Thursday, March 04, 2021

The Dramas of Life

From the archives - Sunday, April 06, 2014 

This week in Italy, Barone Alessandro de Renzis Sonnino was taken from us by Covid-19. He will be sorely missed - he was "One of a kind."

Here in Italy, as in everywhere on Spaceship Earth, there are the daily dramas. We all have them. For each and every one of us, our personal dramas are often of utmost importance. After all we are the center of our universe. Our life is most important to us. Multiply that by 7,000,000,000 in this moment and probably another 7,000,000,000+ in time. A caveman searching for food for his tribe. An explorer discovering a new route to the Pacific Coast. A winemaker finding a better way to make Sangiovese in Tuscany. Nothing is missed. We are like ants, covering every minute detail of our lives as if the universe wasn’t the large expanse beyond which we could never imagine. And it is probably correct to think often in that way, for to veer into the abyss would surely lead to madness, or worse.

As Vinitaly starts, there have been many dramas since I have been coming the first time in 1984. Where to eat? Where to sleep? Where to park? Who to sleep with? What to drink? What to buy? And what to sell? I’ve seen much in those 30 years, but what keeps me coming back are the back stories, the little nuggets one can find all over the universe, but for some reason in Italy they seem so much more delicious. We found one this week.

We represent one Alessandro de Renzis Sonnino, who has also the title of “Barone.” He is an affable character, one which I like very much. His wife is a saint, and he is a bit of a devil. They make a great pair.

I lumbered into their castle in Montespertoli on Friday afternoon after a rainy, dreary, cold day in Tuscany. I was worn out and felt chills all over my body, my own private and very important drama. We supped lightly, drank lighter and around 9PM I excused myself to head to the chamber in the highest (and warmest) part of the ancient castle. There I fell into a deep sleep with odd dreams.

When I awoke I was as good as new, save for a nagging cough. But after several weeks with Il Fuoco, I thought this to be small penance for a life lived fast. Since I have been in Italy, everyday there has been a work related series of events. Yes, I’m in Italy. But every day, there has been some work to do in Italy, as well as responding to the calls from back home. I’m afraid I was a bit short with some of the folks who are clamoring for an audience at Vinitaly.

Heading down to the dining room for breakfast, Luigi from Portugal welcomed me with warm coffee, scrambled eggs and thick bacon. The Baron eventually appeared, and the room brightened up.

His wife Caterina, known well in Italy for her prolific wine label designs (her portfolio reads like a who's who of Italian wine nobility - she designs for some of the top producers in Tuscany and elsewhere in Italy) was sitting with us when the Baron made his entrance. What can we do in the presence of the bright light but try not to stare, lest we be blinded by his glimmer.

All kidding aside, before we shoved off, he took us on a tour of his private area in the castle. Through a study and then another door, we guided us into the private archive of his family, which documents back to 1215, the year of the Magna Carta.

There we were shown a rare signed document noting the treaty of Versailles. His relative Sidney Sonnino was a prime minister of Italy during those war-torn years. The photographs froze time almost 100 years ago. What a time it must have been, with the wringing of hands and the stress of a Great War hanging over the heads of the leaders who were trying to iron out a peace. For those of us who were not around, World War I saw 37 million casualties, of which 20 million were deaths. It would pale in comparison to World War II, in which 2.5% of the world’s population perished, over 60 million. But it was a terrible time. And when the peace came for those few short years, it was gained at such a high cost.

Sidney Sonnino died in 1922, and all of Italy came out to send him off. It was one of the few times an ascending Benito Mussolini was photographed in civilian clothing.

As we battle over which Valpolicella is the better one, over which process is greater, the modern or the traditional, I take pause. How important really is all of this in the light of greater issues? If the wine is white or orange, what really does it matter? If a producer imports directly or uses an importer, what difference does it make? If someone thinks the 3-tier system is a veiled attempt to block a producer from charting their own destiny, so what? These are not life or death matters. These are merely our own formulated dramas of life, which we fly like so many kites in the springtime sky.

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