Above: “Between racism, boycotts, and an Italian-style pillory, Fulvio Bressan [has comitted] social media suicide,” wrote Alessandro Morichetti on Italy’s leading wine blog Intravino on Friday. “Fulvio Bressan’s words — beginning with ‘dirty black monkey’ — were shameful and indefensible.” Alessandro, a high-profile Italian wine professional, was among the first to post about his shock in the wake of Bressan’s rant.
“We are not racists. She’s the one who’s black.”
That’s the first line of an article posted yesterday on the landing page of La Repubblica, one of Italy’s leading national dailies.
It’s an ironic reference to an infamous and now aphoristic joke, most often recited in Lombard dialect: “mi razzista? le lu’ che l’è negher!”
You’re calling me a racist? He’s the one who’s negro!
The utterance bespeaks some — and NOT the majority of — Italians’ uncomfortable and often violent feelings about race. And the Repubblica article chronicles the tide of racial epithets that have washed over Dr. Cécile Kyenge, Italy’s minister of integration and its first African-Italian minister, in her four months in office.
(Here’s a link to the best English-language coverage I could find. It’s not exhaustive but it will give you an idea of how widespread the issue is and how it touches nearly all walks of Italian life.)
“The method is always the same,” writes the author of the Repubblica article. “First an insult is hurled” at her. “Then, an apology is issued. Then atonement is announced and assurances are given that racism has nothing to do with it and that it’s a matter of political opinion.”
A lot has been said about Friulian winemaker Fulvio Bressan’s racially charged rant that appeared on Facebook on Thursday.
I recommend that you read ex-pat blogger Katie Parla’s editorial; Stefano’s comment on my coverage of the incident; Alder Yarrow’s reflections on Vinography; and, if you read Italian, please see the post by the Roman blog Puntarella Rossa, whose authors document a long string of racially charged epithets posted by Bressan on his Facebook.
But the person who perhaps said it best was our country’s leading expert on Italian wine, Antonio Galloni, who wrote the following in the Vinous forum: “I was deeply shocked, amazed and saddened to read these comments. Unfortunately, in Italy this way of thinking is not as unusual as one might think or hope.”
How do I feel about all of this?
And when my friends, Italian wine educator Hande Leimer and Katie Parla, who both reside in Rome, first wrote about the episode, I felt it was important for me to cover it as objectively as possible. And that’s why I merely reported about it and rendered a translation of the comments in question.
Anyone who knows me or follows my blog is well aware of my feelings about racism.
And let it suffice to say that Bressan’s wines have been disallowed from our home for many years now and I was not his friend on Facebook.
Why such backlash from wine professionals in the United States and Italy?
Above: Morgan Pruitt, a friend and a U.S. wine professional whom I respect immensely, tweeted this photo yesterday. Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, a leading authority on the wines of Friuli, was perhaps the first to tweet that he would no longer offer the wines on his list.
Some Italian wine and food bloggers have suggested that the outrage is hypocritical and based in heavy-handed moralism (note the -ism).
If you examined the politics and racial attitudes of every winemaker in Italy, wrote one prominent Italian wine blogger, you’d have to lower your expectations (I’m paraphrasing).
Of course, most Italian winemakers — regardless of their feelings — don’t shout racial epithets at the top of their social media lungs as Bressan did.
I believe that the outrage here in the U.S. is based more in the disconnect between the way Bressan has branded himself here and his extreme views on race.
As one Italian-American wine professional commented on Facebook yesterday: “It’s rather ironic that this guy has made a name for himself through small regional U.S. importers that give their heart and soul to promote his wines to progressive restaurants promoting sustainability, farm-to-table sensibility, and small production wine lists.”
Bressan has worked aggressively in the U.S. market and many restaurant professionals have been stunned by the gap between the person they thought they knew and the person who has emerged on social media.
Will this hurt sales of his wines in the U.S.?
Anecdotally, I can tell you that here in Austin — where his wines are very popular among the hipster wine crowd — the wine buyers I’ve spoken to are not removing the wines from their lists.
“Oddly enough, a table byo’d tonight… Bressan rosé,” wrote the owner of one of Austin’s most popular restaurants yesterday in an email. “I didn’t spoil their drink with the news.”
There are plenty of Bressan fans out there who will never learn of this episode. And that’s fine with me. I feel badly about the hardship that Bressan has created for his importer and distributors in our country. But ultimately, this episode was his own making.
Just like the Brunello controversy, most wine lovers in the U.S. will never learn of this episode and those who have learned about it will soon forget.
But for some of us, as Alder put it in his bottom line, “Bressan’s wines will never taste the same again.”