Link to us:

  Blogs & Sites:


Mondo Di Vino
Mondo Di Vino

[10/07/2019, 04:59] Are Wine Ambassadors Worth the Time and Money?
On the Wine Trail in Italy
{This one is}
Is the role of the wine ambassador in the era of social media an experiment that has yet to see its star rise or has that sun already set? With wholesale consolidation approaching event horizon and with sales force automation becoming more prevalent, how do you get the drum beat, the cheerleader, when historically that was left to the distributor?s sales force?

This commentary is directed primarily towards companies (importers, wholesale distributors, wine regions and consortiums, and well-financed wineries) but if you are a wine ambassador or are considering to become one, there are some relevant points here for you as well.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

The role of the ambassador has been expanding in the last 10 years. They range from full-time jobs with all the employee benefits to part-time (gig) with no employee status (or benefits), essentially an independent gun-for-hire. But does the ambassador concept work? Let?s take a look.

If hired full-time, an ambassador affords a company the opportunity to capture all the time and the attention of the ambassador. It benefits the ambassador, too, because he or she has the advantage of full-time employment and can give their all to the project.

Needs dictate what a company can afford, and often they are just looking for someone to ?jump start? a project. While it might seem more economical for a company to hire on a part-time or seasonal basis, there are some pitfalls to this.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Full disclosure ? when I left my full-time position (in distribution) in March of 2018, I was contacted by an importer on behalf of a winery that hired me as their ambassador. I did not work for any other company, although I still wrote some articles for my local paper (Dallas Morning News) and kept my blog going. But I did not write about the winery or even the category of the wine during that time. That, I felt (as did the importer) was off-limits and would not appear on the up-and-up.

I discovered a couple of things about ?ambassadoring.? Mainly, that the goal is to increase exposure, and sales, of the product(s). That was the bottom line. It wasn?t to grow my social media presence, to increase my status as an ?influencer? or to get free junkets to other places in the world of wine. In fact, the winery I ambassadored for (Ruggeri in Valdobbiadene) was pretty hands-off about my movements. I went to the winery once, when I was already in Italy. But I didn?t spend harvest there or take people from distributors, or bloggers, to visit the winery. My role was to cover America and try and help make the winery into a more recognizable name. And, to make the name better known by increasing distribution (thereby, exposure) in fine retail shops and restaurants. It was a road-warrior position, for sure. And it worked for all of us, although I will say, there are other iterations of ?ambassadorship? that also have validity.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

What doesn?t work? What doesn?t work is when an ambassador sees the position as one of a handful of income streams that satisfy their need for a particular level of income. If one gets three or four of these gigs in a year, they can earn anywhere from $50,000-$150,000. But it takes a special person to have three or four masters and still maintain integrity.

It?s hard enough doing a good job for one project. It?s near impossible to do it for a handful of companies. Now, I?m talking about ambassadorships. Not someone who does p.r., writes blogs and goes about their daily business making sure the world knows about their clients. That?s more of a ballyhoo, and if done well, it?s plenty hard work. But I?m not talking about those folks.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

No, I?m talking about someone who is the front-person for the company. In a full-time role, that?s much easier, because there is structure. In a part-time ?ad hoc? role, there are subtle gradations. One, is to know what to do, on a regular basis and to commit oneself to those activities to achieve a certain goal. There are no ethical codes for this, except as comes from the moral backbone of individuals. It?s not like working for a newspaper and knowing one cannot take a junket. And it?s not like working for a corporation which has an HR department and guidelines (for example, a wine ambassador for Importer W could never, should never, take a trip to visit a winery from Importer X, Y or Z). That is unethical.

It can get tricky. Let?s say you are an ambassador for a consortium of producers of Napa Valley Cabernet. And let?s say you are invited, all expenses paid, to visit a consortium of Sonoma Valley Cabernet producers. On the surface, it looks ok, even beneficial. But, in reality, the two groups are competing, often for the same consumer dollars. In my view, it would be wrong to take a trip. Here?s why.

You might reason as long as the Napa Valley folks don?t mind, who gets hurt by it? Let me tell you who: You. Your reputation that would be tainted by the appearance of conflict. A black mark.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

But people have different parameters in the new world of social media, you say. Influencers have leeway, because they are so influential. You might be an influencer today, but who knows about tomorrow? The wine world is a small community = if you screw up your reputation, people don?t forget.

When it?s all said and done, it gets down to how effective you can be ? the metrics. It is about sales, no matter which lofty minded dreamer is out there say, ?No, it?s not about sales, it?s about the wine, man.? Ok, keep dreaming. It?s about revenue and growing the brand awareness.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

If you are a winery, a consortium or an importer, and an ambassador is something you are considering, here?s a little homework before the handshake:

1) Ask or check to see if your future ambassador has previous commitments that might be in conflict with your products.

2) Before hiring someone, get all the ground rules laid out, e.g. avoidance of conflict of interest, amount of time that will be devoted to your enterprise, junkets to wine country that might appear to rival your project.

3) Lay out what exactly needs to be done, whether it is in the sales end, the education side or the cheerleader department, and make sure you are clear about how much time the future ambassador should devote to each area. The last thing you need is for someone to sit at their screen tweeting all day ? that?s so 2006.

4) Give a timeline and a goal (such as, improve the sales of the brand in 12 months by 15%, etc.). Without a goal, why are you even considering such a role?

5) Never, ever, do something because your competitor is doing it. Never, ever, do something for the sake of ?status? or because it appears to be the thing to do. If you have that much money lying around, invest it in a brand manager, full-time and get 100% of their time and attention.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

All that said, being an ambassador - having an ambassador ? is cool. And many ambassadors I have talked to are genuinely excited and motivated about their products. Yes, there are the few just looking to cash in on the latest trend, the next phase, and they move from project to project. It?s a cash grab for them (and also there?s the element of prestige). Don?t throw away your money on someone just looking to make a name for themselves at your expense. They don?t own the land; they haven?t taken the risk to start a company and make that dream come true. But an ambassador can be a great value, as long as they share the values, the vision and the work ethic of the business owner who dares to dream big.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[09/29/2019, 20:32] Wine writers and their most faithful followers
On the Wine Trail in Italy
For those perched inside the balloon of the wine world, a self-contained orb, there?s little to worry about an expanding universe. The problems of string theory or quantum mechanics matter not, to those vying for their spot on the head of the pin, placed strategically in the middle of the balloon. Little concern there is, as well, for any possibility that the sharp end of that needle might pierce their tiny world and all will be lost. Wine writers live in an alternate cosmos. There aren?t the normal repercussions that normal writers must face. The book writer, and hopeful publisher, gnash about in the trendy nosh parlors of Shoreditch, swirling their Manzanilla, while cobbling their strategy to sell 1,000 books. It?s perfect. It must be the alcohol, which casts that euphoric fog.

It seems the gold rush these days is for followers, to find people one can exert influence over, to point them to a journey where they too can hope to drink Chambolle-Musigny from Roumier. ?'tis a consummation. Devoutly to be wish'd.?

The revelation came to me during a victory nap. I dozed off while Instagram needles pierced my eye - all those significant bottles held up by all those brilliant iPhone curators. ?To sleep ? perchance to dream.?

And then, I had the dream.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
It?s like this, when you have one foot in that world and one in another (perhaps the grave?). The vision, though, was one from my early days in the wine trade. Sales were growing, the deep funk of the 1980?s was receding like a Venezuelan glacier. People were getting over their petrol-panic in places like Houston and Midland, Texas, and they wanted to drink again.

And over time, buoyed by numerical scoring based on the 100-point scale, wine took off. Pre-internet, pre-Instagram. Pre-influencers. Just a handful of wine writers, and their tasting notes. And their scores.

Wine writers like to think that readers are influenced by them. But what really moves the needle? If a powerful critic makes an impression on their 50,000 readers, or their 500,000 subscribers, is that really the ultimate measure of their influence? For years I analyzed the metrics in my role in the wholesale end of things. And this is what I found out.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Five salespeople, properly motivated and tuned into these things, can sell more wine than 50,000 readers (and potential consumers). Not to downplay the effect of a good write-up in a large newspaper or one of the reigning modern-day wine publications. They sell wine, especially the 95-100 pointers. But those 87-94 wines - the ones that the trophy hunters cannot and will not spare any room in their cellars for, as they?re obsessed with filling them up with the likes of Sine Qua Non and Le Pin - what happens to them? So, the question is, for a wine writer, do you keep writing about those wines, and if you decide to do so, how does this help affect some upward mobility for those wines in the wine world?

Consumers do account for a ton of response (and action), but who?s really doing the heavy lifting? Those five salespeople? In five cities, in five states, in five countries? I think we don?t realize just how much wine they sell, because those metrics are not made available to industry outsiders. That is considered proprietary information by the distributor, if that information is even gathered. I know it can be, because I did so for many years. It was an amazing look into the world of sales. Yes, the writers strike the match, but the salespeople walk around the barn with a handful of straw ablaze setting it on fire.

Oh, I know it?s unpopular to consider the role of those ?minor players? in the three-tier world. After all, aren?t we all influencers now, in our own special way? Anyone with an Instagram feed and 5,000 followers thinks so. They?ll tell you; you don?t have to even ask. But ask them to back it up with metrics and you get a fist full of hash tags and fustian tropes. There?s no needle. There?s no vinyl. And there?s no there-there.

Part of the problem is that wine critics might not even have a complete understanding of the industry. I hear often, ?that?s the commercial side. We?re on the editorial side.? As if there?s a wall that separates them. And in journalistic realms, rightfully so. One of the commandments, ?There shall be no pay-to-play,? is engrained within the ethical structure of such institutions. The mightier and more independent wine critics can choose to adopt that stance, or muddy it with the flaps of their Range Rovers as they run over it in the sodden streets of Sheung Wan.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Ironically, the salesperson doesn?t discriminate. Right or wrong, 92 points is 92 points. And if it?s a Brunello that one can sell 50 cases of to a restaurant or retailer for $25.00, they aren?t going to give a hang ?who? writes about it ? as long as it?s one of the ?BIG? types doing the typing. Yes, that?s the seamy downside to this business. And by the way, the wineries are on board with this in an even bigger way. They think nothing to plunk down $10-20,000 to pour their ?97? point-er at an event in the clouds. They move that needle. And their importers and distributors down-line comply. Because everyone wants to sell and make money and have a successful career. I?ve seen it up front, on the windshield, all splattery and sometimes not so pretty.

So, what am I getting at? I think there?s a strategy that wine writers neglect to consider when they take the leap, in the crowded field of wine criticism, where there?s not a lot of money lying around and every nickel-and-dime blogger is vying for their corner of online presence (and FAME!). And that is to take into account - when you write a piece - who will read it and what kind of measurable effect will it have. "Ay, there?s the rub."

I know there are the purists and naturalistas out there who say, ?It?s not about sales.? And for every one of you out there who thinks that, you have either minimized the impact in that area or you haven?t gotten into it deeply enough to know the Zen of it. It?s there, it?s real and if you don?t believe me, well, there?s a chap in Maryland who got there first and he channeled into the mindset of the salesperson. And they got behind him and were his most faithful followers. And they moved the needle off the Richter.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

?Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.?

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[09/22/2019, 19:50] Oh, The People You?ll Meet! (at a wine media luncheon)
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Since decamping from the day job, I?ve had more than my fair share of invites to wine media luncheons. For the most part these have been pleasurable social events. If lucky, we actually received information and inspiration. I?ve come to recognize some of the archetypal characters that populate these events. Here are a few that have stood out along the way.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The Journalist - Not a run-of-the-mill, bona fide member of the press. This person is the one who, when you are introduced, they hand you their business card. And right under their name is the title ?journalist.? Not freelancer, blogger, not even writer. Journalist. And they?re damn proud of it.

When you ask them which publications they have written for, they mention online aggregate sites that ?let? people contribute for free, lending them the aura of being on a team, a bunch of reporters sitting in the newspaper office grinding out reports from their ?beat.?

Forget that they hardly know the difference between its and it?s, let alone knowing when to use that and when to use which (let?s not even bring up the then vs. than conundrum they are often faced with).

They?re a harmless type, usually they just want to be part of something bigger than the life that?s been handed to them. But they get a bit tripped up on the word ?journalist.? They might be a blogger, or they might have a feed on Twitter or maybe even Redditt. But longform isn?t something they strive to create on a regular basis. They might even have a press pass to something like Prowein or Slow Wine. But they do not earn a penny writing. Heck, it?s hard enough for a dedicated freelancer to make enough dough to pay all the monthly bills.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The Drunk ? He?s always ready for a ?nuncheon.? It?s 12:30, lunch hasn?t even started, but this character has already downed three cups of P?t-Nat, claiming he forgot to take his daily dose of probiotics and he?s just priming the pump. TMI. Over the course of the 3-hour luncheon (promised initially to be no longer than 90 minutes, ?in and out?) with a plethora of wines poured (12 at last count and we?re still only on the first main course dish, with two more ?mains? coming), our table drunk starts to slur his words. He even fell asleep once and woke himself up snoring. The good news is he is relatively quiet, as if there is any air left in the room, between the ?journalist? and our next guest. 

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The Influencer ? Usually never on time, we?re often kept waiting for this person before the host starts talking, because he just wants to say it once (we only have 90 minutes, after all). So, we wait, and we sip, and the drunk over there, he gets more inebriated (his edible has also just kicked in), and we wait some more. And then she shows up.

It?s as if the event had no energy until this one showed up. ?I?m soooo sorry, but I was on a conference call with Toddy and Mariel B.? We?re supposed to know they are uber-influencers in the world of canned ros? wine. In any case, she lives a #VeryImportantLife, and a life filled with #VeryImportantThings to do, of which she is most often the fulcrum, the centerpiece, the raison d'?tre for this (or any other) gathering.

The thing you notice about this person is the use of simple, easy to understand words. Words like ?I? ?me? and ?my? peppered in her short staccato Twitter-length phrases, usually describing something #Great about herself. She?s a one-woman P.R. machine, and you will know how many Twitter followers she has (15K) how many Instagram followers (18K) and that she doesn?t have any room left for followers on Facebook because she?s surpassed the limit. But Facebook is #So2009 anyway, nobody goes there anymore.

Oh, and she is a master of selfie photography and that?s pretty much all you see on her social media feed. But she is very, very #Influential. Dontcha know?
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Our next guest is The Name-Dropper. He?s been everywhere, drunk everything. ?47 Haut-Brion? In magnums. ?31 Quinta do Noval Nacional? Multiple times. ?71 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Pugnane? He simply adores the ros? clone of Nebbiolo! He a walking encyclopedia of unicorn wines, and if the recent sarde in saor course hasn?t caused a minor upheaval in your digestive system, The Name-Dropper and his constant tink-tink-tink of names will eventually cause your personal house of cards to fold and fly away on the fairy-dust he?s been spreading around the table.

The Name-Dropper, you see, wants to be part of the secret society of wine connoisseurs, that virtual Illuminati of wine experts that are just beyond the reach of all us abecedarians sitting around the table. And he?ll let you know that you are not part of his clandestine cult. You can bet on it.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Seated next to the Name-dropper is The Naturalista. She just discovered natural wines; about the same time, she became a vegan. Right after she divorced her husband of 20 years, when he ran away with their daughter?s best friend. Now, she has a part time job, working for a professor, who, in his spare time, is attempting to get his Master Sommelier pin as well as passing the grueling Master of Wine exam. He was too busy to come, so he sent her in his place.

She?s actually quite pleasant, although she sometimes conflates her ardor for ?those lovely little natty ones? with her lifestyle. Yes, she has the "flowing peasant dress" attire down pat. And the sandals, the Birkenstocks. She?s constantly pulling out disinfecting wipes (bleach free!) and cleaning her hands. A germophobe? As well, her hair color is Pantone Orange 021 C (supposably to seasonally match her Pantone Black C nails, perfectly mani-curated for the season), neither of which look like any hair color Mother Nature ever came up with. Especially in a person whose roots have been ?graying? for the last few years. But she?s enthusiastic and not overly contentious, though she definitely has her opinions. If only she could get a word in edgewise between Mr. Name-Dropper and Ms. Influencer.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
And finally, there?s The Nicest Person at the table. Thank God. She usually has another job, one where she makes plenty of money and has a modicum of authority. But her natural character is one of being kind and generous and compassionate. She?s the one passing the butter plate, while all the rest are too busy being glued to their devices and letting their social media followers in on what a #fantastic, #unbelievable and #epic event they?re ?reporting? on. She listens, she asks questions that aren?t intended to make her appear to be the smartest person in the room (there are plenty of those here already). And she really, truly cares about the person pouring the wine, and the wine too. She?s influential, but you?ll never hear it from her. She?ll write it up on her blog, which has scores and scores of followers, who'll go out and buy the wines she writes about. Why? Because she transmits the joy and the passion and the happiness of all the good things about the wine business and because she is The Nicest Person. And we always are grateful for one like her at the table.

Press luncheons can be a hit-or-miss kind of thing. But one must taste, taste, taste regularly. So, if the price of admission is to sit at a table where you aren?t the smartest person in the room, or the most influential, or with the greatest experience in tasting the ?old wines,? you won?t be alone. Pass the #butter, please.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

written by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
[Illustrations by Ben Shahn]
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[09/18/2019, 17:01] The Scandal that has Shaken the Universe of the Masters of ?ophisticated ?annabis
Dateline: April 20, 2049
On the Wine Trail in Italy
It?s been nearly a year since 420 anxious Cannabis Sommeliers amassed at the Hotel Zig-Zag in Portland, Oregon. The purpose? To accept a challenge to pass the most rigorous testing to become one of a handful (now standing at 1937) of Masters of ?ophisticated ?annabis (M??) in the world ? fewer than have traveled to Mars.

The multi-part test included a natur' section, in which the candidate must determine the quality of the herb, and how to determine a better species or type of product versus a lower or inferior type. The second test determines proficiency in rolling, decanting tinctures and setting up pipettes/hookahs for the guests. The third and hardest part of the test involves identifying the various aromas, or ?Interpening,? whereby one can identify the strain and the quality, as well as the level of psychotropic strength, and overall quality level (on a scale of 1-10). This is where most of the candidates stumble.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Amazingly, all 420 candidates passed, an unprecedented success for the governing body, the Cloister of ?annabis Connoisseurs(C?C). Cloister Chairperson, Brownie Harrelson, stated at the celebratory f?te, ?This has been a watershed moment in our history. There?s no going back now!?

Two days later a leaked comm-wave revealed that a ci-devant Master of ?ophisticated ?annabis (M??) had 'virtual neural-coached? several of the candidates who passed. This caused concern in the upper echelons of the (C?C) organization, who submitted this brief statement:

?We have hired the auditing firm of Stuckey, Frost and Wilson to conduct a thorough and exhaustive investigation, and to determine any improprieties that may have occurred, consciously or otherwise. We are dealing with neural pathways, and the technology to map the routes are often convoluted and shielded by normal procedures. We at the C?C have given Ms. Stuckey, Ms. Frost and Ms. Wilson full access to our organization and communication channels and we are confident this trio of talented investigators will arrive to an objective and fair conclusion.?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The Cortico-?og world has had mixed reviews.

Josey Roberts, of ?One-Weed? - Dude!? had this to say:
?I think it?s high time the Cloister got to the bottom of this scandal. Good on Brownie for finally calling in the super trio of women who will clean this mess up, hopefully. For too long, the C?C has been run like a Chicken Ranch in Marfa.?

Stephanie Heimh?? an AI-cortico-?ogger from Alameda, chimed in from her perch, the notoriously cynical site, ?The Homecoming.? Her brief comments below:
?Well, she?s done it again: embarrassed America abroad. Her (Arabella Trump?s) performance at the G2 was, in a word, horrible. It?s obvious the European leader loathe her and all she stands for. The reports have suggested that the leader didn?t want to directly bash her (even though personally they want to), so they put discretion before valor and were basically nice to her.?
[Ed. Note: We tried to determine if Stephanie was responding to our story or if she was stuck in an endless loop against the Trump dynasty. She was, however, too high to give us a proper reply.]

Geffreda Siegal, the billionairess behind ?The Weed Curmudgeon,? noted:
?Maybe this will finally lay bare the discrepancies between the world of everyday weed and the trend toward ultra -premiumization, as witnessed by the explosive growth of Masters of ?ophisticated ?annabis. The outerworlds need and deserve a good under-$10 joint!?

Sidney Yarrow, granddaughter of Alder who bequeathed Vinography to her in his will (along with his collection of Nabokov?s butterflies), on her crypto-newsletter, ?Weedography,? dropped this yoctogram:
?Seeing as we got rid of most of the men by 2036, we have no one to blame but ourselves. The quantum-push by the Cloister (C?C) to turn as many budtenders into Masters of ?ophisticated ?annabis (M??) in the shortest of timelines was bound to have a reaction. It was like trying to fit a quadrillion bag of bones into a virtual canister designed for a billion. Critical mass ? boom ? game over!?

Meanwhile, the investigation is pending. The independent weed news site, FourTwenty Daily has also launched an independent inquiry, headed up by the most renowned hempistolarian, Bianca Asimobley. We shall wait and see.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[09/15/2019, 14:49] Asprinio - a Ramble, a Recollection, a Revelation
?Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.? ? George R.R. Martin

On the Wine Trail in Italy
In my den, on an oak table, bottles of wine are lined up to be tasted. Wine from Sicily, from Chile, from Napa Valley, waiting. I should open them, taste them, make notes and find a way to tell readers what they?re like. But a newly aroused narrative has jumped the queue, an anamnesis, long ago filed and forgotten. And cadaver-like, it pops up, resurfaces, and appeals for its story to be told, before it is consigned once again to oblivion on the battlefield of memory.

I?m in Naples, walking, heading towards the water on Viale Antonio Gramsci. It runs into Via Mergellina runs into the Via Antonio Gramsci and turns into the Galleria Laziale. I get my first up close view of Vesuvius.

Walking on the Galleria, it turns into Via Diocleziano and then Via Bagnoli, where it turns and runs into Via Pozzuoli. Heading towards the town of Pozzuoli it name changes again to Via Napoli and then to Lungomare Pertini. This is before GPS. I am walking. It is a long walk, blistering hot. And it is lunchtime. I find a little osteria/pizzeria and sit down. The soles on my desert boots are hot. My jeans, worn such that they need patches, are steady. I?ve been marching through Italy and I am hungry. I order a simple pizza with tomato, garlic and oregano. It was 600 lire. A few minutes later the lady brings out the pizza and asks me what I want to drink with it. ?Vino rosso,? I answer. She looks at me like I?ve gone mad, and instead brings me ?una foglietta? of white wine and a glass. It was 80 lire.

It was the perfect foil for tired feet, a perspiration-soaked army surplus shirt and a 20-year old in search of Italy. The lady in the pizzeria sounded like my grandmother, their dialects similar. And even though I didn?t understand the exact words, I grasped her intention. She wanted me to enjoy the pizza with the correct wine for the time.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Years later I?d sit at a trendy wine bar in Tribeca and the barman would pour me a glass of Asprinio. ?It?s the latest hot wine from Italy, and it?s totally, 100% natural.? Hot wine, indeed. A wine needed for the heat. And rounding-off with the creamy lusciousness of fresh mozzarella, the pungent balm of garlic and the bracing nip of oregano, a memory is seared.

Now, there is a wall between the natural wine believers and the non-believers. The believers say the wall is white and brilliant, and the non-believers claim it is unconstrained in its dim blackness, roiling the wind, the water and the earth with their dogmatic harrows, as if to plow on is to be righteous and precise. A drone from above sees that the wall is indeed white on one side and black on the other, but the two camps cannot see the differences in shading. So, they argue, they cajole one another, they form social circles of concurrence, and keep each other agitated while they wait out the bleak winter days in the concrete caves.

It was the lack of precision that made this half liter of Asprinio so vital, that day long ago in August of 1971. It dueled with the heat, and won. It tangoed, waltzed and two-stepped with the mozzarella, garlic and oregano, and everyone went home, tired but elated. It made an impression, once filed away, now bobbing back up to the surface. It was a natural wine from almost 50 years ago.

In 1971, Italy was merely a generation removed from a devastating war, poverty and monumental struggles. When I walked among those crowded streets with the Neapolitans looking at the tall, gangling ?Americano? who was strolling among them, I sensed a place much different from where I grew up in sunny Southern California. But I also sensed a familiarity with the place, and the people. And the food and wine. I loved it then and I love it now. I?m not at all interested in the black vs. white wall quarrel. I don?t have time for it. I barely have time to taste and enjoy all the wine that is available in this Golden Age of wine for Italy.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

with thanks to Luigi Veronelli and Ian D'Agata for jolting my memory

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[09/08/2019, 21:14] Fury, Indignation, Outrage ? Seeking Asylum from the Blitz Against Bliss
?and the wine we?ve been opening up lately, on the island.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Three years ago, I came up with this scenario that, quite possibly, the earth passed through a field of cosmic dust of unknown elements that caused a large part of the population to have experienced a mind-altering state, and not necessarily in a good way. Not a mass hypnosis (which doesn?t exist), maybe just a slight shift in the collective consciousness? Or maybe, mass psychosis? But if that possibly happened, to those who weren?t affected by the dust storm, it seems all kind of crazy was unleashed. But this is about wine, and Italian wine, so let?s get after it.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Coco craves copper

Podere Palazzo Ramato della Fiamma is a white wine (not copper colored, by the way) from a winery in the province of Forli-Cesena, in east Emilia-Romagna. The wine, a 2017, weighed in at 14.5% alcohol. A restaurateur friend poured it last week at lunch. Seeing as it was 100 ?F here in North Texas, a cool white wine seemed like a good idea.

This is a big wine, though. A red wine in white wine clothing? A cool-weather white? A slick black cat of a wine? Not for everybody, but for those who like black cats and wines like this, it could fill that bill nicely. Coco agrees with me.

I was in an email interchange with Ian D?Agata, who told me about the grape. ?I?d say it is most likely a biotype of Trebbiano Romagnolo, which is also known as Trebbiano della Fiamma, as it can turn reddish-gold when ripe. Given where the estate is located, and that the wine says Rubicone, I think that is most likely a correct assumption; and I see on the website of the estate that they refer to a ?Trebbiano variety.??

It bears a slight resemblance to some of the other coastal whites from the Adriatic side, from Verdicchio to Trebbiano, even slightly to Pecorino. What this wine reminded me of was a blend made years ago, by Illuminati, called Ciafr?, which had a good proportion of Trebbiano in the blend.

The Ramato della Fiamma is a rich wine, with some perfume, but a bit closed in. The meat of this wine is in the body. It doesn?t come off as heavy, but very well-balanced, dry and really a surprise. It has a little less acidity than its counterpart further down south, a little fattier flavor. Even though the wine spent 24 months in new French oak (300 liters) I didn?t sense any over-oakiness. I think a grilled veal chop would be smashing. I don?t have exact pricing, but it appears the wine will retail in the US for under $30, which puts it at a premium price point. So, not a wine for everyday drinking, but a well-made, interesting wine for a Sunday lobster and crab boil.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Buttercup loves Pecorino (cheese, that is)
From a small farm in Bucchianico in Abruzzo, where a main product is saffron, Azienda Vinicola CantinArte released this 2016 Pecorino ?Colori.? Here is where a lot of folks get tripped up. A lot of names. Long names. Let?s break it down. Bucchianico is in the province of Chieti, which is in the middle of the region of Abruzzo, but nearer to the Adriatic than inland. The winery, CantinArte, makes a white wine from the Pecorino grape and gives it the name ?Colori.?

The wine is a deeper color than clear, slightly yellow. Or, as we like to say around here, Buttercup, but on the light side. Pecorino was reincarnated in Abruzzo and Marche at the end of the last century. There is a lot of seafood in these regions, so the demand for a variety of white wines is strong. As well, a robust tourism industry on the coast fuels that need. The ?Colori? Pecorino is a soft white wine, not overly acidic (which more often is the rule in that area). For that reason, it makes this wine a suitable foil for folks who like wine on the dry, but mellow side.

I?m not going to go into the aromas. Recently a perfume expert has pretty much blown up my ideas about writing about aromas and smells (which is offering me a needed moment of education). I can say this wine went really well with several different kinds of foods. Khao Soi is a curried ?soup? of chicken and egg noodles from Myanmar, Laos and Thailand and it went really well. I also had the wine with a fresh peach and raspberry cobbler (which I made) and tried, as an experiment, to see how it would match. It matched well enough for me to remember it and note it here. Total surprise. But I?d really love to see it with a big hot plate of grilled langosto as I remember fondly from San Benedetto del Tronto. This one in the US will cost about $25, but remember it?s a fairly small production from a farming family.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Luigi loves everything!
Le Pianelle Al Posto dei Fiori ? Coste della Sesia 2018 rosato ? Le Pianelle is the winery, Al Posto dei Fiori is the name of the wine, rosato is the color and Coste della Sesia is the DOC (appellation). This is a darker, or well-tanned ros?, which I am drawn to more than the lighter colored wines. A Nebbiolo ( @90% with 5% Croatina and 5% Vespolina) based wine. One of my favorite ros? wines this season, I loved everything about this wine, from the crisp, mineral-like flavor to the delicate, rose-bloom bouquet. The body held up well to summer food here in Texas- barbecue, tamales, grilled eggplant, hickory-smoked culotte steak. If there is one drawback it is that the wine will retail in the US for right under $30, which puts it in competition with the slimmer, blonder ros?s from France. Even if the marketing rules of ros? seem contrived to us true believers, this is a hand-sell to folks who have the money and the desire to drink a delicious, authentic wine, regardless of color. I unabashedly love this wine. So, apparently, does Luigi.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The final wine came from the wine closet, a 2002 Il Borro. It?s a grizzled old lion of a wine, lying there in the closet all these years waiting for its moment. Grilling Wagyu ribeye steaks was that occasion.

Il Borro is one of those places that famous people go, to be in Italy, but to be under their own cover. It?s safe, in a sense. But there are wild things, too. Just not free-ranging wild. Wagyu-wild.

The Ferragamo family fear little, if nothing. A large family, some of them looked outside the clothing business to make room for their dreams. In a little corner near Arezzo, they found such a place. A little borgo, put together like a jig saw puzzle, every piece gold-leafed into place. Young Salvatore Ferragamo has resources that many of us don?t have, but with that comes pressures, from within and from the larger world. When we trip, it?s no big deal, When he does, it?s newsworthy. So, he is a bit imprisoned by the expectation the world and his family have for him and his wines. I like Salvatore, a lot.

I kept this wine for about thirteen years. When opened, it was like a home birth. Lots of stuff rushing out of the bottle all at once, and nary a midwife in sight. It kicked, it screamed, it was a bloody mess (some of the wine actually ?jumped? out of the bottle onto a white linen table cloth). This was a wine that announced, ?I?m here, what?ve you got for me?? A big juicy, charred piece of meat, for one. And a very patient wine-closet custodian, with his newly organized and catalogued collection of ?wines to drink before we die.? It'll cost you about $90 today, if you can find it.

The wine itself was meaty, and mature. Not tired, but not youthful. Vigorous, yes, able to do 100 push-ups in one set, by all means. But no triathlon afterwards. A sit-down meal with a sharp knife and a big crystal goblet (with my inner Yakut calling the shots on the stemware).

What I loved about the wine was that the different grapes (50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and Petit Verdot) had fully integrated among themselves. Looking into my files, I noted that this wine, the 2002, was one of the most exciting wines I tasted at Vinitaly in 2007.

So, for this old warrior, it was a good day for the Il Borro to be born and resurrected. And there are more from the pride in the closet, waiting for their day.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

And that?s all she wrote. I?ve got other things on the burner, but figured we all have enough drama in our lives these days. A celebratory post isn?t such a bad thing is it?

written and photographed (except for the old lion shot) by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[09/01/2019, 17:57]  Burning Man At 50 - Five Gen ?? Women Who Are Changing Wine and the World
Reporting from Black Rock City, August 31, 2036...

On the Wine Trail in Italy

This is Leia Rippley; I am now 85. And as they say, 85 is the new 30, thanks to nano-extenders and the little solar generator that keeps my heart pumping. With global warming, there is plenty of sun, and Black Rock City, with its average temperature, this time of the year, at 125?F, my heart has another 40-50 years. That is if Terra does. Fortunately, I also had a vortex personal cooling rib-cage installed in 2025, and have only had to rebuild it three times. But, it?s all good, I?m cool.

First, I must report that we have succeeded in reducing greatly the number of men in the world. Women now outnumber men 15,000-to-1. With a world population of 15 billion, there are 1 million men left. They are used mainly for their semen. But we are showing great advances in the production of synth-sperm, and within a generation we?ll have no need for men for that purpose. Of course, they are now a vanishing species, having endangered most of the living world for the 30,000 years in which they were dominant. We women have evolved, and no longer have the emotional need for males. We supply one another with greater warmth and comforts, and surely our more intimate acts have a better balance, in which both (or more) involved in the act enjoy satisfaction over a period of time lasting longer than 5 minutes.

But enough about me. I?m at Burning Man 50, and this year we are actually going to burn a real man. Dick. He was found to be genetically deficient in empathy and way below the intelligence quotient that is needed in order to support the resources to keep him alive. Fortunately, he died in his sleep and his will stipulated that he be cremated. How retro! So, we?re going to light him up! 1 down, 999,999 to go!

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I?m interviewing the new generation, Gen ??, about current wine preferences and practices. There is no longer a wine industry, the 3-tier distribution syndicate having been purged along with the 5,000,000 or so men who worked (or wrote) in the wine trade. As well, p.r. folks are long gone, having been replaced (and improved) by the recent generation of AI, known as AI-?. They know who to send notes to, they no longer ?curate? anything and have eliminated wine reviews, wine scores, bloggers and anyone who ever wrote about wine using the words ?blown away? or ?p?t-nat.? Unfortunately, a few women were accidentally eradicated in the extirpation, but the scrubs were able to gather enough zDNA and they will be reconstituted in the future.

At Black Rock, Burning Man has taken on a new dimension in its maturity. No longer are there outdoor seminars with people droning on endlessly about rock music, conceptual art or the glories of grenache. How boring! Instagram is long gone, cell phones are long obsolete, having been replaced with comm-imbeds. It is now impossible to take a ?selfie.? Well, there is one way around and that is to stare in a mirror and blink one?s eyes in proper sequence to ?record? an image. Oh, yes, cameras are long gone too. It?s a great time to be alive. And thank Bacco, the body still craves alcohol.

Five women who are changing wine and the world:

On the Wine Trail in Italy
?I?m the winemaker in the Femaly. This year, after The Burn, me and my team are heading to Sardinia to work with robot jellyfish where we will make a retro version of late-harvest Ansonica by taking the harvested grapes down underwater 20 feet and letting them dehydrate. It will be great fun to take grapes underwater to dry them out, yes? Well, after last year, when we made Petit-Syrah ?booch, which reminded one of the elders of something they used to call ros?, we had to ?notch it up. It was very fragrant, and at 15% very low in alcohol. My team makes all the wine for our FEM-clutch, which is 35 strong. We are all here at camp, providing liquid refreshment and mind-healing. I like wine, but I don?t love wine. Consumerism (and the last gap of Boomer-Gen) in the early 21st century all but destroyed the world. We like a light touch with the world, and with our wine. We constantly come in for our red wines at under 18%, and source mainly from the Okanagan and the Tongass AVA?s. We get a lot of low yield (7-10 tons per acre) grapes that consistently come in at low brix of 45-50. Of course, it?s a little trick with the late harvest grapes in early August, if we have a stuck fermentation, some of us cannot come to Black Rock. But in a year or so, we?ll leave a couple of the Male-bots to ?man? the AI community and make sure their batteries don?t get too low. Then we can all come to Burning Man, which is our big yearly holiday. And also, when we show the new releases of vin-?booch.? ? Oktavia Legwynn

?I?m a performer and my energy is attuned to the Jovian lunar microwave transmissions. For that reason, I?m a proponent of the Fierce Jovian Primal-Flo. I don?t know if one would call it wine as older Genz might know it, historically, but it?s a natural extension of the flo-mentation process, via microwave transmission through space. We?ve come up with some great vintages, and we are really excited about piercing the space-time continuum to gather similar transmissions from other galaxies millions of light years away. Imagine having a ?wine? that was made 35 million years ago?? ? Enola Euporie

?Now that Black Rock City is one of the coolest places on earth, we conkokted a vineyard, out from the Playa, near the hills below Granite Peak. An old Gen-X-er, who made a wallop of money on cryptocurrency in 2019 gave us access to the land, and we quantum-grafted rare and ancient Cabernet Sauvignon grapes onto the local bramble bushes. It?s been an interesting union between the native and the endangered. We opted for a protracted abridgement for the fermentation stage, so we could have the wine ready for Burning Man. In the lab back in Alameda, we congenitally interweaved in the requisite oak aging gene, which gave us a wine that had sexual fluidity - young but ready, mature but without the need for time. As most of us already know, here on Terra, time isn?t something we have a lot of faith in having. The future is dead, but that doesn?t mean we have to drink that crappy chenin plonk the masses mix with their aloe-gels. Man, those people don?t know how to drink. Cabernet, the endangered wine, is my favorite drink as we watch the asteroids hit the playa.? -Kalima ?ndringer

On the Wine Trail in Italy

?When we went to France, we had no idea that we would be making wine with cannabis. After all, that phase passed pretty fast in the 2020-2024 period of dRrevolution. People were more interested in getting a home than getting high. They wanted stability. They eventually shuttled most of the politicians to Mars. And brought back the farmers. Yes, we all suffered during those years and marijuana went the way of tattoos and twitter, into the dustbin of history.

?But one in our klatsch remembered something his mother had told him, that it was good for the pains of childbirth. So, we decided to try an experi-ferment. We were in the Montrachet vineyards when an ancient woman came from her cave and offered us food and drink. Mixing a little of the goo we had from our klatsch-mate into the white wine, it was an X-ALT-ation. And that was how Chanvr?-Montrachet came into being. It is being served at the Flying French Nun?s Enkampm?nt, have you tried it yet?? - Lyra-Mae Temp?te

On the Wine Trail in Italy
?I was born with male genitalia, but my zDNA revealed I was meant to be a woman. My mothers were very understanding, and I?m glad they didn?t kill me before the 3-week trial period passed. Eventually, through Femtotechnology, the useless appendage decorticated.

?What my two mothers didn?t tell me, until I was old enough, was that their families were large landowners (and winemakers) in California, near Modesto Beach. From what I can tell, by culling through quantum-fiche files, my family made most of the wine for the then-United States. They also made a lot of money and eventually moved to Mars, where they started the largest distillation factory off-world. The winery was since converted to a desalinization plant, and the family quintupled their fortune, now worth over ?8 quadrillion TaoTao (1/5 of all the human wealth on earth).

?I have this project with my six life-partners that we call ?Seveneves? (all of us have different zDNA profiles, reflecting the widest degree of cultural diversity that is possible on Terra). When people wanted to get wine 25 years ago, they went to a store to buy it. The store got it from a larger warehouse, who got it from a large wine company. It made the product ridiculously expensive, and it made people like my family enormously wealthy. Me and my mates now aim to make sure everyone, from Luna base to Mars to Eos, can have wine with a wide range of cultural zDNAversity, and for a fair price. Tonight, we are sponsoring the Big Burn (Sayonara, Dick!), and everyone goes away from the Playa, when Burning Man is finished, with a 7-pack of the iconic and rare Seveneves Black Rock Barefoot. It?s our little way of giving back.? - Archer Gallo

On the Wine Trail in Italy

From Black Rock and Alph-Om epicenter -Good Night and a Good Burn to all! - Leia Rippley

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

[08/25/2019, 23:19] Regarding Wine, Writing and ?Influencers?
On the Wine Trail in Italy
With time comes reflection. What makes a life? What are the influences, positive and negative? What shapes one?s thoughts, preferences, aspirations? What gives one greater fear, or the occasional gloomy feeling? What offers greater clarity and purpose? How does this little microcosm relate to the larger, more immediate world of the everyday? What is it about wine and writing about wine that fills one?s butterfly net?

The bubble of the wine world and the words that swirl about in that rarified atmosphere are but a metaphor for life?s greater meaning. This is my view. It, and the role of the influencer, are the basis of this personal essay.

It began as a casual conversation with a fellow wine writer. Among the thoughts exchanged were a remonstration that we both found many of the wine writers we've followed over the years, of late, made us feel worse at the end of their articles and posts. ?Why do wine writers, acknowledged influencers, make me feel crummy when I read them?? I have often been left with a depleted feeling, as if the writer was talking above me, to a more enlightened, more illuminated crowd. What an awful feeling, for a wine writer to make a wine lover feel bad about wine. But it is happening more and more on a regular basis. That is, if one continues to read those writers. It?s a bit like being in a traffic jam on a highway and creeping along slowly, only to find a wrecked car on the side of the road. Looking closer, as most of us do, thanking our lucky stars that we weren?t the unfortunate ones in the car. But with a closer look you see that indeed, you are the one slumped over in the driver?s seat, airbags deployed, with a bloody head and a set of crushed ribs. Yes, that?s the feeling 95% of wine writing, lately, conveys to me.

Of course, one can choose to not read wine writing anymore. Wine blogs are not le dernier mot they once were thought to be. My fellow wine writer friend says sticky eyes have turned to aggregator websites.

With shortened attention spans, too much information, not enough time and other subjects vying for attention in our screenshot world, from where, and from whom, does one draw their influence?

As already mentioned, influence can be both positive and negative. I?m forgoing the negative ones, although they can inspire one to often go in the opposite direction. I think that has been part of the problem with natural wine writing. Growing up in Southern California, I witnessed (and experienced) the harmful effects of those who were the ?in crowd.? If you weren?t just like them, they?d torch you, emotionally, day after day. And with natural wine, like wine in general, there are good and not-so-good examples. Honest and reliable natural wine journalists will be up-front with you. Ones in it to be part of the ?cool kid?s club,? drink the Kool-Aid, will serve it up to you, and expect you to go along. When it comes to something you don?t know much about but want to know more, and to learn from an expert, find someone who has a wide range of experience in wine, so they can give you a context.

One wine writer who I look to for direction regarding natural wine is Eric Asimov. I don?t consider him a natural wine apostle, but one of many in the wine world who enjoy beverages (and life in general) with a little less intervention. In other words, he has gained my trust when it comes to wine, period.

Eric loves wine. And when he writes, it feels like a conversation. I know what he likes, and some of what he doesn?t like. And often enough, our tastes line up. So, if he touts a particular wine that?s not necessarily in my wheelhouse, I pay attention. Whether it is sherry or xinomavro, I learn something. I?m influenced. And even though Eric isn?t a designated natural wine writer, he understands the category well enough and can provide a frame of reference within the greater world of wine.

Ian D?Agata has had as big of an influence on my Italian wine life as, say, Burton Anderson did to me, un cera volta. Burton lit the match. Ian keeps throwing logs on the fire. And Italian wine is a very large (and unruly) bonfire. His information is encyclopedic, he has one of those minds that just knows a lot of things. And he?s opened me up to a more diverse gathering of Italian wines made from grapes we never talked about 30 years ago. But they were there, just waiting for someone to love. And someone to tell us about them. Yeah, Ian, he?s the one. The Italian grapes "love cat."

Antonio Galloni understands wine in such a way that I get wobbly-kneed when I read his stuff. I?m not discouraged by what he writes, even though I have to constantly stretch and reach up. But he does not condescend, which I find all too much in English language wine writing. Antonio is a great teacher, a leader, and definitely a major influencer for me.

Neal Martin - Wow, I just love what he writes about. And here?s the deal. When he writes about wines that I will never, ever taste again, in this life on earth, he doesn?t make me feel bad about it. Because he tells a story, and tells the history and weaves a normal guy (like himself) into the story, so that we can almost be there. But even if we aren?t (or will never be) it?s still a great story. And if by chance one day we get to taste the wines that Neal does, I?ll be more prepared because of his writing about them.

Now, that said, I?m perfectly happy to drink Vino Nobile or Langhe Nebbiolo, Verdicchio or Greco di Tufo, for the rest of my life and never, ever, sip another sip of Sassicaia, Biondi-Santi, Leroy or Domaine d?Auvenay. But I won?t turn them down (I didn?t when they were offered to me).

Michael Broadbent ? I wore out two copies of ?The New Great Vintage Wine Book,? when I was working with wines from that milieu in my daily work. And when I was lucky enough to taste with him (once) it was a master class. Not those master classes touted in trade tastings and large group wine trade gatherings. A mano-a-mano master class. And one which I never forgot. It was so seamless, so humble, almost apologetic. And it stuck.

A professor in university class once advised me to seek out eminent people in my field. ?If they are truly great people, they will make time for you. And if they aren?t, you don?t need them. They?re phonies.? I took his advice and he was spot-on. Michael Broadbent has been one of those great influences, for which I?m indebted.

Walter Speller ? Reading his writing is like looking at a very calm sea after a huge storm. You know there is a lot going on there, for when the storm was raging, our boat almost sank and we were almost lost at sea. But who would know it now?

Walter is a deep current. He has learned to convey peace and calmness, but he knows things. Life isn?t neat. And his writing ferries one across depths. When I read about a wine that I think I know very well, when Walter writes about it, it?s like I?d never tasted the wine before. And he makes me want to open a bottle right away, to see what he sees, feel what he feels. He?s a fabulous influence on me in my wine life.

Darrell Corti ? I cannot really say much about Darrell that hasn?t already been said by people greater and wiser than me. His life, thankfully, has been celebrated by many in the wine trade. He has brought a lot of joy to people in this world. He is an extremely complicated and intelligent man. I?m a zygote next to his towering being and accomplishments. But I have never been made to feel less of a person in his presence. He is the teacher and I am the student. I only wish I had more time, more open synapses and well, more time. Darrell?s Xanadu was built for the ages. It is the stuff of greatness. I?m so grateful to have lived in the same period as him and been exposed to his intelligence and, more so, his humanity.

Gerald Asher ? For years, whenever I read a column in Gourmet, it was as if I was reading about life on another planet. I was the alien, I was the stranger in a strange land, and Gerald was telling me about wine on earth, here and now. History, romance, emotion! Strong, visceral writing that rejuvenates my interest and love for wine and the culture which surrounds it. For as long as I could remember, I imagined Gerald Asher as having the best wine in the wine business. I still believe that. He is a great influence on me, not for any particular wine but for stirring up my emotions, and to be open to love the wine sitting right there in front of me.

Pick your influencers with care. Make them count. Forget about how many ?followers? or ?likes? they have. Use your power of discernment, for those whom you follow will lead, for better or worse. You decide, not Instagram or Twitter. Not the influencer. It?s up to you.And up is where we want to be.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

Much thanks to Terroirist, Wine Industry Insight and Wine Business.com for recommending this article to their readers.
[08/18/2019, 14:19] Knowing Your Place
from the archives...The social hierarchy of vines

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Among the many hundreds of Italian vines there is a pecking order. Some are more important than others. Often, the ones in power don?t shy away from letting the subjacent ones know who is on top.

In Italy, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese are the Chairman and the CEO. But not just any Nebbiolo or Sangiovese. The Nebbiolo must come from the Langhe, preferably Barolo or Barbaresco. And Sangiovese, while prolific, must be from the right neighborhood, Montalcino. Everywhere else is the other side of the tracks.

If you are Montepulciano or Nero d?Avola, what are the chances you?ll make it to the ruling class? You might have breeding and pedigree, but location is paramount. You have to come from the right place. And knowing one?s place in Italy?s viticultural society is vital to one?s status.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Let?s look at the ladder of dominance, from the perspective of a common grape, Trebbiano. Known for its ubiquity over its rarity, this grape was written off years ago for being light and thin and acidic, possessing little character. Yes, there are a few producers in Abruzzo who have been able to coerce nobility out of their plantings, like Pepe and Valentini. They?ll make it to Baron or Count, but never to King or Queen.

?It?s the way of the world,? a cellar master in Abruzzo once told me. ?You are born where you are born and you live the life you were meant to live. Kings and millionaires don?t always have the greatest life.? The cellar master was a humble man, a peasant, who rose up in his village to commandeer the cellar of a small estate. But he never forgot who was in charge of the land. ?We don?t own these vines, those belong to the wealthy land owners,? he once remarked as we were walking the vineyards. ?They are down at the beach, eating fresh seafood and playing bocce ball in their swim shorts. They take long naps; they put on three or four kilos in the month of August. And when they come back for harvest they are sluggish from their leisure. Just like their crus, the important wines we make for them in their small French barrels.? It took me years to understand what he was driving at. Now it is very clear.

Even if you have the blood of royalty in your grape line, like Sangiovese or Nebbiolo, this isn?t an automatic shoo in to the board of directors. That is the realm of executive platinum class, the Barolos, the Brunellos. And all the rest fall in place after, like a seating or an org-chart.

What about a wine like Vino Nobile (di Montepulciano)? Isn?t it almost as great as a Brunello? To some yes, but to those who set (the rules of) the table, they don?t get a place at it.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

So even if you come to the areas regarded as the highest level of status in regards to producing wines from grapes, one still might not have access to the executive dining room. Piero Antinori said in an interview with Charlie Arturaola at Vinitaly, ?My family in the 14th century started to produce wine.? In 26 generations one can get a leg up on the latecomers, not only in their embrace of the land and the vines, but also in the upper stratum of the society. A cowherd from Ragusa has many generations of uphill struggle to arrive at a point even remotely near a family with that track record.

And so it goes with the hundreds of lesser players, from Barbera to Canaiolo, Vermentino to Grillo and Cococciola to Nero d?Avola.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

My last trip to Sicily was a revelation in the class structure of grapes, wine and men. Even in the contradas around Etna there was a pecking order that I didn't know existed. A winegrower I was with, as we passed a winery would say, ?He?s from Tuscany, he?s not from here.? If a winemaker was from 90 minutes away in Central Sicily, he was also considered an ?outsider.? If the class structure has drilled down to the contrada level, one can only imagine the dramas being played out in Barolo and Montalcino.

Back in Abruzzo, with the cellar master, after we had picked and eaten some fresh figs on the property, he remarked to me, ?They think they?re going to live forever. If they own 200 hectares in Abruzzo or the top vineyard in Piedmont, they all will have the same fate as you and me. This they cannot buy their way out of.?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

As he led me to a table outside, near his beloved vines, the breeze from the sea cooled as it rolled up the hill. His wife had set a table with fresh vegetables, and a bottle of fresh white, a Trebbiano from Abruzzo, was opened.

?What they have obtained in this world is great, but what they can never buy is health, humility, simplicity, happiness. Yes, their beds are softer and their pillows have more feathers in them, but that won?t assure them of restful dreams, or that they will even wake up in the morning.?

What I have learned over the years from the cellar master, my guru from Abruzzo, is to know your place, in the vineyard, at the table and in the universe.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

My old pal the cellar master, he knows his place. And I will gladly sit at his table and take my place. Anytime.

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[08/11/2019, 20:27] The Emotional Roller-Coaster Life of a Wine
...from the archives

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I?ve been sitting in his wine closet for close to 20 years now. In the dark. Freezing. Once in a while he comes in, turns the light on and picks another one. The other, always the other. What must I do to get out of here?

I have spent the best years of my life in this small, dark room, with the others. Sometimes for weeks, he doesn?t come in; we don?t know if he has abandoned us totally. And then all of a sudden, he opens the door, turns on the light and squeezes in a few more of the others. This is sheer torment. When will I get out of here?

For a wine they say I am middle-aged. My youthful hue is gone, and I must come to grips with the fact that I?ll never be any younger. When I was younger I was so full of alcohol and hope. Now my tannins are drying out, my fruit is getting vapid and my color is dropping. Am I really better off now than I was 20 years ago? I sometimes think it would have been better to have gone out early, like so many of the ones in this room who came from California. But here I am, an Italian from a famous region, a great grape and from a wonderful home, the estate I was born on. But I wonder, when will he take me? Have I peaked? How much longer do I have to live?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

When I left where I was born, when I was a mere baby, and made the trip over the water on the big ship, I came straight to this place. Within weeks, I found myself in his care. He put me on my side, kept me in the dark, did all the right things, according to the book. But all these years I have had to sit here in the dark and think about what my life is all about, sometimes I get on this emotional rollercoaster. It is then that I can feel the tannins rise and shuffle and my head feels dizzy. And then the fruit swirls around them and tries to calm them down. Then the oak influence rises up and it seems like I am in the middle of an enological cyclone, it is so confusing, and I am so far from where I was born. It causes me to have anxiety and apprehension.

Am I having an existential crisis? Why won?t he invite over some friends and open me up and get it over with? When will I be ready? When will I be released? What on earth is happening to me?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy