Sunday, March 08, 2009


I have been reading Asimov lately. Isaac, not Eric. I just needed a hyper-jump to another head space, so I headed back to another world, far away in the future.

I am feeling overwhelmed by the direction of the wine business. California is churning out expensive wines that are loaded with wood and fruit. Bordeaux is pumping out investor-class wines for hedge-fund managers that no longer exist. Hong Kong can only take on so much. And the Italians? Well, they just want to get on the ship and into the warehouses in America.

I know this sounds like an endless lament.

I have gotten to know Darrell Corti; he has been helping me research a project I am working on about Italian farmers in America. Over a bottle or two of older California wine, the history that we are going over seems to circle back to wines that we both tasted over the years that just didn’t have the explosive and volatile flavors. OK, so that subject is best left to folks who have it zeroed-in on their scopes, Alice and company. That’s not where I'm going here. I am staring at the monster coming over the sand hill.

Like the airline industry or the film business, the wine-and-spirits business is contracting rapidly. Big is getting bigger. And bigger. And this being a bottle business, there is a critical mass to the scale of things now.

I had a meeting with a Sicilian winery export manager on Thursday. He was in between the Gambero Rosso LA and NY shows. So he took a flyover break. Here is a producer who says they make 500,000 cases of wine, looking for a distributor. In our house there are already many Sicilian producers of all sizes. Sicily is not Australia, yet. But he is a warm fellow. I feel our Sicilian bond, really feel for him. Every Sicilian wants to have his American connection. But the stock houses are full, and the huge ships lumber ever so slowly across the territory.

I don’t know what to tell him. Hell, I don’t know what to tell myself. Everywhere we look we're getting kicked in the nuts. We have too much. Of everything. Time for a diet. Time to pause. Or is it? It looks more like this is the time for hand-to-hand combat.

The small companies, are they in any better shape? They can move faster, but can they sustain anything, grow it? Only to lose it to a larger concern because they cannot grow it any more? Yes, great, unpolluted wines from the Loire and Liguria come from them, but then what?

From the deck of this ship, it doesn’t matter. The forces in play are moving, growing and aiming to swallow everything in their way. I stare into their eyes every day. And I am afraid, very afraid.

A California winemaker who still thinks their cabernet is worth $200? A producer of Amarone who is spending so much on French oak that he must charge over $100 for his wine? The rivers run red with the blood of bad decisions. A reserve bottle of Malbec from Argentina that someone is asking $75 for? A Syrah from South Africa that the importer says must sell for over $50? The Escalade generation isn’t bling enough for this.

When I get this way, I turn to Rossini. I must get back into warrior mode. I must find a way to help make our world smaller, something that we can wrap our minds and hearts around. We don’t have that much time. There are forces of destiny heading in our direction at light speed, intent on eventually swallowing all of this up.

In the meantime, we must find wines worth swallowing and people to bring them to.

"Behold, as a wild ass in the desert, go I forth to my work."


Anonymous said...

"...the wilderness yieldeth food for them and their children."

Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks gents....nice without memory, very compelling challenge to winemakers...

Anonymous said...

Hi Alfonso,

I'll just stay with the "Dune" scenario and say that, as with the whole fear lesson, there are those of us who watch as the leviathan approaches, heads straight for us. We let it pass through, over and around us, then turn and watch it recede.

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