Friday, February 29, 2008

Wipeout

One would think that the Italians, and most of the European winemakers, would be first in line for the shoot-yourself-in-the-foot booth. The weak dollar, inflation, high cost of living and ultimately price increases, followed by an expected slow-down in sales. And then California goes long boarding and tries to ride the high wave. Yeah. OK. Now what?

These days, wineries in California are changing their dance partners with a fury once seen on the deck of the Titanic. A 48% increase in sales isn’t good enough? Let’s find another conduit for marketing our products. Lost in the aisles of hundreds of other Chardonnays? Blame someone else. Slow down in sales? It couldn’t be that old fashioned label that your Aunt Tilley designed, now, could it?

Like the weather patterns that derive off the West Coast, sometimes the storm passes to the middle lands and even further. Maybe the sub-prime miasma is to blame. And the Italians are laughing about it and dancing in the streets, in their new Prada slip-ons

The trend seems to be, or rather, the cycle we are in right now, indicates that Italians aren’t slowing down like many of the naysayers are bellowing. Yet.

February 2008 is looking to be a good month for Italian wine sales in the midsection of the United States. January was strong, and this month, as it is wrapping up, is lumbering to a finish that outpaces the same month last year (SMLY).

Not so with respect to California wine sales.

A couple of things here.

The market is crowded; there is still a lot of juice floating around looking for a final resting place. There are a few other Two-Buck imitators that have made it to the interior. And yes, at the bottom rung, it is treated like a commodity because it is in a highly competitive part of the market. This isn’t Super-Yacht territory. If folks were used to buying three bottles of wine a week for $15.99, they are now buying two bottles now for $12.99 and making do. The supply builds up into tsunami-sized waves and gets scattered across the land, often heavily discounted.

So why isn’t this happening to Italian wines? Short answer: I don’t know. Perhaps it is because the Italian wines have diversified their penetration in the market. It seems they are everywhere these days, large retailers, small independents, mama and papa restaurants and big box chains. Spread out.

This might not be for long, but right now we are riding the wave in the cycle. And so far, we haven’t been thrown from the board.






Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Visiting Hours

For the last five years I have been drinking the wines from my closet. I realized that eventually I was going to run out of time but there was still a lot of wine in the vault.

Inside the little room are lots of old friends. Some of them have passed on to other realms.

The 1983 Barbaresco from Marchese di Gresy was ready to be drunk in the 1990’s, but raising kids and taking care of ill partners left those bottles untended. I forgot to take care of that little wine and now I have a great wine to braise a roast with. There is life after a wine passes from what it was intended, when time passes faster than it should.

A little bottle of 1970 Barolo from Luigi Pira that was hidden under some bottles of La Chapelle Hermitage. I thought it was part of the trust fund, or at least my retirement drinking. But the Barolo passed, in as untimely manner as the sad winemaker who made it.

A bottle of 1971 Fattoria Vignale Chianti Classico Riserva, once a Nureyev of a wine. I remember the wine from the early 1980’s when it jumped into my soul. Now it has to take the long journey to its resting place: not to the celebrity cemetery in Venice; this time via the drain in my sink..

Collecting is more than storing. It is also about knowing when to open the curtain and let the wine perform its role. With the loss of these three friends I have begun to re-visit their livelier colleagues in my wine closet. Hello Mouton, Hello Sassicaia, I hear you calling.






Monday, February 25, 2008

To the Moon, Alice


From the Beverage News Satellite
Effective April 1, 2008, a large non-alcoholic beverage company will increase the list prices on their "entire International brand portfolio due to various factors impacting the cost of doing business internationally:
• Raw material increases, particularly European glass procurement.
• Increased drayage and trucking costs including fuel prices.
• Increase in the costs of procuring containers due to the worldwide shortage.
• Increase in costs associated with Homeland Security post-9/11 compliance.
• Expansion of number of US Port warehouses."


This is also happening with wine, folks. Fasten your seat belts. Hold on tight. More to come.



Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Silence of the Lamb's Lettuce

Today, at Premiere Napa Valley® with a kick-butt CIA buffet lunch. Lots of micro salad (with mache effectively ascending to the throne once held by iceberg), buffalo burger sliders and almost any wine you can imagine. Being on the Ital-in-Cal beat, I thought we'd voyage to explore new wines and new experiences.

After tasting wines from Napa made of Primitivo, Malbec, Gruner Veltliner and Sangiovese, we sidled over to the Cabernet counter. Just for fun I had them pour a 2003 Silver Oak Napa Cab, so I could blind taste my writer-gal. See what someone thought of a popular wine if they didn’t know it for its celebrity status. I took a little taste too.

The Silver Oak Cab? She thought it was really tasty, felt it really expanded well in her mouth, but was not overly jammy. Surprised? I was as well. Did it boldly go where no wine had gone before? No, but it did seek out new woods.

At the dessert course, an Italian from Venice came up to our table to share the space. We got to talking in Italian (Yes, I sometimes do parlare in Italiano), and he suggested I stop by and taste his Nero D’Avola from Calistoga.

I promised I would, and on the way we fell into an accidental celebrity vortex around Silver Oak’s corner. And who was tasting their wine but William Shatner (James Tiberius Kirk or Denny Crane depending on how old you are). Lots of fun seeing the old boy. Now there’s a profile.

Nothing earth shattering, just a little mindless fluff for a damp and cold Saturday afternoon, from the Alpha quadrant traveling past the transwarp barrier.

Fresh pepper?


Friday, February 22, 2008

Seed Time

Sifting through a wet week spent in Napa. Very busy time. Not a lot of time to reflect. Just a couple of thoughts.


Napa Valley, indeed, has terroir. Tasting today, at Stony Hill, and the wines of Nickel and Nickel, along with a few other properties, has me thinking about the territoriality of this place. Much more on that, soon.

Napa Valley has wealth, in money and in workers. As we walked into a man made cave, temperature and humidity controlled by computers, my thoughts ran from the gentrified farmer who made millions in silicon to Raul, Joe and Luisa, who were hurrying to get the vines ready for spring. Later that night in a warmly lit room with sample after sample of wine and food served to us by the children of Raul, Jose and Luisa, I thought about the abundance around us and how it is that we can all but make invisible these souls who toil in the vineyards and serve the food to our tables.


Napa Valley has women of all ages who define a lot more of where this place is going than they get credit for. Strong women with a determination to dig in and be part of the evolution of this place and the world on wine. Exciting time, for the dialogue is more interesting because of this diverse range of personalities who are shaping the future of the wine business. I promise to do a post profiling some of those women, in the very near future.


California and all the Border States are the Ellis Island of the 21st century. People looking to achieve a better life have landed and are here. We cannot isolate them. They are part of the fabric of our future. Many of them are kind, hardworking, decent folk. We demonize those who grow our lettuce, harvest our fruit and clean up after us. This is not the way of the grape. Or good for the future.

Change is coming, the circle is widening, the fire is burning brighter.









Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Snark 'n Garlic

Winter in Rome. The old Cinquecento is slow to start in the cold, damp night of the city. I had just been to an interminably trying evening of tasting new wines from the hills. All I could think of was the summer, months away. But they might have just been years. I’d had it with darkness and cold and bitter young wines and overly sweet old wines and all I could think of was going home to sleep.

Somewhere in the group, a young Italian woman, known for her biting sense of sarcasm, managed to look my way and ask me if these weren’t the worst red wines I’d ever tasted in one sitting. “No”, I told her, “once when I was a young boy, the local monsignor asked me to pour from various bottles so he could choose his altar wine for the upcoming Lenten season.” She replied. “That was, at least, in a warm, quiet, safe place where no one could upset the fragile balance of your mind.” I reckoned she had never been an altar boy


Sarcasm, like garlic, is best served in small portions that seamlessly angle into the event without making their presence known. It is only after you have taken a spoon, or a clove, and it is too late to reject it, that it unwinds its message, slowly over time. A forkful, in the face, is excessive and not seductive.

When I am served a plate of pasta with a sauce that is more garlic than tomato, I know if I eat it, I’ll be in for a few days of penance and solitude. And when I drink a wine that has been overly seasoned, it will punish me in similar manner, though it won’t repulse people around me as readily. But that can surface from me in an often unintentional bite from behind the bars. I would never lunge for the neck, more for fear of continued isolation from those of my kind.

There are wines that follow this script. I don’t know which country they come from or if they come from a screenplay from a winemaker or winery owner who thinks it is his right to direct the life of the grapes to fit his or her vision of what wine is.

Modern wines are starting to look more like their owners than the land they came from.

Give me that old time religion. Turn me back to straightforward Chianti, not meant to impress but to caress.

Help me make it through the night. Or at least budbreak.





Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sette anni fa...

It must have been 20 years ago when the little VW Jetta took us down the road to Hillsboro, Texas, with Bob Marley wailing “I don’t want to wait in vain,” on the radio. It wasn’t that long ago, but it all belongs to history now. She has joined the Ancients.

It has been seven years, a short time compared to eternity, but a sea full of tears and loss. A half-full glass moment, raised to remember her on this day when she passed away from us.

Last night I opened up a bottle of a 2001 Italian red, grown not too far from where she now rests. It was bright and clear and sweet and too young. As I drank it with friends and family, I thought of all the people who made wine that have passed away as well. All around us there are the signs of those who love us and want us to be happy. Some of these signs have been put there by those who are now part of history. And yes, they are no longer pumping blood and cuddling their warm bodies next to us anymore, but there are ways they still connect to those of us still here.

Wine, love, art, music, all around us we are influenced and nurtured by those who have gone before. I think of my wife, she will always be young, as I age and get ready to shake this body off, some day. But not yet, “non voglio morire”, as Puccini’s Manon cries.

Floating all around us in the eternal ocean of peace and tranquility, there is the spirit of love, and we get all shook up about silly things like micro-oxygenation or large champagne houses. “I’m a mystic man, don't drink no champagne”, Peter Tosh sings, “'cause I'm a man of the past, and I'm living in the present, and I'm walking in the future, stepping in the future.”

With a little help, as I step forward, on or off the wine trail, may our loved ones be there, to give us a hand, to let the sunshine in.





Friday, February 15, 2008

Bloggers, Cloggers and Robot Jellyfish

Over the past few years I have gotten to know a few wine and food bloggers. Most of them live in New York and a few over by San Francisco way. I’ve spent time with a couple of them from my back yard (Texas) and have met a few who live or have lived in Italy. You can find some of them linked on the side of this blog. I am getting ready to go back to California for a week, to immerse myself in the Napa Valley Wine Writers Symposium. So before I head out west I’d like to say a few words about some of my fellow bloggers, cloggers and robot jellyfish.

I first met David Anderson in Dallas. David is an Italian ex-patriot, originally from Atlanta. He is an American who had been Italianized. Lately his blogging has gone more towards fashion, but I refer to and recommend his site for people who are traveling to Italy and looking for a good place to stay or a nice restaurant. Some of his finds are off the radar, so they can be real insider stuff.

I was an early reader of Tracie B’s My Life Italian. Now she has returned to Texas and I hope when she gets settled she will return to the blog. She is young, hopeful, smart and we’re glad she is in Texas. I am especially glad to have another Italian wine aficionado in the area.

Eric Asimov is a clogger (corporate blogger) who writes his blog through the NY Times. I met him last year at the Napa Valley Wine Writers Symposium. He’s a busy guy, and aren’t all journalists a little behind the eight ball, what with all their deadlines and understaffed departments?



I met Keith Beavers in NY at a little place he was working at. Keith has East Village Wine Geek and it has been an off and on blog. For one he has just opened up a new wine store. Now that it is open, the blog is back up and running. I like Keith, he’s always friendly and he’s hopeful. He hasn’t been spoiled into cynicism and he knows good wine from bad. Hopeful importers make note: Keith is a good barometer for anything you are thinking of bringing into NY or the greater NY metro area, commonly known as the rest of the US.

I have met Alice Feiring several times in NY and I like her too. She is a big tree in a very compact and sustainable frame. I don’t think she relishes celebrity, but she has strong feelings that are often controversial. Nothing wrong with it as I see it. Everybody gets all worked up when she writes something they either don’t agree with or wished they had thought of. What’s she gonna do fellas, beat you up? I like Alice, she is an original. No sell-out to the food and wine folks here.

Fredric Koeppel is a prolific writer from Down South who, like me, lingers on the edge of civilization, hanging by a thread. I met him, also in NY, last year, at a wine luncheon for Viviani. He’s a unique character. I’ve heard him ranting lately about what he considers to be the sorry state of the wine industry. But I gather he loves great wine and thus, is a slave to the wine god. So I forgive him for his total and absolute cluelessness when it comes to understanding the reality of wine distribution. Most folks who rant about that stuff have no idea of the scale or the organization in that part of the business. It is alive and well and it is bigger than your head.

I met Jeremy Parzen last month in NY and read his blog often. He is interested in intellectual ideas about wine and always has an interesting view of things. I like that, especially as it comes from a generation or point of view that is not like mine. I’d say Jeremy is on to great things. Now if we can just find him a way to make a living.

Gabrio Tosti has a blog and a wine shop, again in NY. Young and full of testosterone, he revels in giving everyone, from Asimov to Vaynerchuk, a piece of his mind. He loves the esoteric, and when he isn’t rolling his own, he actually finds time to write a post or sell some nice wines. Unpretentious, unlike some other Italian wine merchants in that city, Gabrio is what some Italian winemakers wish there were in every city, in big, bad America.

Marco Romano is a new find, also met in NY. Is there a pattern here? Bloggers really gravitate to NYC? Or just me? Anyway, Marco lives in upstate New York and right about now is probably getting pretty sick of the cold and the dark. He has a connection to New Orleans and understands some of the generational references I use. Marco, tune up your Lambretta and head to NY in May…you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.

I first found out about Regina Schrambling when I read a piece she wrote for the NYT about Pantelleria before 9-11. I had just been there and it seemed we liked some of the same things about that little island. She has been nice enough to correspond with me over these past 6-7 years. We met last fall, in NY, at the Fatty Crab, over a bottle of Etna Rosso. Hey, some of youse guys need to come to Texas, my airplane and hotel bills are piling up. Regina is more food oriented, but has a real appreciation for wine. I read her blog, Gastropoda, and am eagerly awaiting my decoding ring so I can always know who she is writing about. A good palate and a freelancer who has to get up every morning and fight to survive. No jetting about every 6 weeks to the South of France or the Costa Smeralda, this is a journalist who gets paid only for the words that get printed.

Another food writer, Derrick Schneider, from Berkeley. Derrick writes An Obsession with Food and Wine. We met also at the Napa Valley Wine Writers Symposium last year and we were hoping we’d see him there again. His writing is like having a meal at Chez Panisse. It’s clean, has depth and fills you up without stuffing you. Check his site out. He’s part of the new generation that is the future. Wonderful writer.

I met Jay Selman in Orange County, right around the corner from where I once lived. I was visiting my mom and sisters and stopped by his Grape Radio studio. A pioneer in the field and a really nice guy. I could fill up an Ipod with just his podcasts. You could learn all you needed to become write a wine expert by just listening to his programs.

I commented on Alder Yarrow’s Vinography, some time ago and was surprised to get a simple reply back, with a thank you. Here’s a guy who has a full-time job and puts out a blog with posts almost daily. Alder is an intense, serious, thoughtful guy and he approaches blogging very methodically. I also met him at the Napa Valley Wine Writers Symposium, where he has given presentations about wine from the blog-viewpoint. He has always been a good responder to email and I think his blog is a great reference for folks who want an uncluttered, no b.s. portal into the world of wine.

There are other bloggers I have met and I am sorry to not include them in this post. But it is getting late and I have to get some sleep. The parting shot I want to leave the room with is this: The internet has been a great way to meet new people and make new friendships and alliances. Blogging has been an extension of this and is such a more interactive way to make new connections than to just sit in front of a television. I feel like my tribe is out there, and even though we are sometimes the lost tribe, scattered about the world as we are, it is a new way to stay connected and engaged in the discussion and evolution of the wine world.

Oh, one more thing – the robot jellyfish? They are pictured here. Fear not, no animal has been harmed in the making of them. They're just something I picked up in Austin, when we were scouting a bistro for a SXSW event.



Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Tale of Two Straws

During the month of March, winter prepares to slink out of the bones, making way for green and grow and sun and spring. In Bordeaux and Alba, the season lingers just a little longer than elsewhere. In both places there are practitioners of the wine trade that are busy with the business of the last harvest.

In Bordeaux, it is the courtier who has the hallowed position of puppet master, deciding which of their property’s wines get sold to those fortunate negociants. Some courtiers are friends and some are family. Some are even hated. But in Bordeaux, it’s all about business, order, method and moving bottles.

The courtier can be a brother-in-law of the chateau owner. Perhaps his sister has gotten him this position so he can provide his family with a comfortable, if modest, life. He takes his lunch downtown in Bordeaux, sometimes ordering a plate of oysters, at other times steak frites. Occasionally he will have a glass of red or white Bordeaux, but will rarely venture further afield. More often than not, he dines alone. During the offering time he might join several other courtiers to exchange client information or get the latest news on how the pricing is going up in the higher classifications of Bordeaux.

Over in Alba it goes a little differently. While Bordeaux is used to dealing with an international clientele for many years, Alba and Piedmont in general are new to this kind of interaction with the outside world. For so many years the wines were kept secret and only for the people in the Langa. Occasionally wine would make its way to Torino or Milano. But generally, this was a provincial trade. Which is not to say it was a joyless one. It’s all about observation, selection, inspiration and finding clients for whom this wine will resonate.

One any given day in March one can find the Italian wine mediatore enjoying any number of Piemontese specialties in the little cafes that dot Alba and its environs. One day it might be Polenta con merluzzi e cipolle, another day it could be agnello al forno. All this would be accompanied with a fresh Dolcetto or Barbera, Nebbiolo or Barbaresco. It can be a lengthy lunch followed by a leisurely walk under the bare trees lining an empty street in town.

While the courtier has a plum job, good money, easy work and respect for his position in the community, it is the Italian mediatore who has really gotten a better deal in life. Perhaps he won’t have the exposure to the world of commerce and the possibility of squirreling away a few extra Euros. But a warm fire with a bowl of roasted chestnuts and a fresh glass of Grignolino waits for him faithfully.

When the courtier goes back to his office, there is a telex or two with orders for wine from the estate he represents. He will give the order to the secretary to process the order or give it a lottery number in case the harvest is light and must be randomly assigned. He might call his wife or his father, for a quick and clinical chat. It might be to discuss what to have for dinner or to check on the father’s vineyard. He works daily, in a solitary manner. Only when the wine is considered a special vintage and there is scarcity will he get invitations to come to Paris for a weekend. If not, it is oysters and steak frites for lunch and perhaps a tureen and poached fish at home in the evening with his wife and only child, a quiet yet doting daughter.

Life in the Langa, aside from work, revolves around the elements. Perhaps there is a plot of vineyard in back of the home, a chestnut tree and a spot where the truffles appear. Down by the creek there are thrushes that make a wonderful ingredient for his wife’s risotto. Or perhaps earlier in the day she and her mother had made fresh tagliatelle for an evening dish of “Tajarin” al sugo de fegatini. Again, accompanied by a nice bottle of Dolcetto.

Next month there are those who will be sent to Bordeaux, to meet with the negociants and château owners and courtiers. They will go into town and eat oysters and steak frites and drink red and white Bordeaux. It will all be very calm and orderly and civilized. It is wonderful in the way it is so ordained, for those with whom this kind of life resonates.

And there will be those of us who will be assigned to go to Italy and Alba and meet with the winery owners and estate managers and mediatores. We will go up to La Morra, perhaps to stop for a meal at Belvedere, in the fog above the Langa, while tables of cheese hold us hostage inside until the sun burns the nebbia off. Or we might have a plate of carne cruda in insalata or Macaron del frét at the Antica Torre in Barbaresco.

And while I do enjoy Bordeaux wines, I am so very thankful that I pulled the straw that will be sending me to Italy late in the month of March.







Photographs by Ruth Douillette

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Girls Night Out

Where do restaurant reviewers go when they all just want to let their hair down and enjoy a good meal? Many folks would like to know who they are and where they are. Last night, I was invited out to Chinese New Years with a whole bunch of them.

Yes, they do talk to each other and yes they are passionate about food and wine. And yes, they do love to dress up in disguises.

There are a few curious parallels between the world of the restaurant reviewer and the wine distributor. For one, there are many folks who think they can do a better job. I hear it all the time. Someone says to me, “I love to eat, I think I’d make a great restaurant critic.” Or “I love wine; I think I’m going to start importing it.” Knock yourself out.

A friend cast a sideways glance and a raised eyebrow at me the other day when I recanted some of my recent road trips. I got the impression that he didn’t feel too sorry for me. Not that I was looking exactly for sympathy, although I detected a hint of disgust in his gesture that said to me. “Look, you may call it work, but it isn’t hard work like I do.” That person would be correct, although to make the commitment to spend the amount of time I do, one would be better off if they didn’t have a wife and children. There is plenty to do and not all of it takes place between the daylight hours and in one’s home town. It is incessant and constant. And I do enjoy it.

Back to Chinese New Years. The meal was a three hour succession of small and communal plates. Jelly fish, duck gizzard, drunken chicken, flounder, a wonderful lobster and egg dish, plenty of protein and some dessert of little warm doughy balls that had a sesame paste inside that reminded me of an Abba Zabba.

Wine wise – I brought a few bottles. Among them were a Bruno Giacosa Brut, Joel Gott Chardonnay, Greco di Tufo from Mastroberardino, a couple of bottles of 1970 Chateau Latour, a 1990 Barolo Riserva from Cascina Bruni and a 1986 Zinfandel from Mazzocco (Cuneo and Saini Vineyard- 70 cases made). Of the '70 Latour, one was in prime form, the other was vinegar. The Barolo was a bit young and the Zinfandel was a graceful grandma, more wise than pretty. They didn’t really match too well with the food, but I didn’t know what to expect. I would love to have brought a Pigato and a Gavi, some of those dry Chenin Blancs from the Loire and maybe an oxidized white old-school Rioja.
Friday night, at the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition reception, I sampled a Vidal Blanc from Cedar Creek Winery in Wisconsin. The grapes were grown in New York. I found myself going back for more of that and another strange wine from Domaine Pinnacle. An ice apple wine from Quebec. Maybe I am in the sweet mood, maybe they were just different. They were tasty and delicious and righteously well made.

Early this morning at the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition, I sat in for Guy Stout who had to leave to proctor at the Court of Master Sommeliers in San Francisco. Good news, another one from Texas got his M.S. That would be young ‘un, Drew Hendricks, who worked himself beyond the limits of time and sanity. But he made it – A huge congrats to Drew Hendricks, M.S.

Back at the competition, at our tasting table this morning, there was a whole slew of Italianesque reds. I can’t say too much, for the whole morning sailed rapidly.

A decision soon for Vinitaly and what and who will be on the bus. I have a dear old friend who has never been to Italy. A serious wine person who sits at the table and takes the lesson from the grape as often as the rest of us who have been treading in the cellar of life. At one time a devout Francophile, now wanting to dip his hand in the font of Italian wine.

We twirl, we sniff, we sip and we spit. We taste, we make notes, recommend this or that and then someone goes to the café or the wine store or the internet and the march of progress goes forward. It’s not anything for the Nobel committee, but it’s a good livelihood, hard work, fair compensation and a life lived with a little joy and the hope for another sunrise to see and another bottle to open.

Romantic holiday heading our way this Thursday. It would also have been the birthday of dear Lizanne, who will be missed a full seven years, this coming Sunday.






Friday, February 08, 2008

On The Relationship Trail

When I first planned to visit Italy I spent time talking to a Jesuit priest from New Orleans, the Reverend Clement J. McNaspy. C.J., as he was known, was an intellect and a wit. He loved Italy. He had an amazing grasp of Sicilian culture and was plugged into the Roman Curia. One of his books, “The Lost City of Paraguay”, was the book that the Robert DeNiro movie, The Mission, was loosely based on. I remember meeting DeNiro in Colombia in 1985 when he was there filming. At the time I was a sound technician on a documentary about the Festival del Caribe.

I asked C.J. how many times he had been to Italy. He said 25 times. That was in 1971. I thought how amazing that someone could get there so many times. Now it is 2008 and I have passed that milestone.

Stefano Illuminati and I have been traveling around Texas with his importer and regional manager. We traveled 1,000 miles in four days, did wine dinners in three cities and consumed thousands and thousands of calories in food and wine. It was a bit like a rock concert blitz with wine. Instead of a bus we had a minivan.

Tonight Stefano is in Vancouver and I am back home. Very tired.

Looking back over my 25 trips in 37 years I have spent a lot of time with Stefano. We have grown up together. I met him first in 1984 when he was 20. Stefano was always overshadowed by the larger than life personality of his father, Dino. Big tree. But now Stefano is taking on more of the direction of the winery, steering it into the future until his son can come up and become involved.
Mandola family pictures

Another side to this story is the Mandola family in Houston. Brothers Vincent, Tony and Damian forged a lifelong friendship with the Illuminati family though Eugenio Spinozzi. Many trips to the winery, many dinners in the Luperia, the dining hall at the estate. Lots of laughs, some tears, many great memories. Eugenio, sadly, left us too soon, but destiny called him away from here. We talk about people who have died like it isn’t ever going to happen to us. Some day someone might talk about our passing as if it will never happen to them. And so on.

All this to say, through the vine we have made lifelong friendships with each other, the Illuminati and the Mandola families. And while sometimes it seems I am on the sidelines watching the unfolding of these two famous and powerful families, what can I do? Some of us observe and record the deeds of others. Am I diminished by their swath? Only if I think all this is about me.

The vine and the road leading to the vine have created bonds that ally us to Italy and the grape. And while it may seem we are out of Italy more than in it, I long ago realized the Italy that I refer to, daily, is embedded on a molecular level. Sure I am not an Italian like Stefano. And he is not an Italian like me. And most Italians are not precisely like each other. In fact there is sufficient evidence that we are all unique. All 6 billion of us. Comforting, no?


Food, wine, tomatoes, family, Italy, Texas, time, memories, love life and enduring amicizia.

Not something you can bid for on eBay or barter for on craigslist or find on some winery direct press release.

It is only something earned from time spent on the wine (and relationship) trail in Italy.



1984 ~ I'm on the far left and Stefano on the far right


1990 ~ Stefano on left and AC on right


2008 ~ AC on left and Stefano on right



Photos from the author

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