Sunday, June 18, 2023

What does the “Future You” look like in the world of wine?

The other day, I listened in on an NPR TED Hour podcast about what the “future you” looks like. Who will you be in 5 years? In 20 years? Are there things about yourself you’d like to improve upon, or change, and how do you envision going about that?

Indeed, for all of the Italian wine world, the future will change. What capacities and strengths and wisdom will our future selves have that we might not have today?

I have this bottle of Italian wine made in 1936 – everyone who was part of making that wine, growing the grapes, supplying the yeast, the barrels, the press, the bottle, the salesperson, the winemaker, the winegrower - all of them are now gone from this earth. What remains are the byproducts of their labors, memories, and the hopes and dreams that they might have passed on to their future selves and generations.

Think about it – all these vineyards, and wineries, bottles of wine and the aspirations and imaginings they all had, not knowing what the world of Italian wine would be like 87 years later. Coincidentally, this time period mirrors the life time of one of Italy’s leaders who recently passed – Silvio Berlusconi. His journey has been told and retold - sometimes in truth and sometimes in fable.

While, I’m not here to eulogize him, I am interested in that time period, if only to imagine what the next 87 years might have in store for Italy and wine and for those of us who are here and who are coming, who will have a hand in that history.

What do you want to pass forward to your future self? How do you see yourself as part of the continuum – to see yourself as part of something great – being part of a story bigger than yourself?

It’s a bit of a mind-blower, if only that we really cannot see ourselves in the present that very well. And to imagine oneself 5-20-40 years out takes a bit of humility to accurately assess one’s place in that continuum.

For sure, none of us will be a savior of Italian wine. Maybe some of us will make things a little better. But even with profound changes coming, individual choices might not be as significant as we might think, when we are in the middle of it. But to imagine our selves in that future is a fascinating exercise.

I think back when I was 30 and just getting started in the wine trade. I was looking for employment, not empowerment. I was a single dad, I needed to make sure my little boy had a safe place to live and food to eat, doctors who would look after his health and schools who would teach him things he would need for his life. I wasn’t looking to make the world a better (or safer) place for Italian wine. I had hopes that Italian wine would improve, and it did. And when it did, sometimes, when in my wheelhouse, I’d beat the drum and tell my clients and friends. But I really had very little to do with that. The work was being done in the fields in Italy and in the technological changes going on in the winery, in the labs and in the transportation end. And nothing short of a revolution was underway in the 1980’s. Italy was awakening from a deep sleep.

Now we see it as the norm, so much in fact that disruptors are constantly reminding us not to get too complacent in our expectation of normalcy. What does that mean? It means that Italy, as is the whole world of wine, is undergoing transformative times again. Nothing is to be taken for granted. Nothing is de rigueur.

The way we think today might change. A teaspoon of humility will help (so much grandstanding on social media about who we are, or who we think we are). All this to say, even when we arrive to 5-10-40 years from now, someone will be there waiting to tell us we haven’t gone far enough, or that maybe we have gone too far. Or both!

I’m looking at the arc of the careers of two people in the Italian wine trade. And they couldn’t have been more different. One started out humbly, with a little vineyard or two from their grandfather and built it into a multi-generational force of nature. So much in fact that they were offered more money than God to sell. And they did.

The other one had a vineyard as well. Maybe even better ones. But he didn’t really see the future as well. He was used to selling to the local co-op and living humbly. But without dreams. So much, in fact, he eventually lost parcel after parcel until all he had was his home and a little plot next door. He shuffled off into eternity without ever having been part of the Italian miracle.

Now, how did those two different people envision their future selves? Very differently, that’s how.

Which one protected the heirloom? Indeed, I cannot answer that. For one sold out and moved on. The other, while he sold a little bit at a time, in the end he was still tethered to his land, albeit in an impoverished state.

In the oncoming years, decades and centuries, many billions of people will be born on earth. Each of them with the possibility to change the world for the better, or worse. Isn’t it an exciting thought to imagine who is out there and coming who will make Italian wine even greater than it has become? So much that we cannot even imagine the greatness? And with that, all we can do is imagine who we will be, in that future, when those moments of greatness arise, right in front of us who will witness it. So exciting, isn’t it?



© written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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