Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rustic Tuscany, Organic Lambruschi and a True Original

Italy is full of characters. People with unusual life stories. And in rustic Tuscany, not the one the tourists go to in droves, I ran across one.

Today as we drove the SS1 "Via Aurelia" highway from below Grosseto to Bolgheri, the traffic was thinner than I had thought; this being one of the days Italians pile in their car in droves and go on vacation for the month of August. Around La California though, the traffic slowed, halted, and for 15 minutes or so, we crawled. Very exciting stuff to be in a traffic jam with all of the Italians going on holiday.

Our journey took us away from the water and inland to a mountainous area, seeming very much like Liguria. One in our group ran into a friend at a porchetta stand and he invited us to his place to taste some Lambruschi and salumi.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Wine from an Invisible Island

How did one get here? It is an island on the way to the North Pole. How does an Italian land here and decide to make wine? How does anyone?

In their unquenchable thirst for discovery and adventure, Italians have been exploring and discovering wine regions for millennia. Gaul, Iberia, Germany, the New World, Australian, South Africa, South America. Why not Vancouver Island?

So close to the mainland, and so large, one barely registers being on an island. But for those with a passion for islands, the simple act of stepping off the larger land mass sets the stage for something different, if only in one’s head space.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dante’s Boot Camp

The sound of the waves crashing upon the shore has been replaced with the sound of my heart beating in my chest. As if in a dream, I am transported across the world from my wild place in the New World - ocean, eagles, tall pines - to a rugged edge of Tuscany - alabaster, olives and sheep.

I cannot say how I got here, because in reality I was sleeping most of the time. And that is my common story: the human, who walks around in his pajamas, sliding across the polished concrete floors, going to get a glass of water, walking from room to room, taking a spider outside and seeing a small group of foxes as they go from their outdoor places.

Here, there are no grapes, except for a few wild stragglers. Italy, the giant peninsular vineyard, here is bereft of those energies. They are transmitted through other things. How interesting to be in a place that has defined my work, my life even, and to not have any of that which is familiar. It is liberating, actually, not to have the message broadcast and to only have the energy, the essence. The raw matériel.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Call

We’re not home 48 hours and I get the call. “Pack your bags, you’re needed in Italy. Flight leaves tomorrow at 10 AM.” Could it be that Italy and the wine gods are jealous of our latest infatuation with the New World?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

On the Wine Trail in Italy Canada

Off the grid for a glorious week. No cell phone. No Internet. No twittering nabobs of negativity. No Facebook. What we did get in return was a life in Nature that we needed so very much. Indeed it is hard to be back home in Texas, in the heat and the mean times. Is that all there is? For us, it isn’t. And a week is darn short time to recharge. But we will forge ahead, onward, through the fog and the haze of war.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

From the Archives- Calabria: The Epiphany

This was originally posted in June of 2009

There has been discussion in Italy about the future of wine in Calabria. In brief, there are two camps: one to maintain a more traditional use of the native grapes for the wines of Ciro and one which seeks to elaborate the appellation with the use of more international grapes.

Calabria is where my mom’s mom came from. She left a poor region, which had just been devastated by a terrible earthquake, early in the 20th century. Calabria has been abused by organized crime and tribal urges. It is a beautiful place. The wines are hard to sell, but when someone tastes a Gaglioppo or a Montonico they become enthralled with the fruit and the texture and the echo of the earth from where they spring.

Can Cabernet help bring wealth and fame to Calabria? Who knows? When a wine like a Ciro or any number of wines from Calabria tries to make it in America, it is a combination of energies. When the Statti’s or the Librandi’s come to America, the wines are well received and people love them. And surely these two wines often represent different styles and philosophies of winegrowing in the region. The connection isn’t always because of a review or a score. Sometimes it is the personal touch that these people bring to the selling game. So it’s not as easy as Cabernet or no Cabernet, native yeasts or designer yeasts, French barrique or chestnut botti. It’s just all simple and black and white.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

From the Archives- Calabria: The Legacy of Local

This post originally appeared here June 15, 2006 and I rewrote it to reappear on saignee when Cory did his 32 Days of Natural Wine last year

"What was it like?” I remember my aunt Amelia asking me later in Texas, about walking into the village where her mother was born. Old Calabria, a little village clinging to a hillside like a vine that had wrapped itself around a sycamore tree and hung on through time and the elements.

I can only imagine what they were thinking 100 years ago, when where they were, in Calabria, looked as inviting as that West Texas dust storm raging on the plains. Devastating earthquake, utter breakdown in civilization, a civilization that had been established in the 6th Century B.C. Desperation, hope, a clean slate, away. Just far, far away.

In 1977, the train took us from Brindisi to Cosenza, and we followed Merlin back in time, the pine tree forest through the mountains over the hill. Back to grandmother’s house. It was the harvest season, September, in a year that would be remembered, by some, as a better than average harvest.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gone Fission...

It's been a little hectic around here lately - It often seems more like the wine trials than than the wine trails. So we're going off the grid for a week. Nothing's wrong, Sam and Bianca, don't worry. I just need to step away from the world and dip my pole in cooler waters - the rods have heated up and we're approaching critical mass. And I know y'all don't want another mess to clean up. I'll put up a couple of archived posts in keeping with my Calabria themes.

Thanks for reading - back in a week...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On the Wine Trail in Italy: Dateline 1811

Tutti ne parlano, pochi(ssimi) lo fanno.

The heat of a July summer will do many things to one who actively plows through the hard work of actually trying to make sense of what has been presented before oneself. It’s a little like trying to figure out what the history is before it becomes historical. An odd way to start something that will eventually swing into dream space, but perhaps it is the realities of the present that compel some of us to find relief, perhaps shelter, from the blunt realities of the present, if only for a few hours. So it was during this night before I awakened that I had the strangest dream. I was being sent back to Italy. I was in a windowless room, with bleak fluorescent lights and a rattling fan. A man walks in, perhaps middle aged, but he was bald. He could have been 45 – or 75. No matter, he was delivering my ticket, and my sentence to serve out one year in the Italy of 1811.

I have been marooned on Greek islands, but for a week or so. I have been sent back and forth from offices, sometimes for months. I have been exiled to work on the road, for years at a time. But never had I been sentenced to go back 200 years in time.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Swimming Pool, a Sports Car and a Mistress

I don’t recall when it was exactly but recently I was in the company of Italians and we were talking about all things Italian. Politics, the Euro, the malaise of young Italians and wine. Wine follows the culture for sure and so while we were talking about wine, other subjects, riffs, attached themselves to the conversation. We ventured into talking about a famous Italian wine impresario when one of the unfiltered in the group blurted out “What does he care? He’s got it made. He has a swimming pool, a sports car and a mistress.”

At that point the grappa came out and it proved to be a very long night, talking in depth about this propensity that modern folks who love money and power have for “things.”

Thursday, July 07, 2011

History's Lessons Drowned in Red Wine

Just take everything down to Highway 61

Maybe it’s the little 60’s marathon I am running in my head, but lately it seems like we are doing everything we can to kill the wine business in the world. Actively. No, it’s not like we are sitting around doing nothing; we are marching full speed with this one. Or maybe it’s just an overactive imagination once again seared by the blinding triple digit heat of summer. Maybe it is time for a real vacation.

Where to start? Just a few random thoughts and then back to a really busy day.

1) Selling all your wine to one country at the highest price possible will come back to bite you in the ass. Yeah, I’m talking to you Bordeaux. You say it’s a luxury item? Yeah, so is Ferrari, and that’s an even bigger business than Bordeaux. But Ferrari has found a way to build their business in the world – in Russia, and yes in China and India, but also in America. As well as in their home market. And it ain't exactly like a Ferrari is cheap. In fact, Fiat has been kicking around the idea to sell Ferrari, because it is so valuable. Maybe if France ever gets in trouble like Greece (or Portugal, or Spain, or Italy?) they can seize the First Growths as a National Asset and sell the whole kit-and-caboodle to, I don’t know, General Foods? You think I’m kidding? Wait and watch. But one thing for sure, Bordeaux, you’re killing us softly with your song…

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Sweet Figs & Red Hot Peppers or Muzak & Malbec?

from the "one of these things is not like the other" dept.

“I need you to go have lunch at you know where,” the salesman left me the message. Usually when he leaves one like that we need to go in there and spend a little money. Oh well, how bad could it be, four star rating  with no lack of talent in the kitchen. A shame the chef usually scowls when you walk in the place looking to drop some cash.

So it went this week in my little corner of the world. Some good, some bad, some in the middle, some out, some in. July is here, it’s so damn hot, thank heavens my little isola is brimming with life.

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