"...one step remained. One step! One little, little step! Upon one such little step in the great staircase of human life how vast a sum of human happiness or misery depends! I thought of myself, then of Pompey, and then of the mysterious and inexplicable destiny which surrounded us... I thought of my many false steps which have been taken and may be taken again." – Poe
Got time for a little navel gazing? 'Cause that’s where I'm going with this one.
25 years of carrying the torch for the Italian team. I feel like someone just pushed me in the ditch.
There are all kinds of wines for different tastes. I understand that. But I cannot tell how many times I have heard this line lately, and not just from Italians: “We have embraced tradition with innovation.” Or this one: “We are a traditional winery looking forward into the 21st century.” And this one: “We are an old style winery utilizing technology to improve what we have learned from the past.” None of these statements makes any sense.
Add to that the looming issue with Italian wines: Who can you trust?
When was the last time I had a Greco or a Fiano that really tasted like one? How many Verona IGT reds lately have I had that tasted more like a wine from the Maremma or Rutherford, than Valpolicella? When was the last time I had a Chianti that reflected the intentions of the land over the man? When did Mother Nature become la goomada? When did nurture become suffocate?
Did those starry-eyed post war kids with hopes and dreams become comfortable as they passed the keys to their Gucci-loafing children?
Well maybe not everyone, but the pendulum has swung out there. Way out. It cannot remain in an extreme position. It cannot be sustained. There is the issue of gravity. And balance.
This whirlwind in Tuscany is finally reaching the shores of America. Already in New York and out West there is rumbling. Pushback. Wayback. The midsection of the US has been rabbit punched for eight grueling years and we need a moment. To pay our bills, to recalibrate. To gather some hope for ourselves.
April was the first month I have witnessed where I’ve seen downward trends in Italian wine sales. Things are slowing down. It’s not a sky-is-falling spiral, but it’s a gut check for anyone who is looking at the numbers.
Let’s talk about wine. I was with a young one who lived in Southern Italy for four years and just returned home to Texas. We were tasting wine and she remarked about a winery in Campania, “I don’t remember their white wine tasting so buttery and smooth and international.” I hadn’t thought about it, I was too busy plowing on through the year, when out of the mouth of babes came a truth. She was right. Last week, in New York, I was having dinner with an old friend and we were talking about the very same thing. “Yeah, I talked to one of the owners and asked him how it was going. Do you know what his answer was? Our wines are very popular. Not, our wines are a reflection of our land. But, our wines are appealing.” Oh really?
I have tasted Montepulcianos from Abruzzo recently. Seems like a lot of people want to bring their wines to market. I have a long experience with Montepulciano and remember those brawny, sweaty, nutty, reds that when you tasted it knew it was from the hills above you. Now, many of them taste like they came off an assembly line.
I was in Italy last month, tasting Barolo and Barbaresco. For what seem like hundreds of years now I have tasted Nebbiolo, what a rollercoaster ride! Sometimes the wines are a reflection of where they come from, in that unique way a wine is when it only has one area where it is comfortable growing. And then sometimes it seems like we are dealing with a perfume manufacturing mentality; crank out another flavor, give us something sexy for the camera, can you show us some skin? More toast. More velvet, more color, more money, more stuff. Less substance.
Who can you turn to? What can you trust in?
Salespeople rattle about this wine and that wine like it is the latest laundry detergent or smart phone. What happened to the old gang who loved the camaraderie and the product? Sure there might be an incentive here or there, but what about the thrill of the game, not the urgent flavor of the moment? What about the soil? The vine? The grape?
These wines are now like trophies, everything is a treasure, without the hunt. We want a pretty wife; we get the doctor to make her prettier. We want to be cool, we get a fast car. We want to sell, we quote a score.
What about all those Italians in our veins and our DNA, looking out from generations past, what would they think of this moment?
I think we are at a crossroads and it is a crucial time for the wines of Italy and her relationship to the American market. Where's a good place to start? How about less marketing pesticide – more plowing in the trenches of the heart.
There have been missteps. I hope for steps out of the darkness towards a future that swings back to authenticity and integrity.
Vintage photos by Vittorio