜劇結束了]. Italian wine will have been pared down to miniscule levels, and will be so rare and exclusive as to be the private domain of billionaires and NPC apparatchik. You and I will be dead then.” – Luisa Parker-Ragg in 2020


Assisi - February 14, 2120 A.D.

Where to start? As everyone knows by now, around 2040, things got tough for Italians in these parts. The Chinese population alone in Tuscany was nearing 500,000, displacing many generations of Tuscans. Along with that, the birth rate declined so extensively that it was hard to keep some of our industries going. Native manufacturing all but disappeared. And farming wouldn’t have survived if not for AI. Vineyards began to shrivel, with no one to work the land. And then, as if overnight, we found out that China owned 58% of Italian land and industry. We had been invaded, overrun and taken over by our own hubris and inertia. Now we are a colony.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Altamont, December 6, 1969 - The end of the '60's or, simply, childhood's end?

Altamont was dubbed “the end of the ‘60’s,” but for some of us it was simply childhood’s end. For this child of the 60’s it was a time when I left the safe confines of my desert village and moved to college, to the city. But it was outside of that city that the urban darkness descended on a typically bright and sunny California day.

What I saw, not heard - for there was a concert providing a soundtrack to all of this - was not just restless youth living in an uncertain time. It was as if the curtain of civility was being pulled back, just a little, much like what a carnival barker does to entice innocent bystanders into his tent. But this onlooker had his camera, so he stepped in and started shooting.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

A late-night dispatch from a tired and wary Italian wine export agent in China

[ Imagine a scenario where Italian wine exporters, winemakers and their agents make their twice (or thrice) yearly pilgrimage to China in search of trade and success. And imagine, if you will, one of those agents sending a note in the middle of the night. It has happened many times, and as such, this one emanated from one of those cold, dark, lonely rooms, overlooking a pop-up city of millions in the middle of the night.]


Dear A,

It’s 3 A.M. and I got into my room two hours ago. I’m writing to you because it’s afternoon where you are, and back home in Italy people have sat down to their Sunday dinner. They have other, more important things on their mind than my travails in the Middle Kingdom.

I’ve just come in from another wine banquet, this time in Zhengzhou. Course after course, some recognizable, some as foreign as the Chinese characters on the signs. And wine, Italian wine. Multiple vintages of this wine or that wine. In my case, it is our Brunello, which goes back many years. How our hosts found the 1955, I’ll never know. We don’t even have it in our cave back home. But that seems to be the way it is in China. One can find things seemingly lost to history. On the other hand, one can find that here the past is shunned, forever lost. At least the truth of history. But that’s what it must be like when you live under the rule of a leader who had himself voted ruler for life. God, what I’d give to have a plate of spaghetti con peperoncino aglio olio right now, to settle my stomach and to rid my palate from the taste of smoked duck and soy.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Absolutely Last (and Final) Wine Dinner I Will Ever Do

[Stardate -303142.8]

“It was bound to happen, eventually,” he said to himself. “After all, having done more than 600 wine dinners, what more can one say or do about Italian wine in front of a group of juiced-up bacchants on a Saturday night, getting their drink on and rushing through the courses, so the deejay can turn down the lights, turn up the noise and get them to dancing their derrières off, into the wee hours of the morning?”

And so it was, not with a bang but a sniffle that he shuffled off the dais and proceeded to eat his cold pasta on some long-abandoned table, wondering why, why did he fall for it again?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

[For what it’s worth] Who do you think you are?

There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear

It really seems, to this fool on the hill, that the routes that wine follow, there’s a groove that has become very, very important. I’m going to break it down into the different articulations, from the source to the terminus, and offer my observations. And yes, we’re talking about wine, and how it’s intersection within our culture has changed how we see it, how we place ourselves within that context and how everything that was taken for granted 30 years ago, have pretty much been assailed in these here times. Change is constant and inevitable. And to quote, once again, a distant cousin, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” It’s not all bad news.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Young French professionals take the lead in the wine trade

Alice Paillard and Victor Coulon
When one looks back at a career and all the people and occurrences in the span of the last 40 or so years, there is overwhelming evidence that we have been in a Golden Age for wine. But as one backs away from the precipice and the younger generations take their turn grabbing the brass ring, the idea of legacy emanates.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

5 Italian Wine Buyers (that I wanted to challenge, gag and thank)

Over the length of my career in the fine wine distribution channel, I encountered a few wine buyers that “took the cake,” and I mean that in every sense. In sales, as in service, the customer is king. So, I had to learn to accept, reflect and occasionally deflect. It wasn’t all half-glass stuff, though. There truly were (and hopefully still are) some exemplary buyers of Italian wine in restaurants and fine wine shops. The following five are examples of archetypal Italian wine buyers - the good, the bad and the ugly - that I had close encounters with on the wine trail in Italy.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

In the Blink of an Eye

Tornadoes, Fires and Lynchings...

The path of destruction from the Dallas tornado on October 19, 2019
Everything seems to be moving so fast. Maybe it’s the contraction of time you experience as you have more of it behind you than in front of you. Perhaps it’s the residue of all the moments in the present pressing forth upon those moments in the future. I don’t know, really, but what I do know, is that things can change in the blink of an eye.

When I was in Sicily in 2016 and woke up in the back of a car that had been hit by a truck, I was dazed and confused. “Where am I?” where the first words I remember uttering. “Sit down!” was the response. Good idea. I had several broken ribs, a knee that was bulging with a hematoma and a concussion. Not to mention various neck and musculoskeletal pains since. But we were alive, we made it through.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Weight of Time - An Ancient Tuscan Family and Vineyard

On a cool Friday afternoon in North Texas, autumn finally reached us. Time to put on the long pants, even socks. Maybe a jacket. Or pull that black Italian suit out of the closet and wear it. It fits now. After a year away from constant dining, wining and being part of the ever-so-involved wine world.

Now, it’s a different season for yours truly. But it is one I am digging in and rooting around. Not like there will be that much time, but we’re here, now. So, what is one to do?

How about a casual Friday afternoon lunch with a few friends, Italian and otherwise, all very nice, warm and cordial souls. And our hosts from Fonterutoli in Tuscany.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Elite Cabal and Their Conspiracy for the Future of Wine

90 was the first one to arrive, always early, always ready to please. He took a seat, at a table set for twelve, and waited patiently.

He always did well in school, and afterwards, in graduate school, he didn’t finish because he wanted to get right into the swing of things. 90 is action oriented, favorite quote is, “Let’s make something happen.”

91 followed, looking a bit dazed and confused. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days, but she arrived in starched blouse and pressed trousers, no slouch was 91. Her biggest problem was that even though she excelled among her peers, she didn’t rise to the level of excellence that she was once thought capable of. But really, this was the same with 92, 93 and 94. They were good, very good. But not great. And great is what the world of premiumization is looking for. 92, 93 and 94 arrived and sat down on the other side of the table.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Are Wine Ambassadors Worth the Time and Money?

(This one is)
Is the role of the wine ambassador in the era of social media an experiment that has yet to see its star rise or has that sun already set? With wholesale consolidation approaching event horizon and with sales force automation becoming more prevalent, how do you get the drum beat, the cheerleader, when historically that was left to the distributor’s sales force?

This commentary is directed primarily towards companies (importers, wholesale distributors, wine regions and consortiums, and well-financed wineries) but if you are a wine ambassador or are considering to become one, there are some relevant points here for you as well.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Wine writers and their most faithful followers

For those perched inside the balloon of the wine world, a self-contained orb, there’s little to worry about an expanding universe. The problems of string theory or quantum mechanics matter not, to those vying for their spot on the head of the pin, placed strategically in the middle of the balloon. Little concern there is, as well, for any possibility that the sharp end of that needle might pierce their tiny world and all will be lost. Wine writers live in an alternate cosmos. There aren’t the normal repercussions that normal writers must face. The book writer, and hopeful publisher, gnash about in the trendy nosh parlors of Shoreditch, swirling their Manzanilla, while cobbling their strategy to sell 1,000 books. It’s perfect. It must be the alcohol, which casts that euphoric fog.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Oh, The People You’ll Meet! (at a wine media luncheon)

Since decamping from the day job, I’ve had more than my fair share of invites to wine media luncheons. For the most part these have been pleasurable social events. If lucky, we actually received information and inspiration. I’ve come to recognize some of the archetypal characters that populate these events. Here are a few that have stood out along the way.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Scandal that has Shaken the Universe of the Masters of Ŝophisticated Ҫannabis

Dateline: April 20, 2049
It’s been nearly a year since 420 anxious Cannabis Sommeliers amassed at the Hotel Zig-Zag in Portland, Oregon. The purpose? To accept a challenge to pass the most rigorous testing to become one of a handful (now standing at 1937) of Masters of Ŝophisticated Ҫannabis (MŜҪ) in the world – fewer than have traveled to Mars.

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