Sunday, April 23, 2017

Is the World Ready for New Italian Wine?

When Jon Bonné penned his groundbreaking book, The New California Wine, he caused a lot of us to look at wine in a different light. It wasn’t so much that all of a sudden winemakers in California were doing something different than they had done before, for in California, experimentation is always part of the gambit. No, it was that he caused us to perceive from a different perspective how some winemakers in California were going about the art and craft of winemaking in a totally unfettered way. In fact, these revolutionaries, some of them, have also become part of the mainstream for wine in the Golden State.

There will always be a large commercial aspect to wine in California and other places in the world where wine is part of the commerce of the country France, Spain and Italy come to mind. Italy has had, for some time, a robust commercial side of wine. A recent visit to the 51st edition of Vinitaly showed just how vigorous that business still is.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

An introvert’s guide to surviving Vinitaly

Amor litteras ad Vinitaly
My dear mom was an extrovert. Being around people recharged her batteries, not that she needed them to. She was a perpetual motion machine. But as a child of hers, who came into the world as an introvert, the opposite happens when I am around a crowd. Thus, when I visited Vinitaly after a year’s absence, I imagined all the other people who might have to brave the endless pavilions of Veronafiere and are also introverts, and thought to make a plan for all of us.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Perpetuating a Legacy in the Modern Day Business of Wine in Italy

In recent days, in Tuscany, there were some terrific thunderstorms. Along with the rain, hail fell from the heavens. Not exactly an “under the Tuscan Sun” moment. But just as I wrote these words, the sun poked its head out through the steel gray clouds.

Over the period of 30 hours, with full immersion (and submersion, as the case may be), I had the opportunity to sit and talk with three Tuscan families about their wine business. And the overriding (if not overtly intended) dilemma they all expressed to me was that of their family legacy in the business of wine.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Valpolicella at a Crossroads in the New Millennium

Outside a storm is passing over, the sky rumbling in a way that is at once ominous and reassuring. Texas in April is not for the faint of heart. Storms of Biblical proportions, hail, wind and torrential rains often put a damper on what only hours before might have been the most perfect of Spring days. But it is also a blunt reminder that none of us are really “in charge.” As someone much wiser than me once said, “We strut and point, pontificate and strike, but, rest reassured, there are always larger forces of destiny in play.”

As the world of wine turns from Bordeaux to Italy and Verona, there will be plenty of bottles opened in the coming days and weeks. None the less of them will be local bottles, in the various trattoria and bars around the city.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Who are the Future “Thought Leaders” for Italian Wine?

With harvest behind us and winemaking for the year finished, Italians in the wine trade are living out of their suitcases. Traveling to markets around the world, attending portfolio tastings and working with salespeople in the trenches. Last week there was Prowein. This week all eyes turn to Bordeaux for their annual UGC 2016 vintage tastings. But soon there will be Vinitaly. Emails are being sent to round up prospective new clients and export markets. Seminars are being scheduled. Dinners, which will go late into the night, are being planned, in and around Verona. And there are all the people planning travel to Italy to visit and taste, before and after Vinitaly. All this eating and drinking and tasting and talking, what will come of it?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Secret Life of a Gateway Wine - Coming of Age in a Life of Wine

Living in a country that is geographically isolated from much of the world by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, many in America tend to live inside their heads. It’s funny that for those of us who love wine, the head is the receptacle for the precious liquid. If only it could occasionally be utilized as a way to flush our system and give us a more outward perspective. For some, I am sure it does. But the monkey brain inside of us, it chatters away.

I was talking to a group of young wine professionals last week, just relating the differences between now and then - then being the time when I was their age. Maybe younger. I was talking about wine and what my gateway wine was, a path which eventually led me to tables where an obscene array of aged and (often) great Barolo and Barbaresco were there for pure enjoyment. By chance, my gateway wine was a bottle of Thunderbird.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Italian Wine in the Second Decade of the Third Millennium Gets Off to a Shaky Start – 2011 and 2014 - Analysis, Expectations and Opportunities

With absolutely little or no pragmatic devices, and relying on instinct, I have hit a wall in the second decade of this new century, with regards to Italian wine. Two vintages, 2011 and 2014, are beginning to feel like other vintages, 1972, 1973, 1981, 1983, 1991, 1992 and more recently, 2002. I say this, not as a collector, for I have tasted wines from Piedmont and Tuscany from some of these vintages and have been happily surprised and rewarded. But as one who looks at these wines on an inventory spread sheet, week after week, and year after year, I have noticed alarming trends over the perception of vintages. From whence do these views emanate?

Sunday, March 05, 2017

A Good Horse - And an Even Better Saddle

The other day I got a late-pay notice from a government agency. I fretted over it for a while, imagining all kinds of economic burden to my little world. And then a picture popped up on the screen, of some crazed leader laughing with his generals in front of a high powered missile, capable of potentially sending a nuclear payload into my back yard. And I forgot all about my little problem.

There are many ways to look at things, in this age of disruption. We can bemoan the loss of freedoms we once took for granted, we can activate socially and make our voices heard and we can celebrate for our side. And that is what is being done in various quarters around the country and indeed, in the world.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Trophy Life - Did you come this far to be somewhere else?

There’s this natty new watering hole with a wood burning oven on Washington Street in Yountville. I’m waiting there to meet a friend and colleague, to have a drink and go over some Italian business. As I am early, and the bar is overflowing with revelers (it is Napa Valley Premiere week), I stand outside and catch up with emails from back home. Two large multi-person vans are parked in front. Black and shiny, with quirky license plates, monikers of someone’s idea of wine country chi-chi. In reality, these vans are peripatetic conveyances for the moneyed set, with their black and shiny boots, and black pressed jeans, and their tall blonde wives with their tight faux leopard stretch jeans, long-legged, with long, shimmering hair. “Come get in this one with us,” one of the older single men yelps to someone else’s wife. As if she was going to get in and on their way to dinner at Press, something was going to happen inside that van? She just gives him a desultory sniff and climbs into a smaller, more intimate vehicle with her curator.
Oh, the trophy life, it ain't no good life,
But it's my life.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How do you solve a problem like Prosecco?

How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp (L) and Sergio Mionetto (R)
It’s one thing to try and grow a wine category into a monster. It’s another thing to hold onto it once it has grown so big that it’s impossible to wrap one’s hands (or mind) around the giant it has become. Prosecco has become such a monster. And now Prosecco is at a critical crossroads.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Italian Wine and its Truth-Adjacent Death Spiral

I was making my rounds in the wine job circuit. Serving tables. Sommelier. And now (1981) I was managing a wine bar in Dallas. My son was nearing school age. I needed a day job, being a single parent. A wholesale wine manager, sitting at my bar, told me I’d do great in the distribution side and offered me a job. And so I took a leap.

Over the years, it has been a good ride. I took a few years in between, working for an importer. I loved that side of it as well. But it was always distribution that called to me.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Showcasing Italian Wine in the USA – 3 Events to Put Your Best Foot Forward

Slow Wine – Vino 2017 – Gambero Rosso


February has been a busy month for Italian wine in America. The Italian holiday vacations, for the most part, are done with. Vinitaly is a couple of months away. And Italians, as 21st century road warriors, have their engines revved. The race has begun. And not just for the wine business. This week I huddled in a snow-bound hotel in lower Manhattan, during Fashion Week, amidst a gaggle of Italian designers, photographers and models. The spirit of Marco Polo, Amerigo Vespucci and Cristoforo Colombo, is well and alive, in the hearts and constitutions of Italian artists, merchants and craftsmen and women. And Italian wine is right there with them - all new, shiny and pretty.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

What will happen to Italian wine if America enters into a trade war with Europe?

The Italians never thought it would happen. They, led by the French, were marching into a huge new market, China. In that moment, they turned their gaze from America, seeing a new, emerging market filled with hundreds of millions of potential customers for their wines. Every farmer’s daughter was going to Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Taipei, Chengdu and Hong Kong with their Barolo, Brunello, their Prosecco and their Moscato. All along, China was developing cheap solar panels, racing to find a way to fulfill their own country’s need for cheap, clean, sustainable energy. And with that came the temptation to import those solar panels to their trading partners in Europe. But trading with China in the solar sector could cost thousands of jobs in Europe, where the solar energy industry had a foothold and was growing at a rapid pace. The EU threatened a steep tariff on solar panels imported from China. And China threatened to retaliate on wine with a tariff of up to 47%. A trade war loomed. And while this threat was greater to France, and even Spain, Italy also felt the slap from the big hand of China.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Survivalism for the Shattered Tribe in the Fog of Winter

Could this be the week we will look back, someday, with the realization that our wine collecting days are over? For one, the span of my life, or anyone’s life for that matter, might not exceed the time it will take to open and drink all the wines we have amassed. For another, the idea of wine, in the age of disruption, just doesn't seem that high on the list of important things to concern oneself with. Or am I wrong? Perhaps this is the perfect time to open up anything, and everything that matters. We’re not getting any younger. And the asteroid is still light years away from impact, isn’t it?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Modern Italian Woman and Her Journey on the Wine Trail

Happy Birthday, Raffaella!

A picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, 3,500. My friend and colleague, Raffaella, posted a photo from her youth. I thought I recognized that person from my youthful wanderings in Rome. A narrative was begging to be released. But it would be better coming from the woman whose image was reflected in the photograph. It’s timely, as many Italians in the wine trade are putting away their skis and golf clubs from their holiday vacations and getting back on the road. It’s also pertinent for young wine professionals, women and men, to read these words. It covers a life in wine, and in those words, there might be some guideposts for those whose experience in the wine trade hasn’t yet led them. Not yet. Thank you Raffaella, for sharing your story. It’s the story of wine, of a woman in modern times and of Italy during one of the most exciting and turbulent times in its history.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Is Italian Wine in Danger of Dying from Natural Causes?

I’ve just spent an afternoon looking at Nielsen wine sales reports for America. The exercise came as a response to a colleague who told me “Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is dead, nobody drinks it anymore.” Oh, yeah? Is that so?

Sunday, January 08, 2017

A Guide to Collecting Italian Wine for the 30-Year-Old – Part I

For those who read books, there are numerous treatises on collecting wine. I’ve read all that I have in my little library. Some of them strike a chord, while others sound vaguely disjointed from the times we live in now. My exposure to old Italian wines of recent has come from the new (and some not so new) wave of winemakers in California, who are buying up old Barolo and their ilk from the auction houses. And it has been a rewarding experience to revisit some of my bottled up old friends of late. Economic realities can present the average Joe from having exposure to these rare gems. But if one is predisposed and patient, you can have those peak moments of wine appreciation, with a little careful and well-planned action. This is a very personal, and specific, guide for the 30-year-old collector on a budget.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Is Italian Wine Ready for a Revamp in 2017?

Vision quests, spa treatments, identity crisis wines and start-up disruptors

My Italian friends are posting pictures on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds, from Myanmar to Miami and from mountain ski resorts. They are starting the year off with a vacation. Every year it strikes me a bit funny when this happens. Maybe my 7% German DNA overrides the need to take off. In the wine industry we just climbed a high mountain, Mt. O-N-D, and although many of us fought all the way to the end, some of us didn’t quite make it to the very top. Camp 4 maybe, but not the summit. That’s kind of the way it is though, we really never reach the top and once we do, it usually isn’t in bright shiny, fashionable ski gear as we slither down the mountain towards a hip-tone chalet filled with Franciacorta and Prosecco awaiting us. No, the battle is done, for a few days. And then it starts all over again.

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