Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mom, Apple Pie and Throwing the Italian Wine Goomba from the Train

So you make wine or you write or you bake and you think there is more. You think you want to take it from a hobby or an advanced passion to the streets. You start marketing your wine, you sell a piece here and there, you start selling your apple pies to the local cafe.

And then, late one night, you actually think you can take the giant step. Outside of your norm. Maybe even make the big change. Make a living doing it, full time. But you need a boost, a validation from something larger, something "out there." You think you need to win greater approval before you jump.

If you make wine or write or bake or engage in any activity, you might think to enter a competition. Or someone might nominate you for one. It happens all the time. Full time professionals are lauded all the time. The Nobel, the Pulitzer, the Oscars. People love to compete. And win.

How many times have wine-sellers in my field gone to their clients and told them, "It won a Gold Medal in the Orange County Fair"? How often I have looked to see which science fiction writer won the Hugo Award. Or the Nebula. Or if both, slam dunk into my shopping cart.

I have won prizes. Once as a kid, in a model car contest. Once in college in a photography competition. I even won a blue ribbon for wine-making at the State Fair of Texas. I remember them well. Oddly, I don't remember all the ones I entered (or were entered for me) that I never placed.

So where am I wandering this day on the wine trail? Well, actually I have veered way off the wine trail. In fact, aside from the reality that I use the blogging medium and often there is wine-type information interspersed between my pictures and my rants, my hopes, my dreams and definitely my fantasies, well I no longer consider what this is to be a wine blog.

Why does anyone care? Why should they indeed? I, for one, believe there are countless sites that rant and rate wines, and well, I just don't go there. I still have folks I like to read, people like Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson, Eric Asimov, Tim Atkins, Antonio Galloni, Charlie Olken, to name a few. Pretty mainstream, although a few of them are adapting some of the newer ways of communicating and networking. But, like so many folk sense, I feel there is just too much going on. Information overload. I don't have enough time in the day to collect my thoughts, let alone attend to the myriad of practitioners who have something to say about it. There are almost 7 billion of us on Spaceship Earth. Find your tribe and talk amongst yourselves, that's my mantra.

A teacher of mine at Santa Clara, Phil Welch, once told me, when he was working for Frank Lloyd Wright, that the great master told him this about contests: "The winner will often be the one the judges can agree on, the one in the middle, not always the best one. Following that reasoning, awards are often given to things of ordinary or moderate quality. Which, by the way, describes mediocrity." I never forgot those words.

So, contests? If you think you need 'em to feel good about yourself or to get information on which wine you should buy or which pie you should try, go for it. But don't look for me in those ranks. I'm not mainstream, or moderate enough, to go there. Never have been. Don't want it, one way or another. Don't need the approval- What does it really mean? Don't care for more rejection - losing a wife in my 40's was plenty good enough for a lifetime.

What I do know about the real competition, what I have learned from the trenches of the wine business, is that you win some. And you lose some. But you will be rewarded for good work, not just because you have managed to win a popularity contest with a few judges. The task of turning America into a wine drinking culture is a collective effort. It is taking generations, not a few years of blogging. But the payoff is, there are thousands of winners in this group effort. That really resonates with this soul. And if you've got reasonably good selling skills and you sell enough, and you know how to follow up, you can make a pile of money. And the green ribbons are much nicer than the blue ones. I favor the color green anyway.

I'd rather have a conversation with a friend about his meditating in a cave in India after he beat stage four cancer. I yearn to learn a better way to transplant the oregano that is taking over a side of my yard. I'd rather be invited to a family reunion. Before anymore of the old folks die. Boy, that would really be something.

I do think that wine blogging is a bit silly with all the perorations that accompany it in the blog-eat-blog world. The information is flowing almost as fast as our world is sailing through its galaxy. It's all too much. Kinda like all the stuff in my extra room, my "life's laundry" room, that gathers there because I have no idea what to do with it.

I am done with it. I am not done with writing. But I done thrown this goombah from the wine blog night train. I'm "here".

I'll see you on the Italian wine trail, or the Spanish olive trail. Or the Marfa Lights trail. Or the Parisian Metro trail. Or no trail at all, maybe just a whole mess of blue sky and apple pie and dreams and hopes and aspirations and whatever is being transmitted through this shell I inhabit for the next few years.

Oh, and Happy Mother's Day to all of you who are mothers and to those of you who are on their way to motherhood (you know who you are;). Happy trails!

Now, somebody please pass me a piece of pie to go with the Champagne. Let's get this party started...


  1. Marco MangiatuttoMay 8, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    I like the FLW quote. The culture seems to reward mediocrity squared. As for the oregano, dig it out and transplant some into a pot. Buy yerself a large decorative glazed pot, it'll look pretty.

  2. I'm riding whichever trail you're on kid.

  3. Excellent post, AC. Come sempre.

    Two things bother me, though:

    1. No mention of the Sicilian nonno? Man, you're slipping.

    2. The mother-to-be-you-know-who-you-are? Will the kid be baptised or forced to submit to (ouch!) brith?

    Guess who this is, bub.

  4. Strapps: if my Sicilian nonno taught me one word, it was this: Omerta

  5. Alfonso, isn't it interesting when someone leaves the tribe for a little while, finds a like-minded person from another tribe, then comes home and says, "Hey those people over there do this! Let's try it that way."

    Still, you're right, too much information.
    And mediocrity is the opposite of excellence.


  6. Omerta, eh? I guess you weren't kidding about the amplitudinally-enhanced radio waves going silent on wine competitions.

    I'll think of you and your Houston Italian Expo whilst I'm having oodles and oodles of fun in Chicago/Vegas for the Wine Spectator Grand Tour and then the first-time expectant Santa Monican "VivaVino"


  7. Ah...mediocrity. Without it, we would have no strivers, no jealousies, no wars, and certainly no wine blogs.

    I'm a 95 on this blog entry!

  8. very cute, Stefano...lots of big words. dont forget to talk to Sig. Selvaggio and see what is happening to his sleepy satellite in Space City

  9. thanks, Thomas - hope you're feeling better...

  10. Alfonso, I have been in the wine writing biz for over three decades and this is the first time that anyone has ever mentioned my name alongside those of Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. If only I had their readership--or yours for that matter.

    But like you, and even though I am more of a mainstream writer, I have discovered ths secret of keeping my blog a happy place for me.

    Writing from the heart. Viewing the world from whatever perch we find most comfortable is the only way to enjoy the incessant flow of babble that we call blogging.

    I am relatively new to blogging, but I came damn near to giving it up because it was work and not fun. I know better now, and even though my style is a bit abrasive for some and amusing to others, it is now truer to me. That is a lesson I have learned from the blogs that I like the most. They may not win awards but they are the best to read.

    So, thanks again for the mention. I don't deserve it, but I'll gladly take it. Lord knows, my name is not likely to surface in Saveur.

  11. Thank you, Alfonso. Feeling fine--maybe even close to normal, if I ever was there in the first place...

    Just sealed my next book contract deal.

  12. wow - congratulations all around - auguri!


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