Sunday, February 16, 2020

An Abruzzo Journey ~ Between the Tranquil and the Active

There is this reoccurring dream, one that has happened, even in waking hours, that sometimes I cannot distinguish between the two. This is happening more and more these days, as the reality of life becomes blurred between the tranquil and the active. It’s as if the meaning of life has swelled from merely what one does to also include one’s fanciful musings. As when we were children, so now, one may revisit that state of being, if only for a brief moment. And that is the way it is for this one when it comes to remembering Abruzzo. What was visible and what was envisioned?

Abruzzo was where I saw the birth of the golden age of Italian wine up front and personal. It is where I wandered vineyards and cellars, and talked to the old people and ate their roasted meats and drank their luscious, rich, generous red wines. It was heaven on earth and it remains a Valhalla to this wanderer, for there is so much for the mind and the body, the heart, the soul, and the eyes and the ears. And for those who thirst and hunger for the unfeigned.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

“Wine? I don’t care about scores, competitions mean nothing to me and I don’t collect anything!”

– The Gen Z interview

While writing a recent story for the paper, I sat at a coffee shop and scribbled. An apparition of a  person hovering nearby saw that I had a copy of a wine magazine and asked me what I was reading. Being the quintessential introvert, I squirmed. And then I showed it to her. She could have been young enough to be my granddaughter, if I’d had one. “Last year I turned 21,” she said, and have been thinking about wine and alcohol. I had no idea they had magazines about wine!”

I was on a deadline and was pressed to finish the piece, which had nothing to do with the magazine. So, I told her I was working on something else and could I send her some interview questions. We’d earlier determined that we had mutual acquaintances and thus there would be no risk from exchanging emails. “I don’t check my email that often,” she said, “but text me when you do, so I can pull them up.” And with that I finished my flat white, she disappeared, and I boogied out the door to my next appointment.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Italian wine and the pursuit of power

Meanderings from the streets of Palermo

I’m back in my family nerve center, if only for a few hours. It is winter, the moon solitary above the deserted streets, save for a few cold and lonely Africans setting up a table to sell their wares. Soon, the Palermitani will sweep out among the streets and the alleys, on their way to market or church or coffee. In the meantime, Palermo is all mine, and I do what I often do in Palermo, camera in hand, notebook in mind – I walk in search of where we are.

Along the way I come across my little wine bar, the one in La Vucciria. I step in to have a coffee, maybe with a shot of Marsala, just for old times. The place is far from the bustling spot it will be at noon, but for now, it’s mine, just as I’ve always held it in my memory from the first time I walked in with my uncle. It seems so long ago, 1971.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Has the battle for Italian wine in high-traffic retail been lost?

Now that I’ve scaled down my activities in the wine trade, I spend more time shopping for groceries, including the occasional bottle of wine. But I’m finding something about buying Italian wine in high-traffic retail (groceries, convenience stores, drugstores) to be very discouraging, verging on the sinister. The battle Italian wine has waged, interpolating itself into the greater American culture in the last 50 years, has been lost. It’s disheartening. And it’s disgusting. Because it treats Americans in search of Italian wine in those outlets, as if they are a bunch of immature babies just looking for a sweet lollipop.

So, let’s dig in and take a look at this situation.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Black Coffee, Green Bananas and the White Fog of Winter

After a holiday season which bordered on indulgent, and passing through the time of the winter solstice, breezing right on into the new year, the days are getting longer. Every day, when it is born, will be the longest day of the year, until the summer solstice. It’s all uphill from here.

But the world of wine is lumbering in its own dark days, filled with fear, drama and uncertainty. It’s as if the bright place I would escape to, my little world of wine, has been infested with the same turmoil that the greater world is lingering over. It’s too much for this observer. There has to be a way out of this rabbit hole. Or, so says, the optimist within, the resilient one, the man in the back of the room who is not shouting “FIRE!”

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Where to, Now?

Let’s take a little skin trip. Step outside of your little world, just for a few minutes. Let’s go to Italy.

“Ahh,” you say, “Been there, done that.” And yes, maybe you have gone to Italy a time or two.

There is another Italy, one that is elusive to most of us, even those who speak the language fluently. It isn’t an Italy of words. It isn’t an Italy which mandates judgement, or even preference.

It’s something I have seen inside the viewfinder of a camera, and hints of it in films. I’ve felt it while hiking in Abruzzo and driving my motor scooter around Pantelleria. I’ve smelled it in the kitchens of aunts and grandmothers, and tasted it on numerous tables, both majestic and humble. And I’ve sipped it from the finest crystal glasses to the commonplace tumblers. Still, I keep looking, thinking there is something about Italy that evades many of us.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Prohibition's 100-year Anniversary and the Disastrous 100% Tariffs - Analysis and Strategies

“Nothing uses up alcohol faster than political argument.” - Robert A. Heinlein

After reading a handful of pieces on the proposed 100% tariffs, and the plaintive pleas for it not to happen, I’m thinking: Is this all one can do, to ring the fire bell and ask people to write their leaders, sign a petition? There has to be more to it than the wringing of the hands and the signing of a petition. Those letters seldom get read. At best they’re put in piles: Yay vs. Nay. But no one is going to read them all, let alone respond. And a petition with 500 or 2,500 signatures, is that anything more than a feel-good gesture from the easy comfort of one’s laptop or smartphone? Come on.

I’d love to see someone dig in and ask the large distributors and importers what their collective plan of action is. Lobbying, donations, pressure? What is it? And also, if this is getting back at Airbus for subsidies, why should Boeing be a beneficiary when they are showing little in the way of cleaning up their own house? And why must wine (really, alcohol) suffer?

Sunday, December 29, 2019

14 Year Anniversary - On the Wine Trail in Italy - The Year-End Review

This year marks 14 years on the wine trail in Italy. 2019 was also the year I transitioned from the hectic wine trade to a more tranquil life. I now write about wine for publications other than this blog, and I devote time to more reflection and am dedicating energy to other aspects of my being. For many in the wine trade, what one does seems to define who one is. I am not a fan of labels, never have been. Everyone is trying to cube us up, put us into a box, so that they can explain who we are by what we do. That’s typical Western Anglo-Saxon American silliness.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

A Christmas Time Quiz for 2020 for the Italian Wine Trade

Chances are, you are already offline, having already sent out your generic holiday greetings, are not checking your email, and are ensconced somewhere in the mountains, by the seashore, with family, maybe on a beach in the Seychelles or Cuba, and settling in for a long and well-deserved holiday.

The harvest is in, the deed is done and what will be, will be. So, let’s have some fun with a short quiz.

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.

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