The wilds of Irpinia and Daniela Mastroberardino’s extraordinary wines (Terredora’s is a story yet to be told)

irpiniaAbove: Irpinia, the wild volcanic highlands of Campania where some of Italy’s most extraordinary wines are raised (click the image for a higher-resolution version.

Of the nine trips I made to Italy this year and the literally hundreds of wines I tasted, one of the most remarkable visits was with Daniela Mastroberardino, co-owner of the Terredora winery, who took me on a tour of her family’s vineyards in Montefusco township in Irpinia, Campania’s wild volcanic highlands.

Like many U.S.-based Italian wine professionals, I’ve logged countless hours of vineyard tours and winery tastings in northern Italy between Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, and Friuli. And there are few Tuscan hilltop villages between Montalcino and Rùfina that I haven’t visited over the nearly 30 years that I’ve been traveling to Italy.

Of course, I’ve also tasted (and have drunk with gusto) more than my fair share of Irpinia wines: Taurasi, Fiano d’Avellino, Greco di Tufo are all appellations whose wines are increasingly available to American fine wine consumers like me. But until this year, I had never spent any time with those wines in situ.

What a revelation to tour these forgotten, untamed hills of southern Italy’s wine country! As we drove up and down the steep roads that lead to and from Montefusco village (one of the hubs of Irpinian viticulture), I remembered hearing Italian wine maven Charles Scicolone talking about his early visits to Italy in the 1970s, when Italian farmland was just beginning to be developed by big industry. “There were vines everywhere,” he would tell me, noting that the Italian countryside has been radically transformed since those years. Driving through Irpinia, I imagine that it resembles the Italy that Charles saw when he first visited some 40 years ago.

best-campania-winesAbove: the only industry in Irpinia is grape growing and winemaking, Daniela explained. These highlands, with their volcanic top soil, are bordered on every side by active and extinct volcano mountain chains. As you drive from Naples up into the hills and then past Avellino, your ears begin to pop from the change in altitude and you enter into a viticulture landscape seemingly suspended in the sky with volcanoes as its moorings (click the image for a higher-resolution version).

Although fine wine has been produced in Irpinia for millennia, the volcanic top soil — mostly the fallout from ancient eruptions on Mt. Vesuvius, I was told — played a fundamental roll in the development of the wine trade here in the 19th century: the tiny grains of volcanic sand that form the top layer of farmland here made it impossible for phylloxera to thrive. Echoing what grape growers told me in Santorini, for example, the little creatures simply can’t negotiate the fine soil (or as one winemaker put it, they can’t jump from one grain to the next, making it impossible for them to survive).

antica-trattoria-di-pietro-dal-1934Above: one of my top meals of 2016 was at the Antica Trattoria di Pietro dal 1934, where Daniela treated me to these Campania-style cavatelli (different from Puglia-style) dressed with tomato and wild herbs. This dish and the entire meal at Pietro alone would have been worth the journey. Di Pietro doesn’t seem to have a website but it does have a website but it does have a Facebook. Note to Italian gastronauts: seek this place out and you won’t be disappointed. And note to Italian wine connoisseurs: a deep-reaching cellar brimming with older vintages of Taurasi, including the 1998 Terredora that I enjoyed thoroughly.

The other revelation for me was tasting current and older vintages of her family’s wines with Daniela. As she opened an unforgettable flight of wines from the 2000s and even late 1990s, I was reminded of what a wise wine buyer told me many years ago in Austin: trust the wine, not the story.

Daniela’s wines have always been marketed and positioned as excellent restaurant-friendly expressions of Campania winemaking, with an emphasis on their modern-style and their appeal to modern sensibilities in wine tastes. And her family’s wines are immensely successful in the U.S., where you can find them on a wide range of wine lists.

But as we tasted over dinner and tasted through the wines, and then the next day, as she gave me and a pair of Milanese wine merchants a tour of Irpinia wine country, I realized that no one had every told me the real story of these wines. There’s a lot more soul in these bottles than I think a lot of people understand. To see the pristine wild areas where they are grown and to hear the tale of blood, sweat, and tears that the Mastroberardino siblings (the children of Walter Mastroberardino) shed as they built a winery from scratch in the earthquake-prone highlands in the 1990s, I began to wrap my mind around these wines and what they mean in the context of Irpinian viticulture.

best-taurasi-1998Above: this 1998 Taurasi was just one of the older vintages of her family wines that Daniela opened for me. What an eye-opening wine! Very fresh, with perfectly integrated wood and super vibrant fruit flavors. Tasting this wine and learning the story behind it, really helped me to understand what these wines are about.

I also really loved an older vintage of Fiano that she poured for me: with aging these wines achieve nuanced layers of fruit and mineral flavors, notes that you miss — I believe — when you taste the current vintages.

When I really took the time to learn more about the places where they are grown and to taste them patiently and in context (and not just wine a sales rep who’s pulled them out of a chilled wine bag on a hot summer day in Los Angeles), I realized that these wines have a lot more substance than their deep-punted California-style bottles reveal at first sight.

Both the 1998 classic Taurasi and the 2004 single-vineyard Taurasi Pago dei Fusi (which I don’t believe is available in the U.S.) really blew me away with their sheer beauty. Great wines with a great story that has yet to be told…

Thank you, Daniela, for the wonderful visit and the gracious hospitality. That was such an eye-opening and memorable visit!

This is just the first in my series of posts from Naples and Campania. Stay tuned and thanks for being here…

Italy’s “no” vote and Italians’ certain uncertainty

roman-ruins-italyA lot of people have asked me to share my insights into Sunday’s referendum on political reform in Italy and the implications of the Italians’ resounding “no” vote. (In case you’re not following the New York Times, check out this recent coverage of the fallout from this week’s vote, an overview of why it could prove to be a pivotal moment in Italy’s new future and the stability of the European Union and its currency.)

On my last visit to Italy, the first night I was in the country in early November, I was invited to a dinner party at the home of a successful hairdresser. The 8 or so guests (give or take a few that stopped by to say hello) were all progressive middle-aged professionals, people more or less my age and like me. Naturally, they grilled me not for dinner but on my thoughts about Donald Trump and could he possibly be elected president?

As in many Italian homes during dinner, the television was on full-blast throughout our repast. There was a lot of coverage of earthquake relief (central Italy has been struck by a series of major earthquakes this year and many ill-prepared hilltop towns there have been devastated by the powerful seismic activity). Art historian Salvatore Settis (whom I knew during my Scuola Normale and Getty days during grad school) was on, talking about his new book, If Venice Dies. And of course, there was coverage of the December referendum on constitutional overhaul.

When I shifted the conversation from Trump to the referendum, the table fell silent. Not one guest at the dinner party wanted to break the brio of the evening by unleashing polarizing, divisive thoughts and feelings on the subject. Amen. And so it was.

According to most accounts, youth unemployment in Italy continues to hover at 40 percent. When we complain about the lack of job opportunities for young people in the U.S., we often don’t realize that our outlook is much rosier than for nearly all of our European counterparts. And Italy, where economic recovery from the years of the financial crisis has yet to take hold, is facing challenging times ahead.

I work in and write about Italian wine, but my life in Italy brings me into contact with people there from all walks of life (thanks to the many years I lived, studied, and worked there). Among my peers, the only people I see who are thriving are those who have created their own small businesses. Most of the people I went to school with enjoy job security (mostly in publishing and marketing) but many are deeply disheartened by their inability to change their economic status or provide greater economic mobility for their children.

I even have a few friends who are postermen for Italian mammismo. The only difference is that, at 50 years old (like me), living with your mother is no longer cute.

The economic challenges of middle-class life in Italy have been weighing on my peers and counterparts for more than a decade (the seeds of the current status quo go back to the demise of the corrupt socialist coalition in the 1990s). This seemingly unsurmountable intractability was likely what prompted the silence that fell over the table when I asked my dinner companions to share their thoughts about the referendum. Better to embrace the brio of the moment than to bust open the fears and insecurities that brimmed beneath.

On Sunday night, after the results of the referendum were clear, a good friend of mine wrote the following on his Facebook. He’s a successful winemaker who also works in a political lobby for farmers and grape growers.

Listening to [Massmo] D’Alema laughing on the radio, saying that today was a great day, with the Elio e Le Storie Tese song “Land of Persimmons” in the background, makes me realize that we are definitively SCREWED [sic] as a nation.

Happy Monday to all the people who will continue to break their backs to make their businesses succeed, to all the people who are creating jobs as they try to show foreigners that we are something more than the “Picturesque Country” in [actor and comic] Enrico Montesano’s “English Lady” [skit].

I’ve embedded the videos of the song and the skit below. His mood, I believe, is representative of many successful middle-aged Italians who view the EU and constitutional reform as vital to Italy’s future.

The populist movements, on both the far right and far left in Italy, see the outcome of this week’s vote as an opening for their agenda (although a streamlining of the Italian parliament, which would have been set into motion had the result been “yes,” would have also opened political channels for Italy’s rising populist parties).

To understand the implications of the vote and its probable legacy, see this New York Times piece, “A New Wave of Popular Fury Could Hit Europe in 2017.” In it, Alissa Rubin writes:

“The political demise of Mr. Renzi, the Italian prime minister, and his reform agenda removes an unabashedly pro-European leader who had hoped to ignite economic growth by ending an era of crippling budget austerity. Instead, he may be remembered for creating an opening for politicians who are openly hostile to Europe and the euro.”

Renzi’s fall could very well usher in an era when Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement enters into the mainstream of Italian politics (again, see the Rubin’s piece for the Times). It’s probable that Grillo will call for a referendum on leaving the Eurozone (the first step in leaving the EU). If Italy, a founding member, were to leave the EU, it’s likely that the union would collapse.

It’s hard for me to believe there would be a moment in my lifetime, let alone my children’s lifetime, when the future of the EU could be in question. But then again, I never thought it possible that a populist candidate like Donald Trump could be delivered to the White House on a fundamentally bigoted platform.

The one thing that is certain about the results of Sunday’s vote in Italy is uncertainty. So many Italian wine bloggers love to quote the famous line from The Leopard: “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.” Scarcely do they know the portent of this utterance in the historical context in which it was first spoken and its deep-reaching relevance today.

In the wake of this week’s vote, maybe it’s more fitting to say: everything needs to stay the same so everything can change.

“I Believe in You and Me” NEW ALBUM from PARZEN FAMILY SINGERS

Syncopate the beat, it will make your feet to the music move
In the whole wide world there is no soul it cannot soothe
In the rhythm lives the take and give that make the groove
Music is in everyone a mystery that we have sung for you

Here’s the new album, “I Believe in You & Me,” from Parzen Family Singers. Please download it from BandCamp FOR FREE and import it into your iTunes and play it LOUD. Nothing could mean more to me. THANK YOU! You can also listen via the SoundCloud embed below. And listen to our new single, “I Like Playing a Game (featuring Georgia P),” in the YouTube above.

It’s dedicated to my wife and lover Tracie P:

Before I met you I could hardly tie my shoes
Before you came into my life I could never lose the lonely blues
But knowing that you love me there’s no way that i could lose
You are my wife and lover, you are my muse

It may take a moment for the SoundCloud audio embed to load below.

Click here for Parzen Family Singers “I Believe in You and Me” BandCamp.

THANK YOU FOR LISTENING TO OUR MUSIC. IT MEANS THE WORLD TO ME.

Happy holidays, everyone!

back-cover-2016

8 wine blogs Italian wine professionals need to know @UniSG

jancis-robinsonAbove: I caught up with Jancis Robinson (center) this fall at the Boulder Burgundy Festival, where I serve as the event’s official blogger. Some people call her “the world’s greatest wine writer.” She is. But I call her the world’s coolest wine blogger. She is super nice (and so delightfully funny as well). And hers is one of the 8 essential wine blogs Italian wine professionals need to know. That’s winemaker Étienne de Montille on the left, Master Sommelier and festival founder Brett Zimmerman on the right.

Among the English-language wine blogs that we discussed at length in our seminars last month at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont (for the Master’s in Italian Wine Culture), there were two that I didn’t include in a post yesterday on eight wine blogs that Italian wine professionals need to know: one was Elaine Brown’s Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews and the other was the Jordan Winery Blog by Lisa Mattson.

I didn’t include them because neither focuses on or publishes regular content devoted to Italian wine. But both merit the attention of anyone working in the fine wine trade today.

Elaine’s, because of the way she has pushed the envelope and expanded the horizons of wine blogging. Over the arc of her career as a wine-focused writer, she has created a sui generis form of enoscripture, blending the personal, the political, and the vinous in a stream and feed of often spectacular and compelling quasi-real-time memoir (can you tell I am a fan and a friend?).

Lisa’s, because, perhaps to a greater extent than any other, she has elevated the benchmark for what social media can do in terms of promoting awareness and visibility of a wine and winery brand. In the days that ran up to the U.S. presidential election, as my students and I met for our seminars, we watched Lisa lambaste the now president elect like the fat Christmas turkey he is. It was a bold and audacious move for a California winery brand (and I agree with and share the sentiment wholly). But beyond (our shared) political or ideological leanings, it revealed an authenticity and a deeply personalized approach to marketing that Lisa has mastered despite and thanks to an impressive technical apparatus that she has realized. Brava, Lisa!

Of course, we also discussed Alder Yarrow’s pioneering blog, Vinography. He was one of the early trailblazers of America’s new wave of wine writing (I remember when Lettie Teague made him the first wine blogger to speak at Aspen).

Tom Wark’s excellent Fermentation was another we looked at in Piedmont. Another one of the great pioneers of the new wave and another benchmark for what can be achieved in terms of activism and marketing in the wine trade.

And last and least, we gave honorable mention to the venerated Italian wine critic and broadcaster Levi Dalton, that beloved denizen of the New York wine scene, a Donald Trump among wine dilettanti (remember the song I wrote for him last year?).

Here are the eight that I profiled for UniSG this week: not an exhaustive muster roll but a hand list and a good place to start (not finish) for Italian wine professionals.

Click here to learn more about UniSG’s Master’s in Italian Wine Culture Program.

Op-ed: Prosecco growers are not “exterminators” as some in the media have portrayed us

prosecco-grape-bunchUnnoticed by America’s wine-focused media, a recent episode of the popular RAI-produced news show “Report” entitled “Prosecco Village” portrayed Prosecco growers and bottlers as greedy entrepreneurs who have exploited the wine’s popularity at the expense of residents of the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Aggressive spraying of vineyards, claim the show’s producers, have led to higher levels of cancer and other illnesses among people who live there. “Report” is known for its controversial and often sensationlistic coverage. (Its show devoted to “cancer-causing” wood-fired ovens in artisanal pizzerias in Naples was a recent example of its over-the-top approach to Italy’s food industry.) The episode created quite a stir in the Italian wine world, with many pundits and artisanal winemakers defending the Prosecco growers. For Italian readers, in case you missed it, see this post by my friend and colleague Alessandro Morichetti for Intravino. Today, I translated the following op-ed by my client (and friend) Luca Ferraro, a certified organic grower in the Asolo Prosecco DOCG and one of the winemakers I admire most for his honesty and earnestness.

Have you noticed? Recently, it seems that giving Prosecco a bad name has become an international trend. Everyone needs to spend at least five minutes of her/his time explaining the reasons behind the phenomenon of the most widely sold Italian sparkling wine in the world. And if possible, they have to give the story a negative spin. It seems that our planet is suddenly full of brilliant people who want to become presidents and directors of grape grower consortiums. The attacks arrive from every corner: Sensationalist TV programs, environmentalists, winemakers from other appellations, each with their own score to settle.

Prosecco is on an express train. People like it. Everyone can appreciate it. It’s easy to understand. It can be served for nearly every occasion. Excuse the expression but a lot of people are pissed off that such a simple wine has claimed such a large slice of the market.

Today, I’d like to address the “environmentalist branch.” But first I’d like you note the following figures.

The three Prosecco DOCG townships:

Asolo – roughly 1,000 hectares planted to vine
Conegliano-Valdobbiadene – roughly 8,000 hectares planted to vine

Prosecco DOC, which includes Treviso province and Friuli-Venezia Giulia – roughly 25,000 hectares planted to vine

Despite the wide area where Prosecco is produced in its various expressions, critics have focused on the hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. In those townships, the density of vineyard plantings is certainly higher. But it’s this very characteristic that has made the landscape there so compelling. Over the course of the decades since the Second World War, wise and able farmers have shaped its beauty like they were new Canovas, lovers of their appellation and the places where they make their homes.

The beauty of these places has prompted a growing number of people to settle there. They come seeking the peaceful and enchanting countryside and they want to be in contact with nature.

But this can lead to problems when the townships allow people to build homes among the vines, often refurbishing old barns. They don’t stop to consider that these same persons can decide, from one day to the next, that you, a grape grower, who has always lived there, can no longer spray your vineyards because it might bother them.

I’m certainly not here to claim that there haven’t been problems when farming and humans live together. There are still problems today. But journalists often decide to foment fear by claiming that our area is a sure-fire source of tumors and other grave illnesses. They claim that our vines cause landslides and flashfloods. They present grape growers as if they were exterminators. And when they do so not to engage in earnest and well-documented journalism but merely in order to raise their number of shares and clicks, I need to share my two cents.

Local government officials in Treviso have created a roundtable to understand the problems in Prosecco today. I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in the gatherings as a member of FIVI, the Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers. Other participants include town mayors, consortiums, environmentalists, citizens, and other professionals.

We have spoken to researchers who study disease data and they tell us that the incidence of tumors is lower than in the rest of the Veneto region and it aligns with national levels. We have spoken to Italian Forest and Wildlife Rangers who inform us that that the number of forest fires is lower because there is less fallow land. We have discovered that it’s thanks to grape growers who manage “green” areas that there are fewer landslides and flashfloods, catastrophes that are caused by blight and overdevelopment.

Nobody ever talks about the efforts by the consortiums to study and create protocols that limit the use of chemicals to treat vine disease.

Nobody ever talks about how farmers are constantly trying to follow the consortiums’ recommendations and guidelines in order to better manage the vines. Over the last 15 years, the use of chemicals in the vineyards has consistently decreased.

Nobody ever talks about how there is a new generation of grape growers, with attitudes very different than 40 years ago. They work together to study, to research, and to tackles problems in the vineyards with the best possible results in every given vintage.

Nobody talks about the townships’ aggressive regulation of our work, something that we must rightly adhere to.

Nobody talks about how the water table in the Veneto region has a bill of health that puts it far under the threshold for risk. That’s because the Veneto region has one of the most aggressive protocols in Italy for the collection of data, the number of sites monitored, and the number of substance monitored.

And all of this was in place long before the TV cameras arrived.

We can always improve in our work and in our lives. And it’s our duty to work together to make the hills of the Prosecco DOCG a beautiful and healthy place.

It’s party of what we do for a living. Can you think of a quality producer of wines who isn’t interested in making her/his workplace healthy and beautiful to behold? How could we grape growers deface our true master in our lives and our work?

One thing that we often forget to say, as if it were an insignificant thing, is that grape growers are the first and foremost to “live” their appellation. We were born here and we live here. And this is our home.

Luca Ferraro
grape grower, winemaker
Asolo Prosecco DOCG

The Do Bianchi Holiday Six-Pack is here. Thanks for your support and happy holidays!

irpinia-wine-country-campania-grecoThe land of Irpinia (Campania, southern Italy, near Naples) is as wild as it is delicious.

Please place your order before Wednesday at noon PST.
Order simply by emailing me here.

The Do Bianchi Christmas 2016 Six-Pack
a flight of six dinner party wines
perfect for a part of 6-8 guests

Bele Casel NV Prosecco Colfòndo
Struzziero 2015 Fiano d’Avellino
Agriverde 2015 Cerasuolo di Abruzzo
Nanfro 2014 Frappato
Ballarin 2011 Barolo
Alice Bel Colle 2015 Moscato d’Asti

$130 per six-pack
plus CA sales tax, shipping, and handling

10% discount applied if you buy two or more.

It’s been a busy year for me traveling to Italy (9 trips this year!) and traveling across the country leading Franciacorta wine tastings for wine professionals, writers, and consumers.

One of my biggest revelations was my first trip to Irpinia (in Campania), which I made in early November of this year. Until I actually headed up the mountains from Naples and visit Taurasi and Avellino, I really didn’t understand how “heroic” these wines are. I knew they were great. And we’ve been serving wonderful Taurasi, Greco di Tufo, and Fiano d’Avellino at Sotto (the restaurant in LA where I co-author the wine list) since it opened more than five years ago. But when I traveled there and discovered what a desolate yet beautiful place it is, I realized that I really hadn’t wrapped my mind around how special they are. Aside from an old-school restaurant or two, a handful of pizzerias, and maybe one or two “destination” restaurants, there really isn’t much up in those volcanic mountains beyond wine and grape growing. It’s an extremely depressed part of Italy where relief from the financial crisis is still far off on the horizon. It’s also one of the most “extremely” beautiful parts of Italy I’ve ever visited: in part because it is so underdeveloped. We’ve all drunk these wines in super hip restaurants in NYC and LA and some of us have even drunk them in Naples. But to go see where they are raised and to meet some of the people who make them was as inspirational as it was eye-opening. If you’ve ever read Pasolini’s essay about life in Naples, you’ve had a taste — just a taste, mind you — of how these places are so unique in the panorama of Italian viticulture today and over the millennia.

The 2016 Christmas six-pack includes the 2015 Fiano d’Avellino from Struzziero, a hard-scrabble winemaker who makes extraordinary wines imho.

The other big jaw-dropper in this flight is the 2011 Barolo by Ballarin, one of those under-the-radar producers that I discovered last year. I tasted with the winemaker in July in Barolo village and was so impressed by his wines that I had hoped to offer his Anascetta in this flight. But sadly, it was sold out. Ballarin’s Barolo is old-school, all the way, the way I like it. (As my buddy at Chambers St. Wines like to say, I like big botti! In other words, big, ahem, barrels.).

Like all my offerings, this one is flight up like a dinner party. Serve in the order I recommend and you will move up in body until you get to the biggest and boldest of the wines, the Barolo. Then the Moscato is a dulcis in fundo wine to serve at the end with fresh fruit (ideally). It will serve 6-8 people depending on the crowd. And of course, all of the wines are great on their own as well. Just remember to always serve with food in accordance with the Italian culinary maxim: no wine without food, no food without wine.

Thanks so much for your support and happy holidays!

Bele Casel NV Prosecco Colfòndo (Proseccoland)

Old-school Prosecco the way the nonno made it except for cleaner and more focused. Serve “clear” by decanting the sediment (by storing upright in your fridge overnight) or serve cloudy (the way we do it) by gently inverting the bottle before you pour.

Struzziero 2015 Fiano d’Avellino (Irpinia, Campania)

See my notes about. I LOVE the fresh, fruit-driven nose on this wine.

Agriverde 2015 Cerasuolo di Abruzzo (Abruzzo)

Bright and fresh and pink. Salty with good fruit.

Nanfro 2014 Frappato (Sicily)

This is one of those electric wines, with really vibrant fruit on the nose and in the mouth. It’s definitely a “wow” wine.

Ballarin 2011 Barolo (Piedmont)

See my notes above. This wine can also be cellared with great results and makes for an awesome gift.

Alice Bel Colle 2015 Moscato d’Asti (Piedmont)

Serve with fresh fruit at the end of a meal or serve with brunch (this is around 7 percent alcohol so it’s a perfect breakfast wine or Christmas morning wine).

The Sons of Confederate Veterans Memorial in Orange, Texas and what it means in Trump America

sons-confederate-veterans-memorial-orangeThe closest Starbucks to my in-laws’ house in Orange, Texas is nearly 22 miles away, roughly 30 minutes by car.

I was there early on Thanksgiving Day using the Google-powered internet and working quietly on a project that I’m trying to finish before year’s end. Over the 3 hours I was there (from about 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., more or less), I saw Asian kids, black kids, Mexican kids, white kids, and even a table of camouflage-wearing middle-aged white people, women and men, who spoke very loudly of their approval of Donald Trump and the new direction he’s taking our country.

Taking the long way back to Orange, which lies on the Louisiana border, I made a detour to visit the Sons of the Confederate Veterans “Memorial of the Wind,” which is located on Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. where it intersects Interstate 10 (in the photo above).

When you exit the eastbound freeway, before you travel beneath the underpass to get to the north side of the road where the memorial is located, you see the billboard below. It “welcomes” visitors to Orange, home of the West Orange Stark High School football team. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. is one of the city’s main thoroughfares and so it’s only natural that the exit is well-trafficked.
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Parzen Family Thanksgiving Letter 2016

georgia-lilaWow, what a year it’s been!

A year of a lot of high highs and low lows, moments of great joy and moments of deep-reaching soul searching as we try to figure out how the world is changing around us.

All in all, in the little bubble that we call home in Westbury (in southwest Houston), it’s been a wonderful year.

The girls are growing and growing and are enjoying their Westbury Methodist Day School pre-school immensely. And Georgia is looking forward to next year in kindergarten at Parker Elementary, a music magnet school (and one of the reasons we have decided to stay in this neighborhood). Lila Jane started dance this year at Banbury Dance School (whose mistresses are straight out of central casting) and she can’t get enough of it. Both girls are healthy and happy and bubbly and so much fun to be around.

The other day, I cried a little as I said goodbye to them before I left for an umpteenth trip to Italy.

“Don’t be sad, daddy,” said Georgia confidently. “You need to be happy on your trip!”

They’re both polite, sweet, and very social little girls and they really understand the importance of empathy and kindness to others. What a blessing they are to us!

georgia-lila-compTracie continues to bake and sell “character cookies” and that’s been a fun adventure for her in part because of the new community it’s opened up to our family, both here in Houston and online. She recently made cookies for a best friend’s wedding in Manhattan but hasn’t abandoned all the baptisms and birthday parties where character cookies are needed here in our corner of southeast Texas. She’s also really been enjoying her work with Rodan + Fields skincare, another network and community that’s opened up to her through her professional life. As the girls become easier to care for, I think it’s been great for her to expand her social life through work. And the extra family income ain’t hurting either!

My marketing consulting business continues to thrive and I have some great new clients lined up for next year. But the thing I’m the most excited about is my new adjunct position with the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, which will become an EU-accredited institution of higher education next year. I taught one seminar there this year in Italian and next year, I’ll be teaching three seminars in the Master’s in Italian Wine Culture program — all in English. It’s funny how I’ve come full circle to being a teacher again, something I love and enjoy dearly. That Ph.D. came in handy after all!

I’ve handed off wine director duties at Sotto in Los Angeles to my colleague there but I will continue to consult on the wine program there as we prepare to open a new downtown restaurant called Rossoblu (part of the same restaurant group). Writing the list at Sotto was so rewarding, on so many levels. And now I’m really looking forward to writing a pan-Italian list, with a focus on sparkling wine, at the new venue.

All in all, there’s really not much to complain about. One of my career goals for 2017, I like to joke, is to go to Italy less (I made 9 trips there this year!). Not a bad problem to have, I guess…

The rapidly evolving political climate in the U.S. and Europe has both Tracie and me deeply concerned about the future of tolerance and humanity- and humanitarian-focused policy in the western world. And we are also carefully watching the December political reform referendum in Italy, which will ultimately affect so many people we love and people we work with. I haven’t shied from writing about my political and ideological views on the blog. The issues at stake are too important to me — and to the future of our family — for me to remain silent. In January, discourse and posturing will become action and activism. May G-d help us all. May G-d bless us all.

In the meantime, Tracie and the girls are the light and the joy that make me excited to get out of bed every morning and the images that I conjure in my mind when anxiety keeps me from sleep.

I hope this letter finds you all well. Sending much love and hope from Texas. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Jeremy

P.S. I wasn’t able to do a wine club offering in time for Thanksgiving this year. But I’m planning one that will go out early next week. If you’re interested please let me know asap. I’ve already taken a lot of orders and the wine is going fast (even before the offer goes out).

P.P.S. In case you missed Parzen Family Singers’ new Christmas songs, click here to hear/download them! Happy holidays!

tracie

2 NEW Christmas Songs from Parzen Family Singers…

Beware of darkness but fear not the night
There will be sunshine by Christmas light…

christmas-album-cover-2016-betaThere’s a strict rule in the Parzen family home: thou shall not listen to Christmas music (even though you love it so much) until the week of Thanksgiving (and not after January 1).

After all, part of what makes Christmas music so special is that you only get to hear it six weeks of the entire year.

Here are two new Christmas songs from Parzen Family Singers. I hope you enjoy them.

You can download them on Parzen Family Singers Bandcamp.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Trump America: Post-its from the edge (and the mood here in Houston)

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence…

post-its-union-square-trumpAbove: the number of Post-it notes at the Union Square subway station in Manhattan continues to grow. In another chapter of my life, I visited that subway stop nearly every day. This image and the ones that follow were sent to me by my friend and Manhattanite Ben Shapiro. Click on the images below for high-resolution versions and feel free to share them as you like.

According to a Fox News post published this week, “President-elect Donald Trump’s immigration advisers could recommend a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries and countries with significant problems with terrorism, according to a top ally.”

“Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach,” wrote the editors of the Fox website, “an immigration hard-liner who has been advising Trump, told Reuters that transition policy advisers are weighing the merits of such a registry.”

“A prominent supporter of Donald J. Trump [Carl Higbie] drew concern and condemnation from advocates for Muslims’ rights on Wednesday,” reported the New York Times this week, “after he cited World War II-era Japanese-American internment camps as a ‘precedent’ for an immigrant registry suggested by a member of the president-elect’s transition team.”

As a Jew who grew up attending a minimum of two hours of Shoah studies each week at Hebrew school until I became bar mitzvah at age 13 and as a student of European history throughout my undergraduate and graduate student career, the thought of a public registry of persons based on their religious beliefs sounds as horrific to me today as it did when President Trump first entertained the idea during his campaign many months ago.

The difference is that now, in Trump America, the registry could very well be implemented.

As a Jew I stand with our Muslim sisters and brothers and I applaud the formation, this week, of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, “a new national group of leading Muslim and Jewish Americans [that] was launched this month at a meeting convened by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).”

I applaud Jewish and Muslim leaders for taking a stand on the terrifying prospect that our nation could embrace such a policy. And I hope Christian leaders will do the same.

Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz are devoutly religious political figures within the Republican party. It’s hard for me to imagine that a registry based on religious beliefs will align with their Christian beliefs. I trust that their belief in G-d and the teachings of Jesus Christ will trump Trump’s vision for a religious-based registry.

Here in Houston, the mood is tense and people speak of the current situation — as Trump administration appointments trickle in — in hushed and restrained tones. So far my friends on the right have refrained (mostly) from deriding me for my views. (Surprisingly, the criticism of my politically inspired blogging has come mostly from the West Bank of the country.) Friends on the left seem to wait until the “coast is clear” before they speak up about their feelings. But when they do, their pain and disbelief seem to bleed from them.

Please have a look at the Post-its that follow. These tiny notes, like prayers tucked into the ancient walls of the Temple, speak volumes… (Thank you, Ben, for sending and sharing them.)

subway-post-its-new-york

new-york-city-protests

trump-racist