Sunday, May 06, 2018

Starting Your New (Dream) Life in Italian Wine

Dateline: Barolo, Italy and Ian D'Agata's 1st Indigena Symposium

Let’s say you’re 25, finished with formal schooling, looking for a path in life to follow. Let’s say you are in a developed (or developing) country, where the economy is growing, and people are beginning to have time for things beyond the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing. And let’s say you live in a town or a city where the population is growing, even burgeoning. And you want to stand out in a crowd and carve out a life of meaning. How in the world does Italian wine fit into this scenario, you say?

For people who think they might like to find their future path on the wine trail in Italy, and speaking from a lifetime of experience in this matter, I’m going to share with you, not so much my singular experience, but a pathway that was not unique to a young man in America in the 1970’s. it could equally apply to a young woman in Shanghai or middle-aged man, starting all over in Copenhagen.


What is it we all want to feel, on this crowded planet of 7+ billion souls? To feel unique. To be wanted. To associate our life with some kind of meaningful livelihood. Not just food, shelter and clothing, but meaningful, connected and joyful interaction in this short time we have on earth. OK, enough of the blue sky, let’s get down to some of the steps.

1) Find a teacher or a course work that will give you the ability to learn, intensely, enough about Italian wine to be able to impart knowledge, information and inspiration to those around you with whom you will interact. If you are going to work in a restaurant, or a wine shop, or with an importer, or in distribution, or in education, you will need to cultivate expertise within the garden of your being. You will need to water it, feed it and give it room to grow. And think of the fruit, or the flowers, of that garden, as the gifts you will share with your community, your clients, and hopefully your friends. Not in a superior way, but in a humble and open-hearted way. And yes, your heart will be broken, many times. Many times, you will be rejected, you will be misunderstood and there will be people who turn you away from their doors. I know this, because it happened to me and not when I was just beginning. Even so recently as 6 months ago. There will be those with darkened hearts who will never open them up to you. But do not be discouraged.

2) Taste, taste, taste. Not just Italian wine and not just wine. But everything, as it will relate to how you impart your knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject. Look at your palate and an empty canvas, or a sketch book, which you constantly scribble or draw new impressions. Take a look at the sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci, or Michelangelo or Marie Cassatt. They did not always make masterpieces. First, they had to have an idea, a seed. And then they had to plant it. And your devotion to tasting will give you a notebook with which someway, somewhere, you will be able to draw an eventual masterpiece. But don’t get hung up on the product. Concentrate on the process.

3) Smell, smell, smell. I often go outside with my cat (yes, I said cat) Buttercup. And she sits by the herb garden and looks at the herbs. I pinch the oregano for her so she can smell it. Along the way, she is teaching me to slow down and smell the oregano. Or the basil, or any number of fragrances that grace the garden. Find some way to get your nose into everything you can. Even if it is sometimes downright unpleasant. Smell the oxidized banana peel, the dried grass clippings, the pot of chicken stock simmering on the stove. Smell it all, and commit it to an olfactory library inside your brain. It will serve you well, when you are hunkered down over a glass of Timorasso, trying to figure out how to convey the qualities of that undiscovered and somewhat obscure, but important variety. Rinse. And repeat. Over and over and over again. This will be a lifetime of work, your yoga for the nose. Remember this. You will rule the world.

4) Learn, not just from those who know more than you. Learn from those who you think might know less. They have other life skills, and they will use them to learn what they need to know. what is it about them, in their path that can impart a freshness in your learning process? You think you cannot learn from a beginner? Think again. You will learn more from them than from a master. They are silent and often invisible masters. I’m giving you one of my secrets.

5) Travel. Find a way to go to Calabria or the Marche. Oh, it’s out of your comfort zone? It’s not your native language? The customs are so foreign to you? Yes, all of that might be true. But it is a block of marble. Find the beautiful statue inside, carve it out with your diligence and your desire to overcome your fears (and fear of failing). No one is looking at you when you do this. This is your moment in front of the mirror of life. No one wants you to fail. Push on, forward, even if it is through the fog of the Langhe. Onward. Keep moving, keep digging.

6) What about the lonely times, when you are so tired, you are finding locked doors, and empty streets and you are all alone in this world? At one time we all find ourselves there. You really aren’t alone, as there is this bardo in which we all are invisible to one another. But we are all there together, in those streets, in front of those closed doors. Commit to know that you cannot see or understand what is happening at the time. But commit to not give up. And go get some rest or read a book or change completely what you are doing. Go hang up some clothes to dry in the sun. a revelation is right around the corner.

If all of this sounds naïve and blasé, then what I am saying is not to you. This message is not for you. And there are some out there who will think I am a fool. And to those, I say, “Stand in line and take a number.” If I am anybody’s fool I am my own fool. So, this is not news to me. But what I am, also, is still very much a hopeful person and one who knows these things do work out, with hard work, with a little luck and with a lot of desire to succeed. Maybe that is the gift of my grandparents, this “American Dream” thing. It can also be a “Chinese dream” or a “Scandinavian Dream,” It can be your dream. And it can be your dream job and your wonderful life in Italian wine.







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