Sunday, February 10, 2013

What Brunello Can Learn From Prosecco: A Tale of Two Consortiums

2013 is starting out to be one of those years in which tumult is the equilibrium. I have participated in the melee in what some people have noted to be a somewhat unfiltered and unchained assault upon Italian wine institutions. Those would be the regional consortiums, the political and marketing bodies of groups of producers formed to advance their goals and success.

In my case I have targeted the consortiums of Brunello and Prosecco in separate posts. They both know how I feel about what is wrong. But things evolve, so let me tell you what I think about their different responses to my lobbing a couple of eggs at them. Let’s start with the one that made an omelet.

On Dec 30, 2012, I targeted the demise of Prosecco in my post, The Rape of the Veneto. I received numerous emails, Facebook messages, comments and back-channel missives. The Prosecco consortium was distressed by what they interpreted as my dismissal of the region and the wine as lesser than they have strived to make it. I received a note from the president of Prosecco consortium, Giancarlo Vettorello, in English, eager to reply to my assertions.

Let me be very clear: I am not an anarchist. I do not propose to destroy what all the souls in the Veneto have spent many years building. I merely noted that the rapid deployment of Prosecco has changed not only the land but the culture. My opinion in that post, based on numerous trips, on doing business with the producers and observing changes over the past 20 years, was that some in the Veneto gave up their “hearts and souls.” I have received many messages from producers small and large assuring me they still fight the good fight and that they aren’t as interested in “gold and marble.” I believe them.

What intrigued me, though, was the letter Mr. Vettorello sent me and subsequently posted as a comment. While he doesn’t agree with me, I felt in his note a conciliatory tone, extending a hand to try and explain better what he perceives the mission of the consortium of Prosecco to be. He even went so far as to invite me to participate in a conference in May in Italy, asking me to accept complementary travel and accommodations to arrive to the conference. I sensed he was searching for a way to improve the way the Prosecco consortium represented their region and wine to the world. I felt they knew they didn’t have all the answers, they were open. Not angry or with hubris like I would experience from the Brunello consortium.

My Jan 17, 2013, post, Giving up Brunello for Lent, was another shot across the bow to a different set of producers, specifically the folks who arrange the annual event, Benvenuto Brunello. While I have been criticized by some friends (whose opinion I respect) as getting a little too personal, the response from the Brunello consortium did little to engage me the way the Prosecco group did. If anything, they pushed me away.

The director, Stefano Campatelli, assumed a paternalistic tone and chumped me off. While I understand his defensive posture (he was merely protecting one of his own, the administrator who was having communications issues with the internet connection, with the difference in language, with the time zones and with other issues), he lost the opportunity to make an omelet. Mr. Campatelli maintained that his administrator acted appropriately. Their response was to put my name on a list, so that if I were in Montalcino, I would have access to the events.

In exchanges with an American writer who gets invited to those events, he attempted to explain that it was because I was just a blogger that they didn’t extend anything more than adding my name. I reminded the writer fellow that I indeed wrote for publications, some of the same ones he wrote for, and as well, have a stake in the success of Brunello and Italian wines in general in my day job. But I imagine there is a hierarchy to who gets invited and who doesn’t, something that has been in the works for many years. I wouldn’t want to knock some unsuspecting journalist out of a slot he or she has had for so many years. There is a pecking order in these Italian arrangements, a hierarchy. I understand.

No, what was curious to me was the difference in the way the two consortiums handled my posts. In the Veneto, Mr. Vettorello held his ground, didn’t agree with me, but extended an olive branch, offering me the chance to see things from his point of view. That was a very classy response.

Mr. Campatelli, on the other hand, simply dismissed me but not before first dressing me down. I wrote him a follow-up note, as I did to his internet-challenged administrator. I heard nothing back from either. One would think with a string of less than stellar vintages of Brunello in barrel, they would want to have more supporters out in the field. I think the problem with the internet connection in Montalcino is somehow connected more to the will and the heart of some of the people and less to the actual wiring of the zone. Or it could be they just figured me for a troublemaker. Their prerogative. Too bad, because I am still a very good customer of theirs. I’m not sure how far I would last if I treated my good customers that way. But, enough.

So what can the Brunello consortium learn from the Prosecco consortium? I’d say they could learn to vet their clients and their allies a little better. I do not want either of these regions to fail. In fact, my work depends on their continued success. I’m in it to win it.

The folks in the Veneto and the Prosecco consortium get it. The folks in Montalcino and the Brunello consortium, well, they must be waiting for a better internet connection.

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