Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The American Deliverance

The Butterfly Madonna (with child) ~ Balboa, California ~ 1974

The notes from Italy keep coming. This time is was from Gianpaolo Paglia, a winemaker in the Maremma. He’s in the trenches, working the vines, punching down the caps and dealing with all the changes in Italian society in the 21st century.
Some of his thoughts:
“I can tell you that there is something wrong here.

“People here are afraid of this new world and this new age.

“...They don't (know) what to expect next. They are not used to it, they have never been faced with the outside world, with this new world where economies that once were considered third world countries are now running at a speed that we don't understand. Our schools, our politicians, our people are not prepared to (do) that, hence the feeling of dis-ease.

“The only thing we really need is to reset the country. Have a new start with a new and more realistic vision of the world. We have to grow up and abandon our nest, which is falling down the tree anyway.”

His complete comments here.

Those remarks could have come from someone in the US today as well. The only difference is that our country is younger and more confident in our youthful idea that we are right. Does that make sense? Talk to a young person in their 20’s and they have it all figured out. Or so they believe. And it is like that with this young society. But, there is a key to getting us all through it, in the confluence of the old world with the new world.

This dovetails with something I was talking about to a group of restaurant operators. Italy gave many of their people to America, albeit not so voluntarily. They came to America looking for opportunities. They were entrepreneurial in their nature. America was (and still is) a laboratory for immigrants looking to remake themselves, like Gianpaolo says, to reset their lives. And along with that they made a life here in these lands. But somewhere along the way, many of us turned back to the old country to see where our grandparents came from. And we saw beauty and possibility. It was easier to see it from a distance.

In any event, it is probably a pipe dream, thinking that we could start something up in Italy faster than we could in the US. I have already abandoned the idea of living part-time in Italy in the future. In fact, my preference will be to find a rural area somewhere like in the hill country of Texas. Why? Because I know it will be less of a hassle to get things done. Bit I have veered off course. Back onto the Autostrada.

There is a great deal of cynicism in Italy among people in their 50’s and beyond, people who control the economy and the cultural strings that keep the kites in the air. A large part of it is economic power, but that is conservative in nature and it muffles the entrepreneurial spirit so prevalent in the bones of Italians, specially the young ones. Politicians also keep that under cover because they want their power and the money that goes with it. Comfort, ease, control.

What we owe to Italy, here in America, is repayment for sending some of their best and their brightest out into the world, never to return home. Italy, unlike places like France, shared much of their talent with the world. Italy went global before it was an idea. And now they see countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore catching up, fast. It is important to let Italy know that we understand the sacrifice the country made in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the Italian diaspora into the new worlds.

So what can we do?

We have to be patient with things like the exchange rate, which has changed 15% since July. Gasoline - in Italy is $8.00 a gallon. Salaries - $30,000 is considered a good wage. Housing – 1,500 square feet for 3-4 people is a goal. This is really a pittance compared to our super-sized expectations here in the US. Our grasp exceeds our needs. But Italy looks to America and says, “We want some of that.”

Cernilli, The Reluctant Midwife?

Yet, we will still buy the wines and the clothes and the cheeses and prosciutto and the cars. Quality will always have a market but the market might recess a little in 2008. Today an importer told me one of his top-selling Pinot Grigios was going up $15 a case. That translates to almost an additional $2.50 per bottle on the retail shelf (online a little less, but there is delivery costs). He also told me that one of his best-selling Ripasso style wines was going up $20.00. Again, that is close to $3.00 more on the retail shelf. Maybe $1.80 if you are Vaynerchuk & Co. selling it, but again there are delivery costs and the hassle of buying a wine under $25.00 and waiting for it to get to your home.

The market will sort most of this out. Today I am tasting more than 30 Malbec, Carmenere, Bonarda and Cab/Merlot blends from South America. A wine writer is looking for good-tasting reds that will be considered values. That used to be the home turf of wines like Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Valpolicella Ripasso, Primitivo and Nero D’Avola. No longer. The Italians who moved to Argentina and Chile are creating wines to compete with their uncles' wines back home. Interesting and challenging times.

My point? A rambling one at that, it seems. But if someone would ask me how we could get through this next 18 months, how an Italian wine producer could contribute to making this less painful, here's what I would say:

Please stay in the fields with us, you with the vines, us with the newly born wine drinkers. Let’s tighten up our habits of affluence. Maybe not a new car this next year. Maybe not spending so much time and money on leisure. Spend a little more time not on vacation, perhaps? Pursue what Gianpaolo calls a “more realistic vision of the world.” Get your global goggles on, folks, and gather your tools.

Let’s get busy and deliver this baby.


Gianpaolo Paglia said...

I don't want to monopolize the topic, but what Alfonso said in this post, made me think of something I heard some time ago at the radio in Italy.
There was an English journalist who leaves in Italy commenting about Italian politic. He said, more or less: Italians are very often arguing over matters of principle, very important and very high, and because of that, the debate get stuck and never evolves in measures to take to takle the real problems of people. In Britain we deal more with the problems and try to find solutions step by step. Sometimes they are very small advancements, but in the end, things get done.

Take the political scene in Italy today. It is basically split in two sides, almost 50-50. One side, the left wing, is at the government at the moment, but it can't decide anything because it only have two votes more than the other side (the righ wing) on the upper chambre. Where do they get stuck? Because there are different vision on homosexuality, family, religion, etc., within the coalition. So the goverment is constantly at risk of falling because, for instance, the try to pass a law that even more strict against discrimination over sexual orientation of people.
Of course I'm in favour of that, but this is not the main point in the agenda right now, for God sake (and we don't live exactly in Pinochet's Chile here)!

There are reforms to do, liberalizations to do, plenty of things to change in a moment where the people are struggling to get at the end of the month, and these politicians (who don't actually give a damn about homosexual rights, in fact) are risking of paralizing the country for another 6-8 months with new general elections.
I don't know if you understand what I mean, this is full madness. It is like discussing about the sex of the angels whilst the ship is sunking.

And it's like that all the bloody time.

That's why I think it is important what you said:

"Get your global goggles on folks, and gather your tools".

Anonymous said...


Tonight on RAI there was a debate about the state of the Italian
economy. (My wife has a hard time listening to such things on Italian television because everyone is excitedly speaking at the same time.)
Anyway, your recent post and that of Gianpaolo Paglia seem to be
timely. I had a similar discussion last week with cousins of a friend
of mine who were visiting from Viareggio. I have another friend who just went home to San Daniele for the holidays that also laments the
current state of affairs. Well I doubt if it's worse than Oakland.

I guess we've all had this desire for a long sabbatical in Italy.
For me it will have to wait, as for now my "dovere" has me firmly
entrenched in Sonoma and San Francisco. When it does come, I hope the Italy I knew will still be there. Ironically, my wife's family roots are in Johnson City, so the thought of escaping to the Hill Country has also crossed my mind. I'll meet you there for some barbecue and polenta.

Robert Pellegrini
Pellegrini Family Vineyards

Alfonso Cevola said...

GP- your comments are always welcome and appreciated. you are inside Italy, living it.

RP- thank you. meet you @ Ronnies BBQ - we can share a bottle of GP's Tuscan red, Capatosta, and some of your Eight Cousins Vineyard Zinfandel, to go with the ribs and the brisket..GP can join us;)

Marco said...

AC, I can't say I'm typeless or God forbid wineless. I am going to scour the shops for those Southern Italian, Spanish and Southern French reds while they're out there. In fact, I'm heading out the door.
A friend of mine lives in Boerne TX. He'll be selling his newly built home in a few years. Maybe you could make him a deal.

The Passionate Palate said...

Thank you (and Gianpaolo) for this post. I felt like I was reading about the U.S. Yes, our predicaments are similar, actually similar to many countries. Times they are a changin'. We need to have different approaches, models and new methods of thinking about the world and acting...or else. It is the "or else" that I am afraid of. It is really time for the pendulum to swing and for some waking up to occur.

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