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Mondo Di Vino
Mondo Di Vino





[01/12/2020, 18:39] Where to, Now?
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Let?s take a little skin trip. Step outside of your little world, just for a few minutes. Let?s go to Italy.

?Ahh,? you say, ?Been there, done that.? And yes, maybe you have gone to Italy a time or two.

There is another Italy, one that is elusive to most of us, even those who speak the language fluently. It isn?t an Italy of words. It isn?t an Italy which mandates judgement, or even preference.

It?s something I have seen inside the viewfinder of a camera, and hints of it in films. I?ve felt it while hiking in Abruzzo and driving my motor scooter around Pantelleria. I?ve smelled it in the kitchens of aunts and grandmothers, and tasted it on numerous tables, both majestic and humble. And I?ve sipped it from the finest crystal glasses to the commonplace tumblers. Still, I keep looking, thinking there is something about Italy that evades many of us.


Recently, I watched a documentary about an Italian chef in Modena, and saw it again, the shadow running across the screen, taunting me to follow it.

And like a moth to a flame, I gave chase.

?But,? you say, ?you?re just sitting at your desk, sipping your coffee. You aren?t even in Italy! How do you expect to find something that?s 6,000 miles away??

On the Wine Trail in Italy
If I have found out anything from the trips I?ve made to Italy, it is that the Italy I am searching for doesn?t have to be in Italy. In fact, that?s what is so compelling about Italy. While many think it is exclusive to that precious peninsula, I have this little ray of hope that what I am looking for in Italy is closer than Rome.

Admittedly, it would be a lot more fun to be there. The food, the wine, the musical language, the beautiful bodies, hovering a few inches above the cobblestones, little angels mingling with those little devils. Watching the ballet play out in the piazza, the perpetual passeggiata that one can find from north to south. But that?s not the flicker I?m following, not this trip.

?That which cannot be seen, but that by which one sees. That which cannot be heard, but that by which one hears. That which cannot be tasted, but that by which one can taste,? echoes of lines I read in an ancient Indian manuscript many years ago. It is the fire, the wind and the misty enigma that indelibly marks Italy and makes it such a timeless treasure trove for the senses. But it is also something I hope can discover outside of Italy and within my being.

Sure enough, the wine, the olive oil, the music, the art, the interchangeable ingredients offer some hope. Making bread with salt from Sicily, olive oil from Tuscany and yeast from Lombardy, with American wheat, and these hands, part American and part Italian, can one cozy up to the flame at 5 AM in the urban windswept plains of Texas? Will it be like being in Modena? Is there no more a need to compare, when one is stepping outside of the little worlds we have imprisoned ourselves within?

It all hinges on one?s ability (and desire) to get out of oneself to get into one?s being , to let go. This is a great lesson Italy has taught this pilgrim. One?s fears, one?s anger, one?s glass-half-empty take on things, so pervasive in today?s world, just doesn?t cut it with the timeless and seamless existence that is Italy.

So, yes, I can live on this little island in flyover country and take what has been infused into my spirit and character from the many exposures to that thing about Italy which is so darn special. Where to, now?

On the Wine Trail in Italy





wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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[01/05/2020, 14:37] Prohibition's 100-year Anniversary and the Disastrous 100% Tariffs - Analysis and Strategies
?Nothing uses up alcohol faster than political argument.? - Robert A. Heinlein

On the Wine Trail in Italy
After reading a handful of pieces on the proposed 100% tariffs, and the plaintive pleas for it not to happen, I?m thinking: Is this all one can do, to ring the fire bell and ask people to write their leaders, sign a petition? There has to be more to it than the wringing of the hands and the signing of a petition. Those letters seldom get read. At best they?re put in piles: Yay vs. Nay. But no one is going to read them all, let alone respond. And a petition with 500 or 2,500 signatures, is that anything more than a feel-good gesture from the easy comfort of one?s laptop or smartphone? Come on.

I?d love to see someone dig in and ask the large distributors and importers what their collective plan of action is. Lobbying, donations, pressure? What is it? And also, if this is getting back at Airbus for subsidies, why should Boeing be a beneficiary when they are showing little in the way of cleaning up their own house? And why must wine (really, alcohol) suffer?


This should be a time when all the invested parties, large and small, must find a strategy to work together. Which will be tough, because the polarity between the large and the small (and medium-sized) companies are seldom in harmony. Remember they all are in competition. This time though, they really all need to get in the same boat and row together. But I don?t see that happening.

So, what actions can one take that will effect change? Some proposed solutions? Sure! Let?s take a look at the different channels involved.
? Producer
? Importer
? Wholesale Distributor
? Retailer/Restaurateur
? End User (the ?Consumer?)

You, the Producer
From the look of things, many producers are on the slopes skiing right now (New Year ? Old Habits). Maybe they know something we don?t. Or maybe they just aren?t that worried. For those with a more dire view of the near future, what can a small-to-medium (under 50,000 cases) producer do, right now?
1) Take a good look at your inventory. For quick-consumption wines (white, ros? or wines that need to be drunk fresh, like Prosecco and some Beaujolais, etc.), if you think the tariffs are going to go into effect, you might bottle them up quick, make a deal with your importer, or if you are selling direct to the wholesale/distributor, provide some kind of incentive (like a discount) to get the wines out of your storerooms and onto the water, ASAP. And if a considerable discount (15-30%) bothers you, think about how much you will make if you don?t sell the wine.

2) Also you must look to other markets to move your inventory until this thing blows over. If it goes into effect, it will most likely put a crimp in your market timing, your release dates, your cash flow. You might need to offer an incentive to those markets to capture more than the usual allocation or expected amount of sales. And you won?t be the only one doing that. The larger suppliers are already on it. They have already sold stock into the wholesale distributors (usually a contractually obligated buy) and presently their warehouses are bulging with product at unprecedented and historic high levels of inventory. In other words, the back-up, the log-jam, it is already a fact.

3) If you have red wine and it can age a year without a lot of growing (and financial) pain, you might want to hold onto it, or maybe sell some off in bulk. Not your riservas or your grand crus, but your village wines, your simple appellations, your IGP?s. This happened 100 years ago, and people had not only to pivot but they were in a world economic depression that eventually worked its way into a world war. So, if you think things are bad now, think about how much more untenable it must have been 100 years ago, and it was like that for a whole generation. If you can buck it up for a year or two, do so.

4) This is a bit unconventional, but if you have family or associates in places like South America or other places unaffected by the proposed tariffs, you might want to ship bladders of your wine and let them finish the wine in their country. This will remove the ability to do an appellational wine, but it will move inventory. It may not be legal in some countries, but where there is a will, there is a way.

You, the Importer
1) If you specialize in French wine or Italian wine (or any of the other countries that are proposed to be affected) you are in a tight spot. You might lose some employees. Your margins will definitely be affected. And some of you might need to re-align your expectations of income, and take it down a notch. Don?t buy a new BMW or Jeep Grand Cherokee. You might look at an interim strategy whereby you delve into the wines of countries that won?t be affected or that will be needing some help themselves. Australia comes to mind. And while this is a longshot, this is a time when having a diverse portfolio might be a good idea.

2) If you can, and if you have the appropriate means, why not go to some of your producers and make a deal for a load of their wine, with longer payment terms and then turn around and go to your wholesale distributor or large retailer (and this should be on the scale of big box, and important retail chains, etc.), a company that has the money and the warehousing capacity, and get this stuff moving fast. I know, nothing happens fast these days, so this is a dire effort to salvage a scenario that could become calamitous. But someone, somewhere, has probably already beat most of you to the punch. The really big companies have already workshopped this (in late 2019) and implemented a ?Jan. 1 Ship Now? strategy. You think I?m joking?

3) This might also be the year of lowered expectations. Which is actually pretty well-timed (and this in no way endorses the lunacy of these proposed tariffs) because we are here in the USA in an election year. What does that mean? I took a look at the business in election years, over the last generation or so, and typically what happens is a slowdown, if there is an unpopular or disruptive political situation. I think this year qualifies for that, no matter your political persuasion. Nobody?s perfectly happy. No one is set. Everything is in play. So, change is part of the daily life, even if the change suits you or not. None the less, this is a slow growth year, so, it might be a good time to clean your house, prune your portfolio and trim down. Wine growth is slowing among the younger generations (thanks, White Claw), and the distribution of wealth is still lopsided. The premiumization of wine is for the select few at the top (e.g. the Ch?teau Latour?s and the Billionaire class). Those of us in, and struggling to stay in, the middle class really have immediate concerns other than enlarging our wine collections (health care, war and peace, climate disruption, to name a few). So, crawl out of your (or our) bubble and treat this like a business that needs to be run in good health and with long-term life expectancy for the company.

You, the Wholesale Distributor
Ideally, there should also be some discussion of the Direct to Consumer model. But that, for imported wines, is still in its infancy and doesn?t represent a sizable share of the business. Yet.

The wholesale distribution channel is a mish-mosh of different-sized companies. And these folks really could offer the one-two punch at a political level. But many of them are not progressively political in their business strategies, and the big ones really liked the tax break they got in 2018. And they usually sit in a more conservative camp, even if it does not line-up 100% with their interests. At the end, everyone votes from their own personal pocketbook. So, the small and medium sized distributors are not going to get the biggest companies to link arms with them in a movement of solidarity. And if that does happen, I fully expect to see a sky full of porcine pilots floating above me. I remind anyone still reading that the alcohol beverage industry is showing unprecedented high levels of inventory in their warehouses (as the US Chamber of Commerce attests), they are full and bulging and just had an abbreviated holiday selling season, and we?re going into an election year. So, for those of you reading this whom it means something to (and this will really be a Sisyphean exercise) let?s look at what you can do.
1) If you are in direct business with your producers, and if you have room, get with them ASAP and make a deal to get their wines out of their storehouses and into yours. Negotiate terms (with generous discounts for larger purchase and extended payment terms being of paramount consideration). This will be painful for all. But again, it ain?t like 1920. Put the bullet between the teeth and bite.

2) If you are dealing with importers, they already have their alternatives and options (listed above), and if they would edge away from what has become incredibly larger margins of profit (35-45% and above) and work more towards 18-25% (for now) perhaps all will not be lost. But think of it as if you are on the Titanic and the ship just hit a very large iceberg. You all need to move fast.

3) This might also be a time to look at parallel goods, ones that don?t need extensive licensing and health department requirements, to broaden your clientele base. May be a good time to find micro farmers in your area. After all you are already calling on cool and groovy restaurants. I?m not kidding (I am a micro-farmer, and I cannot produce enough for the demand of my micro product).

4) If you are a small distributor that specializes in wines of France, or biodynamic wines of Europe or any number of niches that will potentially be affected, maybe now is the time to:
     a.Rebalance your portfolio
     b.Merge with another smaller company for greater diversity
     c.Consider liquidating and closing that chapter of your life
[Sidebar: the 4c option is a drastic, last ditch effort to keep your head above water. It isn?t something I offer casually or capriciously, but there is a high rate of failure in the small-to-medium sized distribution channel and this is a tsunami of a challenge. It isn?t dishonorable to fail, but it is disheartening]

You, the Retailer/Restaurateur
Depending on your size (and I?m going to assume the big box retailers and the national restaurant chain buyers aren?t reading this post) you have more flexibility. You are not totally dependent on one kind of wine from one place. But if you are a French brasserie or an Italian trattoria and you like to use 100% French or Italian wines, you might need to pivot. So, let?s take a look at possible paths for you and the rest of the folks.
1) Number one on your list is the relationship you have with your customers. They are your lifeblood. And if you are challenged, temporarily, let them know, let them be open to empathize with your plight, bring them into the circle. This is really important for all channels, but your channel actually can utilize this more directly because you are in front of your customers, every single one of them, day in and day out. They are your neighbors, your friends, your town folk. Find a way to offer something to them, a little lagniappe, to sweeten the bitterness of the impending event. The warehouses will still have wine ? they might not have 2019 Provence ros?, but we all know now, some, even many, ros?s can age. I just bought a 2017 Tempranillo rosato from Rioja for $2.99 and it was delicious (and we all know that there are Rioja producers that age their rosatos for many years, so this isn?t a new thing). Now is the time to become a better buyer, to whittle your possibly bloviated inventory down to a more workable level. This can be a good thing. Do not panic. Think ? Opportunity.

2) Get with your French or Italian wine specialist in the wholesale distribution channel and buddy up with them. Work some deals ? they still have a ton of inventory inside their warehouses. Do a program for 2020. Plan now, get the wine committed to you, one way or another. Distributors cannot sell you wine on consignment, that?s illegal, but there are other creative ways to go about getting what you want and need. And those men and women and their bosses all need to sell some wine.

3) Do not continue to be in love with your wine list, your style of buying (and selling) wine and your ?position? as a wine buyer. Throw it all away, along with your ego, and treat this like a moment in which your usually flexible business style is momentarily confined to that which is only essential for the success of your business. No frills, no standing at the bar on Friday while all your buyers pant and sweat and beg you to buy their wines. Time to take it down a notch and treat this as a moment in which all of us are being humbled by our political overlords. We must be smarter, swifter and more humane than them. This will pass, but in the meantime imagine you are in a prison or a concentration camp and you must survive. And you need those closest to you to want you to succeed. OK? End of sermon.

You, the End User (the ?Consumer?)
Unless you only drink Piesporter Michelsberg Spatlese, Griotte-Chambertin or Brunello di Montalcino, you have options. Not to say you should abandon any of the wine-producing countries under the proposed draconian tariffs, but you are at the end of the supply chain, and that chain is long. By the time it hits you, unless you are an avid Provence ros? wine lover and will only drink the 2019 (not the 2018), you should be fairly insulated from this nonsense. But if you are buying futures or your first growths are hitting the shores or any number of other ?buts,? you might want to take a breath and look at some of your possible solutions.
1) Make sure your relationship with your wine retailer is as good as it can be. He or she will be getting any number of deals, and they will pass them on to their better customers.

2) Now is a good time to go hunting for wines that will become deals when the tariffs hit. Search out your little local stores, even some of the mom-and-pop stores that buy wines from recommendations of their salespeople. I?ve found many a gem in little unknown off-the-beaten-track stores, all over the country. It?s like panning for gold. They are there.

3) If you have a wine cellar, maybe it is time to find out what?s in there. And start drinking the wines that need to be drunk up in 2019. Time to pop open the 1991 Port, the 2004 Barolo, the 2000 Ch?teauneuf-du-Pape.

4) Don?t panic. Those of us in the ?wine bubble? think that?s all there is to the world, our little carousel of drama. Sure, write your congressman (or congresswoman), sign every one of those petitions. Hey, if these wine activists can get a march on Washington, become part of the Million-Wine Marchers. But do not expect your politicians to give a damn about you. All they care about right now is getting reelected, their lifetime pension and their Rolls-Royce healthcare for life.

Frankly, I don?t see the current administration going full nuclear on the 100% tariffs, especially with the need to keep some of those countries (the EU) on the same side of the fence as us, if the Middle East erupts into a larger confrontation. And also, bear in mind the current resident of the White House is liable to change his mind as often as his socks, in the next few weeks. I think it will either be a non-issue or be eclipsed by larger, more imminent concerns and crises. Ya think?

And all this on the 100th anniversary of Prohibition ? great timing ? Happy New Year!


On the Wine Trail in Italy




wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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[12/29/2019, 13:25] 14 Year Anniversary - On the Wine Trail in Italy - The Year-End Review
On the Wine Trail in Italy
This year marks 14 years on the wine trail in Italy. 2019 was also the year I transitioned from the hectic wine trade to a more tranquil life. I now write about wine for publications other than this blog, and I devote time to more reflection and am dedicating energy to other aspects of my being. For many in the wine trade, what one does seems to define who one is. I am not a fan of labels, never have been. Everyone is trying to cube us up, put us into a box, so that they can explain who we are by what we do. That?s typical Western Anglo-Saxon American silliness.


So, you have the magical postnominals behind your name? I?ve met many with those letters and some of them still show a distressing lack of knowledge and understanding of Italian wine. However, they get to stand on the dais in the seminars and sit in wine competitions. They got into the big boys? club. What they do from there will be more of a reflection of their character than their memorization skills. But this is all in the rear-view mirror now, I really don?t care about the big boys? club of anything.

About the course of the wine blog. If I were being 100% realistic, and if I had the courage, I?d pull the plug right now. Be done with it. Drink what there is in my wine cave (including the $900 bottles!) and sail off into the sunset. And that will ultimately happen. But the blog has become an exercise for the brain and a way for me to express thoughts, not always about wine, for myself and anyone else who cares to read. I don?t chase wine news or catchy headlines or the drama of the wine trade. Oh, like the rest of you, I slow down when passing an accident on the road (if only to avoid the people in front of me who are really more interested in the blood and guts and crushed metal and glass). But I?m more concerned with getting on down the road.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Wine writing has become a pitiful thing. There are so many bad articles about wine, misspelled, written from a perspective that sounds more like someone is pushing a (p.r.) agenda rather than trying to educate the readers. And then there are the endless pieces from folks who go on a wine junket and feel compelled to vomit their every activity on the pages. That?s what Instagram is for folks, put your bird droppings there. Or TikTok. But real writing, real good writing? Admittedly, wine blogs are not always the best place to suss out the good stuff. That said, be on the lookout for an announcement early in 2020 for news about my extracurricular wine writing.

Another aspect is the difference between public and private engagement. While this site is public and open to all, it has diverged into a more private space in 2019. Coupled with ?getting small,? which is a movement towards a more intimate space among listeners, who don?t necessarily crave another?s influence as much as another?s vision, or perspective. The world is turning, rightfully, to the younger generations. They have energy, passion, they have the bandwidth of time that older generations have already consumed. In other words, time is on their side. For now. But as those who have gone before have said, time has a way of dispatching everyone to the same place, eventually. So, while all eyes are on youth, there is always an argument to be made for those who have plowed and pruned through many moons. Experience, after all, isn?t such a bad thing, if it doesn?t become preachy or patriarchal.

Therefore, I go into my 15th year as a wine blogger. I am, as the CEO of the company I last worked for called me, the ?oldest millennial.? Ha! I am in my terrible teens for sure. But before we go into the next year, let?s take a quick look at some of the posts I wrote, why I wrote them and what they meant to me.
On the Wine Trail in Italy

In February I was the guest of Collisioni and Ian D?Agata?s group for an event called Gastronomix. We spent several days studying the other wines of Piedmont along with the foods. It was a fabulous trip and these posts came of it:
My long history with Ruch?

Erbaluce, where have you been all my life?

Grignolino and its Indomitable Illuminance on Individuality

Carema - ?Strong and Likeable as the Sun and the Stone?
These are personal stories but they also were meant to convey a sense of the place as well as what the actual wines might taste like. Everyone chases Barolo and Barbaresco, and for good reason. But for those looking to tap into the indigenous nature of Italy, grapes like Erbaluce and Grgnolino are a good (and more affordable) place to journey. I love these wines, and this part of Italy, and they have enabled me to stay connected to their (our) timeless and precious heritage.

In June I tried an experiment with:
An Epic Journey in Pursuit of the Evolution of Native Wine
While there were some experiential-based facts behind this story, my intent was to push beyond memories and try and capture an elusive spirit that I feel in the vineyards of Italy. It eventually expanded out to seven parts:
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Pt. II - In Tuscany, Leaving it all Behind, for the Odyssey of a Lifetime

Pt. III - Living Free in a World of Chains

Pt. IV ? Creating Your Own Current in the Sea of Life

Pt. V ? A Symphony of Wine in 100 Movements

Pt. VI ? Cracking Open the Corycian Cave (and the Key to Peace)

Pt. VII ? "There are no interlopers in my vineyard - they all are indigenous living things"
My intent was to fall underneath the spell of ?the greatest winemaker the world has never known.? And she transmitted her philosophy in this seven-part series. Probably a bit too much for the eno-blogosphere. But it was a very rewarding exercise for me and it changed how I saw Italian wine.

One day I was having lunch or coffee with my friend, Eric Asimov, and he asked me what did I wish for in my path of writing. Without thinking, I blurted out, ?Well, I?d really like to write a kick-ass science fiction novel.? Immediately I went flush in the face. Here I was with the nephew of one of the greatest science fiction writers, and himself a wonderful and sensitive wine writer.

That said, I meant it. I know I come late to that game and there are plenty of great sci-fi writers already. None the less, I used the occasion of my blog to try some speculative pieces. They were:
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Burning Man At 50 - Five Gen ?? Women Who Are Changing Wine and the World

The Scandal that has Shaken the Universe of the Masters of ?ophisticated ?annabis

??????? - The State of Italy - Wine, Culture, All of It - in 2120
All very different pieces. But they all reflect my interest in ?what if?? and how we might frame the future from present time. This is an area I intend to expand upon in 2020 and beyond (2120?). I offer them up here, not as a series as much as a collection of my intent to pursue speculative writing about wine in the future.

As well, I like to fantasize not quite into the science fiction realm, but definitely not factual based writing. These two pieces were great fun to write and received pretty well:
On the Wine Trail in Italy
The Elite Cabal and Their Conspiracy for the Future of Wine

A late-night dispatch from a tired and wary Italian wine export agent in China

What ifs taken to the ledge and thrown into the abyss.

China is emerging in my writing, as witnessed above in the sci-fi series and also one of the fantasy pieces. I also wrote a more serious piece about China, which got some pretty good traction:
On the Wine Trail in Italy
The top 10 destinations for Italian wine exports? China isn't on the list
I have nothing against China, and the wine folk I have met have been the kind of people I?d love to get to know more. China is a big target and she will be here long after we?re all gone. But for now, I wanted my Italian colleagues to know some of the facts about where we?re at, so they could consider the investment of their time and money (and children?s lives too). Building the Italian wine brand outside of Italy is something that isn?t done in one lifetime, as witnessed by the spread of Italian wine in America in the past few generations.

Which brings me to one of my favorite subjects, which I wrote a few pieces on in 2019, namely Italian wine in America:
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Italian Wine in America - An Array of Abundance

So you think you want to import Italian wine?
Italians bringing their wine to America and Americans importing Italian wine are reoccurring themes on this blog for many years, and this year was no exception.

Almost finished - a few pieces that either struck my reader or that I just liked a whole hell of a lot.
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Regarding Wine, Writing and ?Influencers?

Are Wine Ambassadors Worth the Time and Money?

Oh, The People You?ll Meet! (at a wine media luncheon)

5 Italian Wine Buyers (that I wanted to challenge, gag and thank)

The 2nd Most Important Book About Italian Wine ? Ever
The first two ranged from naval gazing to an ardent attempt to ask if wine ambassadors pay their way. And the third and fourth posts were just me trying to lighten up a bit. The last one, a serious post, revolved around the recent book published by Ian D?Agata. Worth buying.

And finally, another diversion:
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Altamont, December 6, 1969 - The end of the '60's or, simply, childhood's end?
Since the mid 1960?s, (when I was actually 14) I have carried a camera with me. Photography is my North Star, my tether, my cypher and my mirror. I love photography more than wine. There, I?ve said it. With that, I dug into my archives and posted a short piece with 30 photographs from that fateful day in California. It was a day that changed many young lives, and I was there to capture it. It changed my life too.

As usual, I?ve gone over words (TL;DR). My spell and grammar checker, Gerald, will be having one hell of a time with all these words, so I better stop now and give the poor guy a break. After all, he just did his 40-someteempth O-N-D.

Thanks for reading. I?m not going anywhere fast. (Don?t we all know that?) Happy New Year and keep flossing!

On the Wine Trail in Italy





wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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[12/22/2019, 12:50] A Christmas Time Quiz for 2020 for the Italian Wine Trade
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Chances are, you are already offline, having already sent out your generic holiday greetings, are not checking your email, and are ensconced somewhere in the mountains, by the seashore, with family, maybe on a beach in the Seychelles or Cuba, and settling in for a long and well-deserved holiday.

The harvest is in, the deed is done and what will be, will be. So, let?s have some fun with a short quiz.


On the Wine Trail in Italy
1. Looking back over the year, your biggest challenge was:
a. Making sure we had a good harvest.
b. Growing our export market.
c. Maintaining my Freccia Alata Plus status on Alitalia (or Senator on Lufthansa, Executive Platinum on American, etc.).

2. Your largest growth market in 2019 was:
a. China
b. United States
c. Russia

3. The country that paid you the fastest (and in a stable currency) was:
a. China
b. United States
c. Russia

4. Prior to Brexit, your sales to Great Britain in 2019 were:
a. Off the charts.
b. 20% off last year.
c. Still trying to get the Brits to pay their bills from 2016.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
5. Your main goal for 2020 is:
a. To not break my leg (again) skiing in Zermatt.
b. To stay home and repair my relationship with my wife (or husband) who I haven?t seen much of in the last three years.
c. To sell more wine to China.

6. If the 100% tariff is enforced in the United States in 2020 your strategy will be:
a. To tighten up my EU relationships and build my business in my backyard.
b. To find a way to ride out the storm, maybe sell a bunch of wine to the bulk (bladder) market.
c. To sell more wine to China.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
7. The 300 acres of Merlot that you planted in 2003 is:
a. 15 years old and producing a wine as good as Masseto, although the world just hasn?t realized it yet, and it?s only $100 retail.
b. Being replanted to indigenous varieties like Morone and Negratino.
c. I sell everything to a famous producer of Merlot in Tuscany (with which I have an NDA).
d. Sold (the 300 acres) to a Chinese billionaire I met in the ER hospital in Zermatt.

8. You?ve been thinking about going full bio-dynamic in your vineyard, but you:
a. Cannot figure out all the arcane Italian paperwork to become fully certified.
b. Cannot figure out the international regulations so that other countries will recognize the vineyards as bio-dy.
c. Wonder what does it matter, seeing as all your neighbors tell every natural wine writer they are bio-dynamic and they never check before writing their blog, magazine piece, newsletter.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
9. There will be a myriad of wine events in 2020 - Slow Wine, Gambero Rosso, Great Wines of Italy (Suckling) and Wine Spectator Grand Tour among them. The cost to do all of these will be multiples of thousands of Euros. You will:
a. Suck it up and do all that I can, the critics are important, and I cannot rely on wine bloggers anymore.
b. Choose only the ones that are in New York, San Francisco and Miami.
c. Take the money and propose to our clients in the US special purchase allowances (SPA?s) to subsidize the 100% tariffs that are coming.
d. Take a family vacation to Thailand (if the Brits pay their past due bills from 2016).

10. Your daughter (or son) just graduated from Bocconi University and is now ready to enter the family business. Her (or his) first assignment is:
a. To move to Shanghai and conquer the Chinese market.
b. To move to New York and conquer the American market.
c. To stay home and pitch in, so I can repair my relationship with my wife (or husband) who I haven?t seen much of in the last three years.

On the Wine Trail in Italy


Buon Natale Y'all!

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[12/15/2019, 11:46] Memo to the Italian Wine Trade: Tell Me ?YOUR? Story!
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Roberto Bava (L), one of Italy's great wine story tellers,
with his daughter Francesca at Vinitaly
It seems like I?ve written about this in the past. Maybe it?s just d?j? vu. But for some reason, my Italian wine trade amici still need to read this. The funny thing is, my French cousins will, because they still read wine blogs. The Italians? Not so much. But I will persevere, try to help them to help themselves, even if they don?t think they need it. So, here goes.


Alright, we in America are done with listening to how much oak or how little oak you use anymore. It is a dull fact, doesn?t even look right when I make notes in my little note book. Stop now.

So, you?ve been organic since the crust of the earth started cooling? And so what? So has everyone, at least everyone now who talks about their vineyards. The reality is, for those folks who give a shit about it, if you aren?t certified, it won?t get you far with that crowd. Oh, it sounds good, all warm and toasty, good feeling kind of stuff? It?s verbal fluff, and it is MEANINGLESS. Ditch the organic pitch. We got it; you care about the earth. Move on.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Sergio Mionetto, another Italian story telling national treasure
Tell me your story. Sing it! Tell me what it was like growing up on the property you now make wine for. Tell me about the trees, about the birds, about the way the fog rolls in, about how cold the winters are and what you do to keep yourself from going crazy, mid-winter on Cartizze hill. Tell me something that 1,500 other people don?t tell me. Give me an authentic piece of yourself. Make me remember your wine, not because of the oak, or the organic aspirations, or the scores. Make me remember you and your wine because you give me something unique to your story. How hard is that? Do we need some B2B seminars somewhere in Italy, a ?master class? in saga-making?

Ok, let me give you an example:
My name is Mario, and I was born in Montepulciano in Tuscany. You might get it mixed up with the wine in Abruzzo. That?s a common mistake. But nobody mixes up eggs with eggplant or grapes with grapefruit, do they? So, let me tell you how I got here.

My grandfather was not an ambitious man, but he was a lucky one, because he married my grandmother, Maria, whom I am named after. She had vision. So, she and my grandfather, Vittorio, started replanting our vines after the war. Actually, they recovered the vines that had been trampled, bombed and abused over those years. In time they found they had a number of types of grapes in the vineyards, although everyone called them Sangiovese. But back then it didn?t matter, because it was a field blend and the wine was rustic and stout and rich and wonderful. And my grandparents grew their life on it, and had children, my mother, and the little property supported several families. And we all worked together, and celebrated the holidays together and made wonderful memories.

But more than that, they gave us a direction from a country that was devastated from war and emigration. No one wanted to live in Montepulciano when I was born in 1978. My father worked in Florence and we had a small apartment there. But my mother kept me and my brother and sister back in the country, by nature, by what it was that supported us and defined us. And over the years, my father left his job in Florence and returned to us and we made our wine better.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Now my sister and brother and I travel the world, to America, to China, to India, and to the smaller countries too. Never in my life, my parent?s life or my grandparent?s life, did we dream that we would have a life like this: to travel the world but to come home to our country, our rivers, our birds, our wildlife and the birthplace of wine.

Now, why buy my wine versus my neighbor? Well, why not try my wine and see if you like it? It is still made with respect to the nature as we did when my grandparents started this. But we also have become better educated and we use our education to improve the little things for the wine, so it will travel more safely, and get to your home and taste as close as it can to the way it tastes when you will come here and visit us. And when you do, then you will see, what an amazing gift Italy and Tuscany and my family have given not only to me, but to the world. For this is a timeless jewel, an example of all that is good about Italy and humankind, inside this little bottle. It?s joy, it?s peace, it?s creation. It?s its own world of contentment. And we would love to share it with you.

That?s one example. What we really, really want, though, is your true story. The one with passion, not oak. The one that isn?t lined up in neat rows of Guyot or Cordone speronato. The story that is filled with emotion, not numbers. Give me a tale of overcoming great obstacles over a ?95-pointer? any day. We?ve heard all the numbers, all the various iterations about organic and bio-dynamic. We know you are in love with wine made in the vineyard, not by the winemaker. Tell us about the butcher in your town. Tell us where you go to buy rootstock, who the old guy is who sells you the new vines from the ancient varieties.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Paint us a picture, don?t paint by numbers. Give us some of your flesh, raw like a bistecca Fiorentina, so we can chew on it while we try your riserva (figuratively, not literally). Bring us there, let us smell the macchia (or for my French cousins, the garrigue) ? do you see where I?m going with this?

And if you do, you won?t be so lonely that all you can think of, after two weeks on the road, is to return home. Because you will have brought a little part of home with you, to share. And isn?t that so much more fulfilling than the endless recitation of a tech sheet?

Give it some thought, over the holidays, and resolve, in 2020, to tell America, and the world, ?YOUR? story.
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Valeria Losi pours an ancient Vin Santo for her father, Pietro
- both awesome story tellers in multiple languages






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[12/08/2019, 18:00] ??????? - The State of Italy - Wine, Culture, All of It - in 2120
?Italian investment of time and resources in importing wine to China will ultimately turn out to be a big mistake. The Chinese will eventually get their production to a level where they can be seen as prestigious as the first growths of Bordeaux (the French are complicit in helping them get there, and along the way, have sold their souls for a buck). And when the state media of China convinces Chinese (or compels them) to be loyal to their homegrown wine, which is better than anywhere else in the world, "La Commedia ? finita" [ ?????]. Italian wine will have been pared down to miniscule levels, and will be so rare and exclusive as to be the private domain of billionaires and NPC apparatchik. You and I will be dead then.? ? Luisa Parker-Ragg in 2020

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Assisi - February 14, 2120 A.D.

Where to start? As everyone knows by now, around 2040, things got tough for Italians in these parts. The Chinese population alone in Tuscany was nearing 500,000, displacing many generations of Tuscans. Along with that, the birth rate declined so extensively that it was hard to keep some of our industries going. Native manufacturing all but disappeared. And farming wouldn?t have survived if not for AI. Vineyards began to shrivel, with no one to work the land. And then, as if overnight, we found out that China owned 58% of Italian land and industry. We had been invaded, overrun and taken over by our own hubris and inertia. Now we are a colony.


Reduced, at this point to an indigenous population of 8,000,000, Italy has become China?s living museum of art, craft and comestibles. But there have been huge changes made.

First being, they moved the capital to Prato, where I have a small apartment, and turned Rome into an open-air museum. No one is allowed to move to Rome anymore, and as the few remaining Romans die off, eventually the place will be run by robots. Oh, it won?t seem empty, as AI will ?populate? the city making it appear that Rome is still vibrant and lived in. Most visitors won?t even notice the difference, save for the slowly evolving facial features of the AIBionics, as they appear more affable to the 300,000,000 Chinese tourists a year. Chinese investment (in 2120) now owns 92% of Italy (as of this reporting, Sardegna refuses to sell any part of their island to outsiders).

It hasn?t been all bad. With population down, the ecological footprint of mankind has lessened the erosion of this colony. And as most visitors sleep above the land in ?floating ships,? all of the elements that once plagued cities like Rome, Florence and Venice have been alleviated. In fact, thanks to Chinese engineers, Venice is no longer prone to flooding. This is mainly due to having an autocratic organization now running Italy. No longer are there endless debates as to which way the tower of Pisa should lean. It is now steadfast and stable. No longer does trash run in the streets of Naples like water; all has been solved. Of course, Naples is now all but completely empty, with the 2nd Pandemic (of 2080). But now, sterilized and rid of vermin, it shines like an Italian El Dorado, with the constant hubbub of music and chatter piped in through invisible speakers all across the town. People can eat ?street food,? from the traditional Italian to the more familiar dumplings. But noodles reign now, not pizza.

And Milan and Torino have become high cathedrals of rice. Here it was found, that the rice growing fields surrounding these cities were infested with bacteria and pollution, runoff from urban areas. Now, all is aseptic and safe. The rice trade is booming. 98% is sent to China.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
And wine, you ask? There have been changes, of course. With Clime-Shift our new landlords decided to alter a few things about grape growing and winemaking, starting with the Declaration of L?Aquila in 2050. With very few exceptions, all wine production south of L?Aquila was converted to a type of Baijiu, extracted from grapes. This was determined by a ten-year plan imposed by the Central Autocratic Agricultural Government in Beijing, deemed to be the best use of the land for commercial purposes. And so, China made China the #1 world customer and importer of Italian alcoholic beverages derived from grapes.

And just in time, as the United States market for Italian wine had crippled, and finally fell, under the government of Arabella Rose Kushner, in which it had been speculated that President Kushner had a long-standing relationship with the Chinese government and acceded to pressures from Beijing in order to not disrupt the family fashion business in America, which is dependent on Chinese production. So, for the blouses and tennis shoes for a generation, Italian wine south from Rome was wiped away from the history books, and business with America vanished.

In the north of Italy, it was not so drastic. But there were fundamental changes, of course.

It was determined that the most famous names in Italian wine were Barolo, Brunello, Chianti and Prosecco. Barbaresco was made a subregion of Barolo. Vino Nobile became Brunello. And outliers like Morellino, Montecucco and all the rest was folded into the Greater Chianti Classico Comradeship (or GCCC). The DOC/DOCG/DOP appellation structure was done away with in favor of one more akin to the AOC of France, which had been adapted in China in 2030. Piedmont adopted the Grand Cru standard, while Tuscany emulated the Classified Growth model. As well, farming was standardized, and seeing as Italy was also considered a world heritage site, organic was adopted and mandated with one alteration. And that was if science produced a better product it would be brought under the umbrella, gradually, of the organic and natural processes. This was in cooperation of the World Bank Natural Wine Charter of 2035, following the 1st Pandemic (of 2032). It was found that Italy had a Spontaneous Natural Fermentation Ambiance (SNFA) unique to all the world, and in fact genetic research and fractal geometry paved the way to replicate the Italian exemplar in other less fortunate places on the globe.

Prosecco was a different story. Since the 1st Pandemic of 2032, sparkling wine production in France ceased, leaving the fields of Champagne fallow and useless. It was of concern that demand for sparkling wine would alter Prosecco (even worse than the 1st Alteration of 2015) and scientists, agronomists, sociologists and economists met on the island of Mazzorbo in the Venetian Lagoon to determine how to move forward. It was called the 2nd Consilium Sapientium and the attendees mapped out a course to avoid the pitfalls that both Champagne and Prosecco failed to avoid in the 21st century, The result has been successful, so far, and now Prosecco is regarded as the greatest of all sparkling wines in the world (*see the July 1, 2108 State Council of the People's Republic of China Report and Dictum on Prosecco).

In the north, however there were other changes, structurally and culturally. In 2025 Xi Mingze, daughter of Chinese Paramount Leader Xi Jinping, and Kim Yo-jong, the self-exiled sister of Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un, made their home in Gressoney-Saint-Jean in the Aosta Valley and renovated and designated the Castel Savoia as a Special Provincial Administrative Regional Center. It was here the couple raised their son Kim Xi Yi Song-gye. It was determined during their tenure at Castel Savoia that the area would return to be a textile center with Biella as the commercial heart of the industry. And Kim Xi Yi Song-gye eventually ran the northern part of Italy and has since passed it on to his successors. The area is now known affectionately by current residents as Little Dandong (???).

On the Wine Trail in Italy
With Xi Mingze being a teetotaler, wine took a back seat. The only exception was to leave a few vineyards to remain in Aosta and Alto Piedmont (namely, Boca), with the rest converted to wildlife preserves, along with newer developments of fortresses owned by the Chinese Billionaire caste. With population having dwindled, this made for a good solution, seeing as many viticoltori of the region had long since emigrated to Canada in response to economic and political pressures and Clime-Shift. This initiated a period in Canada known as the First Nation-Italo Federation Viticole (FNIFV), which further developed wine growing in Ontario and BC.

As well, with the purging of the American Investor class from Piedmont, specifically the Langhe area, the confiscated lands were folded back into a state owned enterprise, ??????? ( or CWO, China wine organization), a byproduct of the Sino-American Wealth Redistribution Plan of 2040 (the result of the overwhelming American fiscal debt to the Chinese). Many of the expunged American investors were offered arid land in Eastern Washington and Oregon (now also majority owned by Chinese investment) at reasonable rates of expenditure, should they wish to continue to grow grapes. Only 5% took the deal, the rest walked away or had already shifted their investments to the FNIFV.

All told, in 2020 Italy produced 60 million hectoliters of wine. In 2120 Italy will have produced 300 hectoliters of alcohol, of which 7.5 million hectoliters are allocated for Barolo, Brunello, Chianti GCCC and Prosecco. The average price of a bottle of Barolo or Brunello is now 4,000 Yuan (or 500 Euros). The average price of a bottle of Chianti GCCC is 1,000 Yuan (or 120 Euros) and the average price of a bottle of Prosecco is 775 Yuan (or 100 Euros). The indigenous population of Italy (now 8 Million) is holding steady, and the population of Sino-Koreans are 3.5 million. The population of AIBionic entities hover around 20 million, but that includes everything from the humanoid to the lower animate service group and down to the nanobots used in climate regulation, farming, medicine, artisanal and factory work and food production.

Luisa Parker-Ragg, while she might have seemed alarmist and fatalistic, had a fantastic vision 100 years ago. Now she seems more portentous than pessimist. The Middle Kingdom has overcome and conquered Impero Italiano, and now indeed "La Commedia ? finita."

On the Wine Trail in Italy




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[12/06/2019, 06:00] Altamont, December 6, 1969 - The end of the '60's or, simply, childhood's end?
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Altamont was dubbed ?the end of the ?60?s,? but for some of us it was simply childhood?s end. For this child of the 60?s it was a time when I left the safe confines of my desert village and moved to college, to the city. But it was outside of that city that the urban darkness descended on a typically bright and sunny California day.

What I saw, not heard - for there was a concert providing a soundtrack to all of this - was not just restless youth living in an uncertain time. It was as if the curtain of civility was being pulled back, just a little, much like what a carnival barker does to entice innocent bystanders into his tent. But this onlooker had his camera, so he stepped in and started shooting.


And what a spectacle it was - a mishmash of apparitions, part Hieronymus Bosch, part Dante and part Grateful Dead. Looking over the images now, 50 years after, it appears the day was darker than my youthful, hopeful 18-year-old self perceived.

Somewhere between Santana?s ?Soul Sacrifice? and the Jefferson Airplane?s ?White Rabbit? it was clear that Altamont wasn?t going to be the ?California Woodstock.? Between August and December of 1969, we?d fallen down a rabbit hole.

Looking back, I was either oblivious to what this day would portend, or I was too young to know what a long, strange trip it was going to be. The images tell a different story, in the sometimes stark black-and-white of reality.

As we made the trek back to our car a few miles away, a young black man, the same age as me, would be stabbed to death, near the crowded stage, the ultimate shattering of our innocence. The lyrics to ?Soul Sacrifice? being warily apposite:

I stand on your throat
To silence your life
Your punishment?
Soul sacrifice

On the Wine Trail in Italy

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[12/01/2019, 15:39] A late-night dispatch from a tired and wary Italian wine export agent in China
[ Imagine a scenario where Italian wine exporters, winemakers and their agents make their twice (or thrice) yearly pilgrimage to China in search of trade and success. And imagine, if you will, one of those agents sending a note in the middle of the night. It has happened many times, and as such, this one emanated from one of those cold, dark, lonely rooms, overlooking a pop-up city of millions in the middle of the night.]

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Dear A,

It?s 3 A.M. and I got into my room two hours ago. I?m writing to you because it?s afternoon where you are, and back home in Italy people have sat down to their Sunday dinner. They have other, more important things on their mind than my travails in the Middle Kingdom.

I?ve just come in from another wine banquet, this time in Zhengzhou. Course after course, some recognizable, some as foreign as the Chinese characters on the signs. And wine, Italian wine. Multiple vintages of this wine or that wine. In my case, it is our Brunello, which goes back many years. How our hosts found the 1955, I?ll never know. We don?t even have it in our cave back home. But that seems to be the way it is in China. One can find things seemingly lost to history. On the other hand, one can find that here the past is shunned, forever lost. At least the truth of history. But that?s what it must be like when you live under the rule of a leader who had himself voted ruler for life. God, what I?d give to have a plate of spaghetti con peperoncino aglio olio right now, to settle my stomach and to rid my palate from the taste of smoked duck and soy.


On the Wine Trail in Italy
Back home in Italy, the owners of the winery want me to spend more time in China. ?It?s so vast, there are unlimited possibilities for our label,? they say. They rarely leave their little world around Montalcino, barely go to Florence. Yet, they dream of a larger world outside their bubble. So, they send me, their very own Marco Polo, to ?make friends with the Orientals.?

I?ve been there a dozen times now. Cites with names like Guangzhou (population 44 million), Shanghai (population 36 million), Chongqing (population 25 million), Beijing (population 23 million), Hangzhou (population 21 million). And then to the 2nd tier cites, Zhengzhou (with only 10 million) Nanjing (with 8 million), Xuzhou a city that has barely nine million people. And yes, Hong Kong (a measly 7.5 million). They are all islands on this sea of land mass with a never-ending tsunami of population. Two billion souls, and I can feel their intelligence, their cunning and their ruthlessness. Every one of them.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Two weeks in China can seem like a life sentence to an Italian like me. No Facebook, no You Tube, no outside influences. Big Brother has seen to that. From an endless procession of hotel rooms, they peer out from the clock or the smoke detector above me, courtesy of ?The leader for life.? But whose life? And what kind of quality of life? And here I am, at 3 A.M. pondering a life, one which my employer wishes to use to conquer China with his Brunello. It?s Pirandello blended with Machiavelli and throw in a dash of Grazia Deledda. And that is my dilemma as I look out a window I have looked out upon dozens of times in a dozen cities and not seen anything that would comfort me. No ancient basilica, no recognizable river, not a car or a building, or a sign, that will ease the cold loneliness that creeps into my bones when I am so far from home. Oh, how I long to go to America (even Canada with all that snow right now), if I cannot just go home, to find something that gives me consolation from this lonely road trip that lasts a lifetime.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
And really, while they loved the wines, and even me, next week it will be a producer from Etna, the week after it will be a famous writer, and they will love them too. And they will bring out their mushrooms and their prawns and their abundance ? first to impress and ultimately to suppress. For their plan isn?t to build my brand, it is to take it over. Two billion people and counting. Against a country of 70 million and with a dwindling population at that? We?re heading into the dustbin of history while our churches and old buildings will remain for a time longer, as monuments and artifacts of a once mighty culture. But with this new China, which has been around even longer than Rome, and with hordes of people crawling around the planet buying everything, soon the tables will be switched. Oh, how I wish my employer had just stopped in America and not gone on to Asia. I would willingly (and occasionally) eat the junk food under the golden arches to spare me this experiment.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
No, after a dozen or so trips to China I am not convinced this is the right place for Italy to expend the energy to build their brands for wine. I think in 100 years, at most, this experiment will only be a vague notion. Italian wine will just be another revolution to be suppressed and vanquished, like so many revolutions that have been consigned to the scrap-heap of history here in Asia.

I know you?ve been critical of the long-term prospects for Italian wine in China. Maybe you should come here and see for yourself? I?d love to know what you see and feel and find.

Warmest personal regards,

-F












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[11/24/2019, 20:41] The Absolutely Last (and Final) Wine Dinner I Will Ever Do
[Stardate -303142.8]
On the Wine Trail in Italy

?It was bound to happen, eventually,? he said to himself. ?After all, having done more than 600 wine dinners, what more can one say or do about Italian wine in front of a group of juiced-up bacchants on a Saturday night, getting their drink on and rushing through the courses, so the deejay can turn down the lights, turn up the noise and get them to dancing their derri?res off, into the wee hours of the morning??

And so it was, not with a bang but a sniffle that he shuffled off the dais and proceeded to eat his cold pasta on some long-abandoned table, wondering why, why did he fall for it again?


They wanted an Italian wine crackerjack. The well-healed crowd in the latest and greatest purlieu of this metropolis, was billed as smart, chic and eager to learn about Italian wine. There would be hundreds of them, tooling in with their Alfa Romeos and Ferraris, drooling over their Chardonnay and Orgalini, in breathless anticipation of his fervid depictions of Il Bel Paese.

Or maybe when they reached the Barolo, maybe then it would be a good time. They would really be ready then, to hear about what it was we were tasting and drinking, and something about the grape, the vintage, the match-up with the food, some history even?

But golly gee, it was not meant to be. They were having too good of a time. And why would the ace Italian interject and spoil their evening?

He made his way back to his sorry little table, once again, sat down, and ate his cold rolled meat dish with the Barolo. And he made a promise to himself, and the world, channeling his inner Scarlett O?Hara, ?As God is my witness, I swear I`ll never do a wine dinner, ever, again!?

Which is ironic, because most of the well-heeled people at that last wine dinner thought, ?Frankly my dear, we don?t give a damn!?

And for anyone who entertains the idea of doing a wine dinner in some stardate in the future, maybe it would be a good idea to sketch out the parameters for success at such an event. So, lets dig in.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Intentions of a wine dinner attendee
These really are the most important constituents at a wine dinner. They are the reason one puts together an event like this. So, for that reason, the element of hospitality is paramount. Forget why they come; the real reason is that they want to be gladly received. And in the ancient tradition of hospitalit?s, that really is all we should expect. If they are rowdy, or noisy or tippled, if they are more interested in talking to each other, or taking selfies for their Instagram feed, so be it. I?m sorry to have to admit it, but that is the social contract. More on how one who is not a guest (like the presenter or the host) should act to follow.

But the bottom line to a wine dinner is that the guests be made comfortable. Period.


On the Wine Trail in Italy

Expectations of a wine dinner presenter
It depends on the format and the intention for the event. But generally, a wine presenter is asked to come to a wine dinner because they might exhibit some level of expertise or fervor in which to impart upon willing guests. Willing being the operative word. It might be a journey through the Langhe or a jaunt through Tuscany. One should get a determination of the depth in which the guests are likely to want to go.

If the event is on a Friday or Saturday night, it is safe to assume it will be more of a social gathering. The educational aspects of the event are probably not the first and foremost reason for guests who are coming. But one must be prepared to talk, and also to not talk.

If, within the first minute of talking about a wine or Italy or simply an introduction, the crowd starts talking, it?s a good, solid indication that they are not here for you. They have their own orbit, and why not accede to the prevalent winds in the room? Go around table to table, as an alternative. Have those one-on-one conversations ad infinitum. And yes, someone is invariably going to tell you about their trip of a lifetime to Venice in July. Or that Italian wine they had at the most wonderful trattoria in Rome, which they cannot remember, but you, being an expert, surely must know of which they are talking about? You?ll be well advised to be prepared for the real expert in the room who is there to debunk anything you might be heard to say and uphold his superior caliber. Just remember your inner mantra, ?Om, mommy take me home.? And eventually that is where you will end up.

Look, expertise and ?presenting? is probably more appropriate for a small group, where the ground rules are laid out in advance. Or for an educational seminar.

A rule of thumb I have realized is: if there is a fork and a knife at an event, wine is not going to be the most important factor. If there is a spit bucket, a pencil and a tasting sheet, more likely folks are there to learn. Got it?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Objectives of the host account
The optimal arrangement is to have some kind of retail point of purchase in place. If not, most people will not remember the next day (remember, when there is a fork and knife present?.). So, get a restaurant who has the appropriate license or get thee a retailer to the table. If not, it?s just a party. And at best, it?s a way for a restaurant to put butts in the seat on a slow night. And as long as everybody knows what the main reason such an event is for, no one gets their feelings hurt. Not too much. I mean, we are talking about Italians here, and they are sensitive creatures.

I?d advise it to be really important to get an understanding of how many people will be coming. Not how many who reserve (and then ?ghost? the event), but just how many people are actually going to sit in the seats. And that is the responsibility of the restaurateur. If they have a good relationship with their clients, all the better. If it?s a new place, or they don?t have a ?network? established to the outer community, there might be disappointments. Nobody wants to fly 1,500 miles to a wine dinner where five people show up (and three of them are from the distributor). But anyone who has done wine dinners for 5-10-20 years probably have a story or two about things like that. (In my case I found a BnB in New Orleans that I just loved to stay at. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina).

Anyway, you really need as complete of an understanding by the host to know what one is getting into. That said, do not be disappointed if it isn?t exactly as advertised. And remember, the most important thing is that cardinal virtue, hospitalit?s.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Overall desire for general success
What are the markers? Is it when everyone goes home with a full belly and a case of wine? To the wine presenter, especially if he or she comes from the winery, that would be really nice. But that?s more the exception than the rule.

If 10% of the people who go to a wine dinner remember it as a pleasant evening and they go back to a store and buy the wine, I?d say, by today?s standards, that was a pretty successful event.

But to the guest, if they have a good time with friends and family, nice conversation, good food, good wine and leave with a feeling of comfort, that is probably more a signal of success than anything. Sorry if it doesn?t get you the numbers you wanted (or needed) to make before the end of the month). It?s not where we are in time and space. But there are places where the magic works really well. I?ve written over the years about my local little Italian grocery store, which now has become a place of pilgrimage for many Italian winery folks. And they do sell a lot of wine during those always sold-out events.

[Hint: at this place, the owner often includes in the price of the event, a bottle of wine. So, if 60 people come to the dinner, at least they know they will have ?sold? 60 bottles. Which is brilliant. But they keep the price down, and while there is tax, there is no tip, so folks can get an event that won?t clean out their wallets. It?s a good solution.]

And, really, speaking from the perspectives of those who have done hundreds of wine dinners, they aren?t all going to be brilliant victories. But always, above all, whether the event is wildly successful or it sinks like the Titanic, remember those famous words from Ms. O?Hara, ?After all... tomorrow... is another day!?
On the Wine Trail in Italy

Never say never.





written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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[11/17/2019, 21:58] [For what it?s worth] Who do you think you are?
? There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear ?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
It really seems, to this fool on the hill, that the routes that wine follow, there?s a groove that has become very, very important. I?m going to break it down into the different articulations, from the source to the terminus, and offer my observations. And yes, we?re talking about wine, and how it?s intersection within our culture has changed how we see it, how we place ourselves within that context and how everything that was taken for granted 30 years ago, have pretty much been assailed in these here times. 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.? It?s not all bad news.


Once upon a time, it was just good enough to make wine. And not even that good. But good enough to be enjoyed and remembered. Wine was a thing not like today?s wine is a thing. It was sustenance. It was often safer than water. It was cheap. And it was a vehicle for alcohol which, when one read a little history, was one of the great discoveries of homo sapiens. It offered transcendence, albeit maybe just for an evening. But it made getting up on Monday, and trudging back to work, not as hopeless as it could have been.

? It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound ?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Now, wine is luxury, it?s a measure of status, of affluence, and of standing within one?s tribe. It?s also gotten expensive. So much that wines people grew up on 30 years ago have become untouchable to many of them. I don?t remember the last time I had a DRC wine, but it wasn?t in this century. Whereas, in the last millennia, it was a little more of an expected occurrence. Same with Biondi-Santi, Gaja, or Opus One.

And with that change, there are many who follow that path. Wine as the ultimate aphrodisiac. Being a member of the wine cognoscenti is something one can get without much of a stretch. All you have to do is have the money. Or an Instagram feed. But wine itself, does it know what it has become? I think about the vines at DRC, and what if they knew what they had become, and who had become their collectors, sitting away in cellars like so much art, waiting for the moment when it would become so valuable that it would be impossible to open and enjoy? So, we stare into the collector?s covey and admire, while the owner of the cellar says, ?These aren?t for drinking. They?re for looking.?

? Everybody look what's going down ?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
And what about those who move the invisible strings: the high-wire performers - restaurateurs, fine wine retailers, sommeliers and other idols? How have they chiseled new grooves into the soul of wine?

In many ways it?s a good thing for wine and the business of wine. More people involved, caring, taking a stand against inertia and ?the way we used to do it.? In actuality, the wine trade has acted more like an annual than a perennial, pulling out the dead and used up and replanting, rather than just waiting for another crop to surface and flower. Funny also, because grapes and vines are perennials with annual output. It?s the human hand (and heart) that treats it, once it becomes wine, into this fashionable creature from the latest catwalks of France, Italy and beyond. And said restaurateurs, fine wine retailers, sommeliers (the ones actually sommeliering on the floor) and other innamorati ply their trade, do their magic, performing daily miracles. Water into wine is a simple (and decidedly olde-school) parlor trick compared to the legerdemain of today?s wizards.

The problem is the noise. There?s so much clamoring for attention (?pay attention to #ME?) that the ones who are plying their trade get drowned out by le provocateur du moment with an iPhone and the fa?ade of influence.

So, for instance, if an Italian wine list 40 years ago might have paid homage to French wines, apologetic for only having wines of ?humble Italian origin,? today a wine list might proudly assert having ?only Italian wines.? Or further, only having wines ?Italian, but only from Rome and further south.? What was once a rarity if not an anomaly, now is commonplace. But not to be eclipsed by a simple laundry list of ?only Italian wines,? now tony Italian restaurant wine lists proudly display full sections to Beaujolais, Champagne (or more commonly, the proletarian epithet, ?Bubbles?). Not to forget Greece (we must #NeverForget to assert our God-given right to Assyrtiko). And of course, #NewCalifornia. It is a complete 180? turned inside out, which, in my opinion makes for a greater choice and multifariousness. While smart phones get smaller, wine lists get bigger. And our attention spans get shorter.

? What a field day for the heat ?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
?1,100 labels and all they ask for is the spritz!? my friend Roberto Paris laments. Well, no one said ?if you build it, they will come? about wine lists. Someone still needs to peddle the goods. It?s not as if our idols will all deign to come down from Olympus on a Saturday night to pull a shift. There are some brave souls who see service as the means, and the end. And then there are those who are content to provide content from the warmth of their tablet, while chilling at home with their Roku? Stick? and a bottle of Beaujolais vieilles vignes.

Look, what I learned early on in this business, is that it?s much easier (and more glamorous) to buy than to sell. Putting together a wine lists gets you invites to lunches, dinners, private tastings, even junkets. I know one ?wine buyer? who was putting together a 150-page wine list for near on a year. This person was invited everywhere. Saw much of the European wine producing countryside with meals at the top restaurants in the cities to boot. And then? The restaurant was open six weeks when said person bolted. And then the bill collectors  appeared and the landlord bolted the front door. So, a bunch of really cool wine sat in the dark, and the dust (without air conditioning), and yes, the orange wine turned brown, along with the white wine and the red wine.

? Singing songs and carrying signs ?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I?m all for wonderful wines lists and I?m equally happy for really good BYOB restaurants, which have been surfacing in my town with comforting alacrity. Now we have a seriously good Thai restaurant where I can take my Feldmarschall von Fenner M?ller-Thurgau from Alto Adige. As well, down the street a heretofore filling station, then a short-lived barbecue shack, is now nominated as one of the best new restaurants in America. And it too is BYOB. And yes, I can drag out my ancient Nebbiolo and Hermitage bottles and schlep them down the road to have with some seriously good charcuterie, pasta and proteins. So, part of the backlash to those 150-page tomes are these establishments popping up that rely upon you, the diner, to bring your own wine list. And even though, as I said, earlier, it is easier to buy than to sell, it is a horse of a different color to buy for yourself and put the damn things away for a distant date in the future. Pray you play the long game well.

? Mostly say, hooray for our side ?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Which brings us to wine reviewers, bloggers, commenters, and their ilk. Circling back to the subject of this post, and that is how things have changed in the last 30 or so years. Sure, this group has a little or a lot of influence in the wine world. Probably more like ?a little? for most of us. But now ?small is beautiful? is back. Which makes a lot of sense in regards to the kind of contrails I?ve been watching from my treehouse.

I go back to something Doug Cook told me. 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.

If that is the case, and I have no reason to doubt Doug, 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.

This has compelling implications. For one, a large following doesn?t matter that much anymore. Que sera sera for any perceived state of one?s influence. And now, quality has leverage over volume. Sayonara, 100-point wines. Ciao, unreachable wine Valhalla (as bedaubed about Instagram). And hasta la vista baby to all that useless running after the hottest story, the latest scandal, the must-read ?insiders? tale, whether it be about Pinot Grigio DOC, or the travails of the descendants of Clemente Santi or any number of hot-off-the-press accounts that the aggregators foist upon us, bending and shaping the daily wine narrative. You want the world? You want it now? You got it, babe.

But know this ? if you go down this road - it will be quiet, and might be lonely. For you will be chasing a story that scores of other folks aren?t. And you might be seen as a storyteller at best, and d?mod? at not-so-best. Let it go, the world will keep turning, everyone to their own way.

But, oh, the yarns you can spin. Who do you think you are? Tell us, all who will listen.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

? Step out of line, the men come and take you away ?





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