Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Vision vs. Illusion

The sun is finally shining above me. Nearby, the cool water is aquamarine going toward deep blue. Fresh seafood is making its last amends before the flame. My friend, Lorenzo, opens a bottle of Gravina Bianco, a perky little Greco-Malvasia blend. “We cannot drink Primitivo today," he says. "A sassy white is what we need.” His English is better than my Italian, by a centimeter.

Lorenzo is a successful land manager; he has made millions. He lives life on his own terms. “Lorenzo,” I ask, “how do you motivate your farmers?”

“Amico, that I cannot do. I can only show them the opportunities that exist by looking at it from my perspective. I believe I am right, but they cannot be forced to see it my way. They must see it through their own eyes. If they do, they get rich. And if they don’t, they keep carrying sticks up the hill on the back of their donkey.

“Look at Franco’s wine. Everyone told him this was red wine country. But he had a vision and the passion to develop a unique white wine. No one else believed in the project except for Franco and his family. And now Franco D'Agostino has the only wine for the D.O.C. of Gravina. Where else does something like that happen? Chateau Grillet in the Rhone, and pochi altri.”

He poured the wine. It felt like I was taking a bite out of a Honeycrisp apple. The aromas reminded me of my aunt’s bosom when, as a baby, I was lulled to sleep in her lap. We were deep in the South of the matter now. Summer was churning. Life was proceeding.

I had been wrestling with people, old and new, calling on me to bring their projects into my world. The Italian wine ark was full, I would tell them. Let me in, they would respond, you gotta let me in, please. I don’t gotta do nothin’ but die.

The wine export numbers are being published in Italy, and the first quarter of 2007 is looking good, very good. So why am I being hesitant with these souls who are just looking for a home for their wines?

For one, because the average price of the wine in that report comes into the US at about € 1.72 per liter. That works out to about $1.78 per 750ml bottle in The States. That price point is where I have seen a lot of action lately. I know, I know. It doesn’t make me feel good, either.

A salesman recently called me on the Blackberry. He was at a store displaying 300 cases of Italian wine, selling for $39.99 a case. That’s about $3.33 per bottle. A gentleman walked in the store and bought three cases and had them taken out to his car. The car was a Maserati Quattroporte. That’s about $112,000 per car.

There are certain things people will pay and pay dearly for. A car, enhanced breasts, a pair of Prada loafers.
But the buzz right now in The States is the Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay winning gold medals. We want the illusion of great things but we aren’t always willing to pay for them.
Lorenzo is laughing at me. Wi-Fi and rolling waves, and what do I pick? The fish is almost ready to grill. The pasta has just come to the table.

“So,” I ask Lorenzo, “all these Maremma wines coming to The States, what do you think?” Lorenzo lets out a belly laugh and drapes his napkin over his gold chain, making sure not to cover his pendant from the malocchio. “They want to still be French. But look at what they have over there. Their beaches are not as pretty, their fish is not as good as ours. Their climate is unpredictable. They like to say they are the California of Italy, but we laugh at them. They are wealthy, they are important, but they still doubt their nature. They want to still be French!

“Let them try to sell their fruity, expensive Napa-talians. I don’t care to worry about them. I am not jealous. Look around. Is this not Paradise right in front of you?”

I paused to consider what he was saying. Next fall I will have to try and figure out how to market these expensive Maremma wines. For now, all I can think of is that cute little Greco-Malvasia that’s tempting me with her unrepentant charm.

Photos by Alberto Bizzini

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