Sunday, November 13, 2011

Haven’t we had enough?

With news of Berlusconi finally stepping down, I can now look towards the wine trail of the future in Italy. I am sure all manner of reforms will transpire in the coming days, months and years. One can only imagine what changes we will see in Italy in the next 5-10 years. This is my punch-list for improving the Italian wine industry:

1) Encourage wineries to harness solar and wind power on their estates. Do not make it a bureaucratic nightmare for wineries to collect wind, sun, steam and waterpower on their properties.

2) Loosen the grip that organized labor has on setting prices for drivers who pick up wine shipments at wineries and collection station. Often it is more costly to pick up 50 cases of wine from the Marche and take it to Livorno then it is to transport those same 50 cases from Livorno to New Jersey. That makes for uncompetitive pricing and only protects a small cadre of the industry; usually the wealthy folks who own the trucking lines.

3) Utilize the internet and the hyper-connectedness we all have in the developed countries to embark upon a more egalitarian way to asses the quality of wines from Italy. Rather than relying on The Wine Advocate or the Wine Spectator, or Gambero Rosso or any number of other forms of “award publications”, develop an algorithmic process by which we really arrive at a populist assessment of the quality of wines from all over Italy. Too often, the wealthy players, or the players in the wealthy regions, supersede unknown wines and wineries. Do we not have enough overpriced super Tuscans with great press already? And has that really been a viable economic solution? Maybe for the few at the top, but for the rest of Italy and her wines, this has not been a sustainable model.

4) While we are finding a way to make it easier for everyone to determine truly where the great wines are coming from in Italy (other than from the wealthiest 1/10 of the 1% of the country), perhaps we can fix the minds of Italian who think their web sites are easy to navigate. Where is Amerigo Vespucci when we need him? Well, now you really need someone(s) to get you off the addiction to Flash and cyber-bling and make it easier to find out information about your wine from a smart phone when we are in the store looking at the wine. I mean is it really that hard to list the Nebbiolo grape on your website as the grape you make your Barbaresco from? Do you think everyone knows that? Do you know how many more people might find your site if they Googled “Nebbiolo” and were directed to your site? It’s not that difficult. Oh, I know it takes away the “particularity” of your operation, makes you seem more common, more regular. Pity. Change or perish.

5) Natural, sustainable, organic, certified organic, manipulated, stylish, sexy, garagiste, mass-marketed. How many more terms do we need in this Tower of Babel that describing wine styles has become? Italy, find a way to present your wines, to your people and to the rest of the world in a way that is less confounding! Honestly, I am confused and I have been studying this for over a generation. Rather than as you have done with the appellation system (the DOC that became a political tool), we need a way to note which wine is made in a style that is easily identified on the label. Period.

6) Folks, there is no “the next Pinot Grigio”. Let Pinot Grigio go its way. If you make a Vermentino or a Falanghina, a Pecorino or a Grillo, make it the best way you can and sell it on its own merits. Not every wine is the head cheerleader. Many of us are not even attracted to cheerleaders. Stop making wines into something they aren’t. To thine own self be true.

7) Save the forests, save the money, save palate fatigue. Never, ever, will wood substitute for a well-made wine. Too often Italian wine, since the mid 1980’s, has relied on propping up a wine with wood. Barbera d’Asti, Verdicchio, even lowly Valpolicellas. This has been a silly, narcissistic maneuver and it has destroyed the lives of trees and the character of many wines. Stop doing this now. Use the money you will save to send your sons and daughters to America (and the rest of the world) as ambassadors for Italian wine, not some misplaced sense of importance masquerading as an “international style we must make to compete in the world market.” Balderdash. Complete rubbish. Bring on the revolution. Ban the barrique!

8) Italy, you are not the Georgian republic. Nor are you a country of wealthy Silicon Valley execs that are "returning to their roots" via Leeds Certified wineries with concrete eggs and bees wax free Spanish clay amphorae. If you are going to embrace antiquity, make it a better product, not a worse one. The market will sort out the rest, as it has. Gravner is not a stylistic factor in America. We tried to like his wines, but too many folks just didn’t get them. And that’s all I will say.

9) The world is not waiting for another sweet red (or white) wine from Italy. The moscato phenomenon is just that – it is white zinfandel in a mini skirt and high leather boots. It will pass. Just like Blue Nun, Thunderbird and Yago Sangria passed. Stop this lemming-like race over the cliff before a scandal halts it and taints the whole Italian wine industry (Brunellopoli was just a few years ago, did we already forget?). And while we are at it, this whole Prosecco thing is just a ridiculous extension of that Moscato-mania. You all are close to the precipice of destroying a hard-fought for category by coming out with lifeless, washed out, tasteless sparkling wines, Champagne isn’t dead; they are merely dormant. And Spain is biding their time; waiting for Italy to screw up with Prosecco, just like they did with olive oil.

10) The DOCG system. As one who has taken a person interest in this area, initiated on a challenge by a colleague to note every DOCG awarded (32 at the time when my colleague laid down the gauntlet) I now look at this parade of awarded wines and wonder if I haven’t been transported inside
a) an Umberto Eco novel,
b) a three part movie directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Pier Paolo Pasolini and David Lynch or
c) a very bad scientific treatise that has been co-opted by the Camorra.
This DOCG madness is just that. It is self-serving, and again, narcissistic. And Berlusconi is now gone. I suggest Italy you suspend further DOCG awards. I know you will ignore my advice.

That’s all I have for now. But I am sure there will be more in the future. Ah, Italy, always an inspiration and full of “materiel” for those of us who love you and hate to see you trip on your so very pretty shoelaces.

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