Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rating the Italian Natural Winemakers’ Websites

California - 1970's
After a couple of days back in my natural medium of California, I’ve been giving some thought to the natural winemaking movement in Italy and just how natural their web presence seems. Over the years I have railed against things like Flash, pop-ups and the myriad of ways the Italians prevent the rest of the world from getting simple, clear, natural information. Now is a good time to look over many of them and see how they are doing in that area.

Growing up in California and entering independence and adulthood in the 1970’s marked some of my habits for life. For six years I was a vegetarian when it was difficult to be one. We found fresh eggs under our neighbor’s chickens and ate raw cheese from the local dairy in our town. Organic vegetables were the norm, not the exception, in our house. And as far as wine went, well in those days I had little money for things, so I’d usually go down to my local Trader Joe’s (one of the originals) back in the day when they had bins and bins of inexpensive wines from France, Italy and Spain. And often those wines were simple, unpopular types (Loire whites, Spanish Sherries, Italian reds from Umbria or Piemonte) but they seemed to fit in the context of the life we were living. These days when folks make a big deal out of natural styled wines, I have to admit I am a bit embarrassed for them. On both side. The haters, well, they could just look away and go back to their In-n-Out double-double animal style ways. And the defenders, while I admire their spunk, methinks they wail and flail about in a manner that distracts from the original attraction these wines have. I won’t judge any further, I have no stake in it. I just came from a place where doing things naturally was just a little more, let’s say, natural?

That said, let’s take a look at some of their web sites.

One caveat – If any of these producers do not have a website, I don’t think it necessary to ding them. They either chose not to play in that arena or haven’t felt the importance to communicate to the outside world. In the case of let’s say, producers who live a cloistered life, the rules of their life don’t allow for interacting with the outside world. And there may be those Italian natural winemakers' who live a cloistered life (without the rules of the Order), but I think those decisions should be respected. There are plenty of sites to look at and rate.

Why me? Why now? No reason, other than it is timely and could be interesting. Also it will be nice to have one place where folks can access the websites for some of the more known Italian natural winemakers'.

Seeing as I was brought up to strive to achieve the best grades and seeing as that involved the 100 point scale (Hello, Parker/Spectator lovers/haters, the nuns were way out ahead with that trend) I will apply that measurement in evaluating the Italian natural winemakers' websites that I have assembled.

n.b. There are hundreds of Italian natural winemakers' and a book could be written about the websites. This is a blog and there isn’t time or room to rate them all, at this time (maybe that would be a good Kickstarter project for someone). So I have chosen 20 that seem to be known in the English speaking world and have some visibility here in the United States. I’m not hating on the ones I didn’t rate, not hating.

Santa Clara - 1974
95-99 points

Querciabella – Wow – bling! bling!!  – I admit this site is a bit over the top, but it has all the components for a great site – easy loading, no flash, downloadable info, lots of useful links and portals into newer ways of understanding Querciabella’s wines. Beautiful site, seeming to celebrate a natural life in a very polished way.

90-94 points

COS – Their site is simple, easy, great info, no Flash, very admirable. Everything is laid out for easy access. These folks have put together an enviable website and their peers should use it as a template for sharing information in a quick, concise and very natural feeling style. Bravo!

Emidio Pepe – Again a very simple site to navigate through and get information quickly and simply. The original site loads quickly and lead your through a couple of exchanges before you get where you want to go , but it moves one though quickly, so no harm, no fowl. English site is good. This again is a great example of a site that lets you gather information and move on through your naturally busy day.

Ferdinando Principiano – Easy site to get into (either Italian or English) – no Flash (points for that) and a good, simple, easy to understand menu that gets you where you want to go. No hype, no fuss. Pictures can be downloaded easily and there is a video section. Another good example of a simple and very natural feeling web site.

Frank Cornelissen – Simplicity in four languages (Italian, French English and Japanese!). Easy to understand menu, access to wine info and a good basic blog that is updated regularly. His wines might not appeal to everyone, but his website is a great example of allowing folks from many cultures easy access into his fumarole.

Paolo Bea – Everything it needs to be – direct, easy accessible information, loads quickly, no silly website tricks. Downloadable photos, wine labels, etc. Italian and English. Simple and elegant, like Paolo Bea’s wines.

Roagna – Very quick loading, lots of useful (and downloadable) info in multiple languages (English too). This is a great example of someone making short work of it, but the site is functional, very 21st century, not gloppy or overworked. Refreshing and a pleasure to navigate.

Treehouse - American River - 1976
85-89 points

Az. Agr. Arianna Occhipinti – I like this site for its casual format and inventive presentation. Unfortunately I cannot find the information I am looking for. The site opens up into a Hipstamatic inspired booklet, which takes you through the story of the winery and the winemaker. Cute, but not very useful when you don’t have time to scroll through the thing every time you want to access the info. There are no cut and paste abilities either, so if you are looking to put together a shelf talker or a tasting sheet for a wine dinner, you have to type it yourself. But it is cute and I will give it points for that. The blog is non-linear and somewhat confusing, more of a promo piece for where the winemaker has been with lots of pictures. Not so useful but very energetic and cute.

Cappellano – There are two sites for this winery, the winery web site and another site set up by Neal Rosenthal, the importer in the US. The Cappellano site is simple (Italian only) with good access to pictures. The Rosenthal site is focused on the history and showcases the wines offered by the US importer. While not as cute as Occhipinti’s site, between the two Cappellano sites one could piece together some good information. The key to both sites is that they are simple, they load quickly and the access to information is there.

Elisabetta Foradori – Very pretty site, very modern with a little Joni Mitchell artsy feel. Seems to have been designed for an IPad rather than a computer (très moderne). It is a bit clunky in the navigation aspect; very linear and not so easy to cross navigate. Good news is there is no Flash (couldn’t work with IPad anyway) so they have left that dinosaur back in the 20th century. Bad news, the site loads slowly. However there are cut and paste abilities either, so if you are looking to put together a shelf talker or a tasting sheet for a wine dinner, you can.

Radikon – Easy loading, no frills site. Italian only. Not very exciting, but lots of useful info and downloadable data. I just wish there were a little more though put into it, rather than grabbing a template and throwing something up. But it’s a good start. Something for the Radikon folks to work on during the dormant months.

Tenute Dettori – A very pretty site, although very slow loading. Nice pictures, good info, explaining their philosophy well. Good data on the wines, my only criticism is the site loads very slowly. A huge plus that the site also explains in English.

North Beach - Molinari Deli salami sandwich - 1969
80-84 points

Gravner- This site really gets dinged, not because it is ugly (it isn’t) but because it still relies on Flash and is so damn slow and controlling. It’s too manipulated, opening up small frames, making for hard reading and just unpleasant web browsing. I would have rated it lower, but the moon cycle graphic is nice and the overall site is pretty – just no functionality at all for information seekers who need to get in and get out.

La Stoppa – Needs some work. No English site (though there is a button for it). The site does not have Flash (good news) but the menu buttons open into smaller screens and makes for hard reading. Essentially the site is well intentioned, but it needs to be brought into the 21st century. (The site was up and down when I was putting this post together.)

Le Chiuse – Not a bad site, not a great site. Italian only. Menus are ok, but the site seems tired and “mission position” predictable. Good news is they don’t have Flash, so you can download photos and put a nice presentation together for a wine tasting, as long as it is in Italian. The site really needs a makeover.

70-79 points

Camillo Donati – This site is Flash driven and there is little or no ability to wrestle control of the site from the webmaster, who clearly is locked in a cellar back in 1999. This site (Italian only) is hard to navigate and is pretty much a failure. Nothing natural about it. Needs a re-do to bring it into harmony with winemaking philosophy.

Marco de Bartoli – OK, this site is plain 'ol silly. Old time Flash protocol makes for very frustrating navigation. Nothing natural about it. I am advising A.D.D types or folks with epilepsy to stay away from this site. Really, these wines are so lovely and this site does little or nothing to communicate that. It’s awful.
The way to Altamont - 1969

No Rating

Dario Prinčič (not to be confused with Doro Prinčič) – You want info on this winery? There doesn’t appear to be a website. But he does have an email - .

Monastero Suore Cistercensi (Monastero Trappiste di Vitorchiano) – These folks are living a monastic life, so they have their orders. The web site gives little information about the wine but Neal Rosenthal gives some info on this site. But out of respect for the nuns, forget about their website – Drink the wine – it’s heavenly.

Podere Le Boncie – The website doesn’t appear to be in use, which is lamentable. Again, Neal Rosenthal and his staff have put together a useful info page. These folks are in the fields, making wine. Thanks to Rosenthal, we have an idea what they are up to. But a future project might be good for Giovanna Morganti to consider in regards to how she reaches out to the world.

Parting words – a caelo usque ad centrum

In a perfect world, we wouldn't need these types of evaluations. But if the world were truly perfect, we wouldn’t need websites. Or wine. We would all be One. But we aren’t. So as we move closer to appreciating the natural wine movement and integrating it into our lives to the point where there is no distinction between who we are and who we aspire to be, these types of exercises will not be necessary.

Excuse me now, I have to go outside and gather some fresh eggs.

Balboa - 1974

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

Gary York said...

Some of the websites are good others not so good. Kind of like their wines. I wish they would do more to improve them and make them consistant. I like some of them and find them interesting. But not that enjoyable. And wine is about pleasure. The prices aren't inviting anyone to given them a good look and forgive mistakes.

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