Sunday, March 09, 2008

Taking It All In

Hotel Miramar Fairmont ~ Santa Monica, California
Gambero Rosso Road Show

I was strolling around the banquet room, tasting white, and then red, wines. We had just finished our seminar, a very adventurous wine tour across Italy. There were experts on the panel and experts in the audience. I was in my observer mode, eyes at the camera screen, looking for the definitive shot which would say, “Ah here’s the expert.” Unfortunately the camera memory ran out rather quickly. There were so many experts around me.

A few days later I was looking at a speaker's bio for a wine fair in New York. One of the speaker’s curriculum vitae noted that he was “the foremost authority on Italian wines in America.” Those words exactly. I read it again. Was he really? It seemed I was finding foremost authorities all over the land, out West and back East.

Back in the room in Santa Monica, as I sampled the wines, I started listening to the conversations people were having with each other. It split into two camps; the Italians and the Americans. Both with different points of reference. This was getting confusing to me. There were experts, everywhere.

I recalled Vinitaly with all the knowledge and interest in Italian wine, in such a concentrated time and space. I was starting to hyperventilate, thinking about the insignificance of one’s life in this area. I should have gone into gardening, or law. Or maybe forestry. As to Italian wine expertise, no, I would never make it to the mountain top.

And then there was the travel advice I had just given to a young bicyclist in Napa Valley. She spends three months a year training in Lucca. She asked me if I had any special tips or places that she shouldn’t miss. I fired off an answer modified from one told to me by a photographer. I told her to pay special attention to what it right in front of her; the Italy that she is witnessing in the present moment is just as good as it gets, and if one could stay in the now she could get a feel for the real Italy. Or words like that.

How about if I took my own advice, with regards to expertise? Let’s look at this, shall we?

What would one accomplish by being the foremost authority on Italian wine? Would that mean one knew everything there was to know about it? There is a computer somewhere that holds all that information. What about sensing trends and being an influence on the changing state of Italian winemaking? That would also be part of that omniscience one would need to be considered one of the giants in the field. I cannot imagine only one person being able to fit into those shoes. Maybe six, or twelve or twenty experts, but one? Count me, and anyone that I know, out.

Then there is the passion in the pursuit. Enthusiasm is not an elective in the building of the pyramid of perfect knowledge. But there was more than one Pharaoh, one Caesar.

Taking a break from the process of analyzing this, I crawled back into my mortal shell and walked around the pavilions of the past Vinitalys' I had been to. One of the first ones, in 1984, I remember seeing an elderly Italian man, a sommelier, who everyone seemed to love and respect. For years I saw his name in trade publications, occasionally spotting him in an important dinner or tasting in Italy. Then he passed away. Did all that knowledge and ardor pass with him? Did he have acolytes? Are they now foremost authorities on things Italian?

I remember feeling overwhelmed about the prospect of never “getting” Italian wine to a point where I could look back and say to myself, “I have arrived.” First the language would be a barrier; my Italian couldn’t open certain doors. I daresay that would also be the case if I had been born in Italy. But there were so many opinionated people, some who have spent many years in the study of this Italian wine thing.

How would I reconcile this with respect to my significance to this matter? And why was it so darn important?

Honestly, I don’t think I ever will. But I am getter better acclimated to accepting that there is a place for many of us at the table.

I am saying this because there are people that ask me how I ever got to this point where I could teach and talk and sell Italian wines in the way that I do. They seem to think it is so daunting, that they will never be able to grasp it.

But I ask any of you reading this, who has those concerns, to put them aside, like I have. Take off your blinders of apprehension and slowly open your eyes to the light. Take a deep breath. And listen. This is where you are. This is where we all are. It isn’t perfection, but it is a good place to start and to be. You will forget many things and you will learn many more. But we aren’t building a rocket ship to the perfect spot in the universe. We are merely living life on a small planet with some wonderful smells and colors and flavors. And people.

And that's just gotta be good enough.


Tracie B. said...

"What would one accomplish by being the foremost authority on Italian wine? Would that mean one knew everything there was to know about it?"

knowing everything there is to know leaves no room for learning...and THAT'S what makes this wine trip so much fun.

thanks ace, i'm going to have a look right now :)

Marco said...

troppo bono

Do Bianchi said...

Great post.

Makes me think of "The Inner Light" by George:

The farther one travels
The less one knows
The less one really knows

Who was the "Greatest American Expert" in the bio?

Anonymous said...

thanks for writing true.
During all that travel i met many of those foremost authorities...and this piece puts it all back into the right perspective.


Erwin Dink said...

not even finished reading the post but I had to stop google the phrase, "foremost authority" -- kind of amusing how many of them there are

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