Friday, November 16, 2012

Making a small fortune in Montalcino *

Richard Parsons is a wildly successful fellow. He’s made a lot of money, and he has risen to the top of the Wall Street summit. Forbes reported in 2008 he made over $10,000,000. And in the last four years he probably hasn’t done too badly for himself. Yeah, there have been a few bumps along the road, but now he’s sitting pretty under the Tuscan sun at his Il Palazzone estate.

A smart guy; belongs to the “best and the brightest” club. Great at finance and media and knows how to sell with the best of them. And that’s the way we reward folks in America. When they’re the best at what they do.

So when a recent article came out on Bloomberg News about Parsons’ Montalcino project, why, oh why didn’t someone check the quotes? I know of the wines of Il Palazzone; their social media person Laura Gray is affable and plugged in. I reckon she’s trying to figure out how to tweet herself out of this.

Let me elucidate.

The recent article by Bloomberg reporter Elsa Martinuzzi, "Citigroup Former Boss Parsons Eyes Profit in Italian Wine", posits that a banking and media mogul can “make money in retirement in the Tuscan Hills.” And while Parsons states clearly that “We’re still in the investing phase. I think I can see the day when we start actually making money with this thing,” the article focuses on M-O-N-E-Y. Mind you, this gentleman has plenty of loot. He has thrived in good times and bad. He is part of the financial elite. He is not the 1%, he is the .01%. It is doubtful he will ever go hungry. So does a man in retirement still crave more? Or is there something else he is looking for in them thar hills?

In the case of this article and in light of Montalcino’s struggle with its wine direction and its long slow road back to rehabilitation of its wines and its image, do you think someone might have wanted to talk this reporter into a different angle? Look, folks get misquoted and taken out of context all the time. But this story read like a plot from “Montalcino, Show Me the Money.”

What really sent this article over the top for me though, was this paragraph:  

“My son gave it (Brunello) the best description once, the first time he tasted the wine, he said, ‘Jeez, it tastes like dirt, Dad.’ You can taste the terroir and I like it, well-oaked wine,” recalls Parsons.
“Montalcino, Show Me the Money” has just been one-upped by a new interpretation of terroir. "Terroir = Oak". Maybe they should have stuck to the investment angle. Look, oak is oak. Terroir is a lot of things. Terroir is not oak.  

This could have all been avoided if the media savvy at Il Palazzone (starting with Parsons) had gotten a little better scripting. Or a warning. That is if they weren’t bushwhacked by a sloppy reporter. For future reference, maybe some coaching as to what terroir actually is. You like oak? Fine. But that’s not exactly where the fine wine market is heading these days. Yes, there’s still plenty of years left for Screaming Eagle types of wine. But Montalcino is not Napa. And articles like this do a disservice to the farmers and the other investors who are working hard to bring the image of “traditional Brunello” back into line as one of the great wines of the world. The French would never make this mistake in a financial article. Never. And I would hope Mr. Parsons has found that magical connection to the “natural beauty of the place” to realize it is a pretty special piece of earth.

Score=Zero for promoting wine in this unbalanced article.The reporter wrote it, but it is Parsens’ dirt. Luckily, the news cycle right now is more interested in General Petraeus’ comings and goings.

If I were Mr. Parsons, I would press for a more nuanced story. Montalcino is a national treasure, not a piggy bank. And anyone lucky enough to own a piece of it for a short stretch in their life might see not only what they can get out of it, but also what they can put into it. A wise young man from the Galilee once said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Brunello may be where the money is, but there’s something even more valuable in them thar hills. It’s soul, brother. And it’s free. Like this unsolicited advice. This time.

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy

* From the adage, if you want to make a small fortune in the wine business you first need to start with a large fortune.
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