Sunday, March 07, 2021

Barone Alessandro de Renzis Sonnino – “There was nobody in the world like him.”


T
hose were the words a close friend of his (and mine) said as he wept into his phone, recounting so many wonderful stories and such a rich history their friendship represented.  Barone Alessandro de Renzis Sonnino passed away last week, another victim of this fierce virus that has been ravaging the planet for over a year now. But his life was one which we should celebrate, not climb into the rabbit hole of despair. Suffice to say, he will be missed, sorely missed. But the life he lived, one for the storybooks now, was singular, unique, a bit naughty, and from a time that is rapidly disappearing, if it hasn’t already vanished in this new millennium, this new century. He was a big tree, a little twisted (he would say "A little? A lot!”), but a big tree nonetheless.

For those who knew him, or knew of him, the Barone embodied a protean personality. He could be kind and sensitive in one swath and in the next moment calculate a Machiavellian imperiousness that would level a battlefield. He was black. And white. And colorful. But he was never indeterminate. You either loved him. Or hated him. Or loved and hated him with equanimity. I personally loved him, as many of those in my world did. And I am pissed that he got out of this world via the coronavirus currently stalking the planet.


In the cellar at Castello Sonnino, he could concentrate on the most subtle elements of his wines. He was “sentenced to a vacuous life of wandering” around his castle and environs with regards to the wines. But he took his wine very seriously. Wine, in a world where many experts failed to understand the place of Chianti and especially the Chianti from Montespertoli, and who adjudged the wine and the place as minor and backwater. Funny to these ears to hear someone think a place that close to the center of wine life could be seen as if it were someplace like Oklahoma or North Dakota. But, once upon a time, there were influences that determined what was important and what wasn’t in the wine world. The Barone didn’t give a damn what the experts thought about his wine.

I made the pilgrimage a time or two, to taste and then to drink and enjoy the company, the castle and the stories. Alessandro was an unrivalled raconteur. He was witty, he was sarcastic, he was naughty, very, very naughty. And we loved him, warts and all. Alessandro was a very much alive sexagenarian (he would like being called that, for reasons unique to him).


He was also from another time. I wrote, years ago, that he was the Barone who traveled from the 19th Century to make wine in the 21st. “I live in the 19th century,” he’d like to say, and in a certain way he did. Watching him add an Uber app to his smart phone was very entertaining; he had a curious nature, almost precocious and child-like. The Sculptor Brancusi once said, “When we cease being children, we are already dead.”

Which makes it ever so hard to imagine a world without him. Oh, he could be very exasperating. Just ask his wife. But how do you stay angry with someone with so much child-like presence? Forgive and forget.


I cannot imagine going back to an Italy where he won’t be. I’m verklempt. The bright blue sky of Italy has muddied. Everything is a bit more mucked up than it already was. And for those of us who have survived the last year, that’s already a large bag of crap that’s bursting at the seams.

We will endure one more ignominy foisted upon us in these unusual times. But we don’t have to like it. I ask myself, “What would the Barone say?” He’d have a quip, a way to render the pandemic asunder. He would dispatch it to the rabbit hole of evanescence. I just know he would have something up his sleeve.


I know he’d want us all to “Cry a little bit over me, just to humor me.” But I realize when people we love leave us, we must keep going forward. I will. We will. I know that. But for now, I think I’ll open up a bottle of his red wine and marinate just a little while in it. Won't you join me?

I’ll say it again, “Alessandro, there was nobody quite like you. You were one of a kind. And you will not be forgotten easily.”

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

It reads as a tribute offered out of love and respect... but I really haven't gleaned who the man was without detail. Your word is something yet tell us why or how he was naughty, naughty, naughty or how his wit expressed itself.

Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks - there are a whole series of posts about him at the end of this post....

Anonymous said...

Thanks! ...And I want you to know that your reflections and insights are not taken for granted. They are not merely a voice on the internet. More like a guide and informant who anticipates my curiosity if only by sharing your lived experience and yearnings.
I'm a better wine drinker for it!

R. Graziose

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thank you!

Jerry Reid said...

I wanted to send this to you. Still makes me said and smile at the same time.
Thanks for giving me the chance to get to meet him.

- - - - - - - -

Barone Alessandro de Renzis Sonnino.

It’s been said there was no one like him. And it’s been said a lot the past few days when word, first whispered as a question then, sorrowfully, confirmed as truth was relayed of his passing after a long battle with Covid.

The Barone was a man of leisure, yes, he was. This has long been the inspiration of jokes (good-natured, mostly, and with much love) and mockery by the more puritanical (and less fun). He has inspired many, many stories which illicit anywhere from a smile to (those who met and were fortunate to know him a little) an outright belly laugh.

While I spent several days over the span of two years in his company, I don’t claim to know him well (upon arriving at Castello Sonnino – the family castle/winery in Montespertoli just west of Florence a few years ago – he greeted me and proceeded to address me as Greg for the next hour) but I came to know his mannerisms and beautifully droll sense of humor (my favorite kind).

He was a man who had been places, seen things, had a mostly affable demeanor and oodles of charm and he brought all of this to each conversation I had been privy to. Though, sometimes, it seemed he could not be bothered.
Soon after arriving at the winery a few years back, my friend and Houston counterpart, Carlos Flores and I were gazing out from one of the rooftop patios (which seem to be a castle design necessity) the at the vineyards below as The Barone conducted a brief, halfhearted tour:
The Barone (pointing somewhere between the vines and the sky): “The vineyards start there and come around and go up over there.”
Carlos (eyeing the descending stairs leading to the vineyard): “May we walk down and take a look?”
The Barone: “You can.”
Carlos: “Not you? Why?”
The Barone: “Because it’s 70 fucking steps.”

From the moment I first met him in Sept 2016 until the last time I saw him in June 2018, his regal chill was pure honey to me.

I had the joy of driving the Barone around a few times. In Austin on two occasions, on an early (“but not too early, Jerry, please”) drive to San Antonio where we spent a full day visiting accounts, enjoying a long lunch, several coffees, seeing some local sights and talking. He was quick to relax and stayed that way all through our travels. For whatever reason his chill energized me, made me want to sell every bottle of his wine. Which was no great stretch as I genuinely liked and still like his wine.

During our first work-with, scooting in, around and through congested, moronic Austin traffic, trying to get from one appointment to the next while always on the verge of being late, he said to me, “Jerry, you drive like an Italian”. He said this with his seat back, his head on the headrest, his feet crossed, and his eyes closed. I took it all as a massive compliment.

I enjoyed my time with The Barone. I suspect most people did. News of his passing was at once shocking and profoundly sad. I didn’t know him well, but his memory brings a smile to my lips and lightens my heart just a little bit. If only for a little while. I hope the same could be said of me one day. I suspect we all do.

Lastly, I leave with two Barone quotes which, while not profound, I think are about as funny as I wish I could be at the moment (both are from our stay at Castello Sonnino):
After an afternoon-into-evening of drinking, "I have no money. I have land and a castle but too many expenses. So, I have nothing. Well, I have a butler."
About his butler (a Romanian-born gentleman with a calm but steely presence who was the last bodyguard of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu): "He would kill for me. Of course, he could kill me, also."

Buon Viaggio, Barone. And cheers.

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