Sunday, April 02, 2023

Three Hopeful Nudges for the Italian Wine World

With the Italian wine world convening in Verona for another Vinitaly (the 55th), and as people shake off the last three years of a pandemic which isolated all of us, what will prevent the wine world from falling back into the old habits and ruts of the past?

Our brainstorming crew has come up with three possible nudges to avoid settling back into past patterns and comforts, seeing as the world has fundamentally changed. In essence, there is no going back. But there will be people who will insist on the tried and true, although tired and timeworn it is, in reality. But let them eat cake, or vitello tonnato, or whatever it is that gives them comfort and solace. As for those who wish to embrace the present and the future, here are the team’s suggestions.

1) Focus on the changes that brought us to this point. We don’t always have to be in person for a meeting, or even a tasting. The lack of human interaction is supplanted by the reduced carbon footprint from not having people cram into one place at one time. Do it remotely, and utilize the economy of that method, saving time for family, friends and self-care.

Look, change is always upon us. And the desire to sidestep it, for humans, is a temptation. But it is also a distraction. Change is constant and inevitable. And to quote, once again, a distant cousin, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” That doesn’t mean we must rush to do the things we did, pre-Covid, in the same way now. Much of that looks like a memory, or at best a map of a journey taken once, long ago. It has lost its relevance, and to go back to it, just because it feels comfortable, isn’t good enough reason to do so. Don’t fight the river, the Zen master once said.


2) Expect to do your part for the Italian wine world within your locality, rather than being a global force of destiny. What does that mean? Scale down. Too many people are fixated on being a larger influence than they need to be. Remember what Doug Cook once said. Doug created Able Grape, a wine search engine, and was VP Engineering at both Yahoo and Inktomi. A smart guy. And a wine lover. And a humanist. He said that in the Twitterverse anything over 1,500 followers (he has 200K+) was of no essential consequence. it means that quality can really be more important than quantity. Size doesn’t matter. Well, size matters, but amplitude takes on a different perspective and metrics need not be judged not by “who has the loudest voice” in the room. Micro-influencers, it seems, are now all the rage.

We're fascinated by this, as our inner circles have gotten smaller since retirement and Covid collided in our world. It’s a lot less hectic and a hell of a lot more peaceful. And really, who cares to influence strangers? What good does it serve? Small is beautiful was a mantra 50 years ago, but it sounds more relevant than ever.


3) Italian wine is best when served up with a helping of simplicity.  In other words, resist the lure to overcomplicate things. Not very many people remember all the grapes that go into the making of Chateauneuf du Pape. And while it is a lovely French wine, this is not something for Italians to emulate. Keep it simple. Make wine accessible. And affordable. No need for long corks. Or cryptic labels. Bring inclusivity to the table. There is enough elitism and exclusivity in the world today.

Along with that though, the educators and teachers, the mentors and enthusiasts, must speak to everyday people in ways that open up that world to them. It goes beyond skin color or creed. It’s all part of that ancient Roman custom of hospitalitas.

At an Italian soiree the other day, and a young lady was pouring a fresh Grignolino. She communicated simply and clearly why she loved the wine and why she hoped other people would fall for it too. Truly a wonderful thing to witness, in today’s world where folks spout all kinds of b.s. about wine that serves only to distance the end-user from an authentic experience. Simplicity – that’s the key. And with it, honesty and humility are part of the rising tide.


Change, scale and simplicity. Pointers on the map of the future for Italian wine. Mark these words.

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