Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Future of Italian Wine in America

If there is one thing in our American’s DNA, it’s our tendency to look forward. We had a brief fling in the 1960’s with being here and now but that passed. And though now we are obsessed with our yoga-ramen- food truck pageant of life; that too will pass. What will never pass is that which we can never have – the stuff out there in front of us that we constantly reach for. And that, dear readers, is where Italian wine is sitting at a little table in a busy piazza, having a caffè macchiato and waiting patiently for us to show up.

It’s very early, having been awakened by drunken revelers who got into the room next to me at 4:30 AM and booze chatted until they fell asleep at 5:30. New Orleans. Chances were they didn’t spend the night over a bottle of Falanghina in the French Quarter. Although if they had wanted to there would have been more than one chance to find a Nerello Mascalese Brut or a Valtellina Superiore on a wine list.

But back to the future. I walked by a mystic’s store in the Central Business District, and was tempted for more than one reason to walk in and get the Cliff notes to what awaits us.

Let’s start at the vineyard. That’s the place that makes this all possible. They have the full luggage of the past, loaded with tradition and longing. But now Italy is very much a different place. They don’t seem to see a future in their country so clearly. So, America once becomes their field of dreams.

I would expect, as a grape grower and winemaker, to have to still do all the necessary farming to get the grapes to the point where they become wine. And then the second part of the business takes hold – selling the stuff.

Everything is all about metrics in the financially driven, post Wall-Street crash world we've landed in. Lessen exposure to risk, cut expenses, tighten the belt, cut the fat. Take note of this and file it away somewhere. And forget about it. Let’s go back to something the world still needs more of – relationship building. Something the Italians are great at. So who’s going to be sacrificed, who gets sent to the US to travel the country, go to Cleveland, Anaheim, Elk City, Lafayette? Youngest son or daughter? Someone will need to go. Someone who most likely, will never come home again.

Like 100 years ago, when Italians fled Italy, if it were my vineyard, or my family’s, and if I were the youngest child ( as I was in my family) I’d volunteer (I’d still volunteer now). Find a place where the airport is good and the life in the city near that airport is decent. And prepare to become executive platinum for all the traveling that would await me.

I’d find a handful of restaurateurs in each city and develop long-lasting relationships with them. They would be my accounts, and I would visit them at least once a year. I’d find a retailer or two in each place as well, not the big box or chain accounts, but places where the wine buyer actually cares for the wine more than the scores. And once a year I would take folks back home to spend a few days eating, drinking, walking and breathing in the air and touching the dirt where my wines came from. I’d baptize them in my terroir and turn them into my crusaders, but do it lovingly and respectfully.

You see, America is preparing to turn over to a new generation and they are large and the first generation that will affect a tectonic shift in the scale of culturally integrated wine drinking. Yes, China is looming and the potential there is great. But America has the infrastructure, the restaurants (our ambassadors) and the momentum. I’m betting on America. Just like my grandfather did. And if I had the opportunity and the time to do so, this would be my simple plan.

Oh, and I’d build relationships with the upcoming writers, the Gallonis and the Larners and the Asimovs. I’d spend a little time making sure to get to know anyone who blogs about Italian wine on a regular basis. Who knows who will be the next Jon Bonne?

I’d also reach out to other cultures in America. Italian wine is made for Italian styled-food, but not exclusively. So I’d find those folks who are re-tooling Thai and re-inventing Indian and build with them. What an exciting time the future will be and making the garden ready in the present is the best way to prepare for many years of great harvests in Big Dream Country.

Who wants to come with me?

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Gary York said...

I am already with you. Except on the Larner thing, but you already know that. I am working very hard, sometimes with spectacular results other times not so much, to connect people with Italy. You are going to eat and drink for the remainder of your life. So you should do it well. And the Italians do it very well. 3,000 years will at least get you that much. And they know a little about art too. We need to get people to understand that the door is open, the party has started, time for them to join in.

gianpaolo said...

I understand completely what you are saying Alfonso, but, my question is, how much wine does a winery has to sell in the US to substain those large costs associated to all that you have suggested? How much wine does a restaurant has to sell to justify a journey to the vineyards? I don't have an answer, but I suspect that only a very few among us can invest so much time and money doing all those fantastic things.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Yes, these are the times we find ourselves in, GP. If you have a good importer, that can ease things up. But the intent of this post is to propose a "best of world's" scenario. I know it isn't feasible for smallish producers, but my findings for making it successful in this large multi-faceted market are presented here.

I hope your harvest is going well for you.

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