Sunday, October 07, 2007

Perception is Reality

The picture above is a favorite of mine. It hangs in my bedroom. Shot by James Evans, who lives out west in the Big Bend area of Texas. It is of a bull snake on a couch. I love it for the texture and the movement and the hint of danger.

But the bull snake isn’t lethal. It just looks that way.

Things are all mixed up these days. We seek local and pummel the word sustainable about, like a swordfish being cut up for the seafood counter. But what are we really looking for? Are we looking for the truth? Do we want to fear something that really isn’t worthy of such trepidation? How does that relate to this Italian wine thing?

Let’s look at these words: local, unique, safe, affordable.

Local- Unless you are in Italy, Italian wines aren’t going to be considered local. So one must consider the trade off. You can get a local wine in most places, and it should be good enough for your needs. You could also drive a car (If you are in the US, a Chevy, for instance) and it will get you where you want to go. One doesn’t need a Maserati anymore than one needs a Brunello. Oh, but, you say, you like the Maserati and the Brunello? Because it is unique. OK.

Unique – Just like Bar-B-Q is unique in Texas, or Ruby Red grapefruits from the Big Valley down there, things unique have a way of endearing themselves to folks. They are dear and often precious. Taste, texture, feeling, scent, many facets of the jewel that one is attracted to. Italian wines are unique and so because of that people are drawn to them for pleasure and enjoyment, stimulation, physical as well as intellectual. And because of this we can be reasonably assured that the product is good for us. It is safe.

Safe- very much buzzing about this lately. People are inventorying their possessions and jettisoning things made in China. Clothing made in Bangladesh or Costa Rica, are the conditions for the workers safe? Or would their lives be worse off if they didn’t have that job? Meat packers in the US, in the early 1900’s, children in factories in the late 1800’s, scenarios that played out for cheap goods but at the expense of the health and welfare of the humans, or other living creatures, involved in the production of these materials. Today not many of us make our own clothes, and fewer and fewer are making their own meals. Italian wines, while not all have been always safe, have a record as good or better than much of the world wine producing areas. And often affordable.

Affordable – Up until recently Italian (and European) wines and other goods have been a good deal for those using the US dollar. There is a pause, at this moment, because, we are seeing the erosion of the US currency. The Canadian dollar is climbing over it, the Euro has left it behind, the Yuan is a rising red sun. An Italian Chianti now sells for about US$12.00, on average. Yellow Tail Shiraz sells for US$8.00. Now there is a difference; the region, the grape, the experience. But the challenge in 2008 and 2009 will be large, and marketers and wine lovers will be challenged to make sure they don’t sacrifice unique and safe over affordable.

The snake is in the living room, settled and comfortable on the couch. It will take plenty of effort and courage to look it straight in the eyes and determine if it is dangerous or not. The challenge, of our perceived view of things, will be to generate a reality that will still honor the local producers (even if they are thousands of miles away) and encourage them to retain their unique qualities along with continuing to make them safe and wholesome and if possible, within our means.

Photographs: Top one by James Evans; all the rest from the Flickr Italy in Black & White photo group.

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