Sunday, January 27, 2013

Has Italian Wine Been Hijacked By Angry White Men?

As I dig deeper into the psyche and soul of what makes Italian wine tick, I keep running into this wall. The more the wines of Italy evolve, the more it seems there are people who want to control the progress. Hey, there’s a lot at stake. First there is the money. And then there is the pride. But power, that’s the theme I keep bucking up against. It’s all really an illusion, because those who fight to keep the power have already lost the control. But still there are those players who look into their magic mirrors and see no blemish, no gray, no error. Our father who art invincible. And these are the players who are preventing Italian wine from becoming greater than it is.

Who are they? One can find many of them working the halls at Vinitaly. They are white, male and angry. They don’t show their anger overtly. But disagree with them and they will be the first to let you know who they are.

They have been trying to hijack Italian wine. Let me tell you why their strategy will fail.

1) They often insist on organizing around a political body. Maybe they had ambitions to be a Member of Parliament or a regional governor. But they didn’t have the connections or the money. So they work their way up to a role, maybe in a local Consorzio. There they carve a niche that allows them to exercise controls and procedures to drive the success of the local group of growers. They think they are big thinkers, but their ambitions are small and narrow. And they aren’t looking after the greater good as much as their personal power.

2) They come from a paternalistic society, where men control everything. Think of them as more secular versions of the clergy. They don’t live as monks, they don’t take vows of poverty, but they assume their word is final. Infallible.

3) Diversity is frowned upon. People with "out of the box" ideas are scorned. People from other countries, other regions, other villages are deemed to be not as knowledgeable; hence these points of view holds no sway for them. They are closed to the outside world. They operate in a vacuum.

4) Modern communication is seen as an encumbrance. Email, social media, any kind of random input is not taken too well. Different points of view are seen as threats and the rapid spread of information exacerbates that fear. That and it’s such an interference in one’s daily life - you know, boating, driving fast cars, extravagant dinner parties, enjoying the company of a multitude of women. And staying in control at all times.

5) The progress of progress is a constant threat against the status quo. Worse yet, when one controls the process - let’s say one gets a law passed to enlarge the availability of a DOC wine or changes the traditional grape to allow for a new modern style (even though it hasn’t been proven that it will be better) - then those who get those things passed want nothing to change. They identify with the “improvement,” it grants them a little bit of immortality. And it feeds their ego beyond their lifetime. Tuscany is riddled with these changes, to the detriment of the region and the status of the famous wines in the eyes of the world. Of course, those looking in their magic mirrors see none of this; all is perfect in their manufactured and controlled universe. Oz.

These are times when these men and their ways are being challenged from many directions; The ascent of the Italian woman. The globalization of the information community. The ability to access many points of view in a short amount of time on the internet. Change is a great leveler.

The sun is setting for them. But still they stand with their fists up and their anger on display.

I ask them, what good has your anger done for Italian wine as a whole? Who has benefitted from it? Why do you angry men fight change?

I go back to what I said earlier, it’s about money. And pride. But more than anything, it’s about power. Or the fear of losing it.

And their fearful reaction is to bare their teeth and knuckles and rage against the inevitable.

And they are losing, a little bit every day. And that scares the hell out of them.

Che brutta fine!

Still photos from Fellini's "I Vitelloni"
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