Rivella, barbarian at the gate: the Brunello debate goes mainstream (WARNING: POST CONTAINS POETRY)

Above: The grapes are ripening about a week late in Montalcino but conditions are excellent, says Alessandro Bindocci (Fabrizio Bindocci’s son) in his blog Montalcino Report. Alessandro has been updating the blog regularly with harvest and weather reports.

Yesterday a friend emailed me this article in Reuters online, “Battle of Brunello exposes row over purity vs blends,” by top wine writer Robert Whitley, my fellow San Diegan. In it he summarized the events that led up to Ezio Rivella’s controversial election as Brunello producers association president and Fabrizio Bindocci’s passionate if unsuccessful bid to stop Rivella’s march of progress. (For a more detailed account of what happened in recent months in Montalcino, you can scroll and leaf through this thread here at Do Bianchi.)

    The controversy over the election has put the spotlight on growing divisions in the wine world as some producers take a more global approach to their craft while others stick to tradition.

    Opponents such as Bindocci are passionate defenders of the status quo and are convinced that the 77-year-old Rivella as the modern face of Brunello could put the soul of Brunello at stake.

Has Montalcino become the frontline in the global battle (“growing divisions of the wine world”) of modernism vs. traditionalism?

In a “why didn’t I think of that” moment, I thoroughly enjoyed Robert’s superb allusion to the great poem “Waiting for the Barbarians” by Greek poet Cavafy wherein he implied that Rivella is a “barbarian at the gate.” It’s probably more a propos than Robert bargained for, especially in the light of the uncanny parallels. Poetry lovers read on…

    What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

    The barbarians are due here today.

    Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
    Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

    Because the barbarians are coming today.
    What laws can the senators make now?
    Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

    Why did our emperor get up so early,
    and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
    on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

    Because the barbarians are coming today
    and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
    He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
    replete with titles, with imposing names.

    Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
    wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
    Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
    and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
    Why are they carrying elegant canes
    beautifully worked in silver and gold?

    Because the barbarians are coming today
    and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

    Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
    to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

    Because the barbarians are coming today
    and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

    Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
    (How serious people’s faces have become.)
    Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
    everyone going home so lost in thought?

    Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
    And some who have just returned from the border say
    there are no barbarians any longer.

    And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
    They were, those people, a kind of solution.

And some who have just returned from the border say/there are no barbarians any longer.

I’ll be visiting Montalcino in September and will try to catch up with Fabrizio (a friend) then (although I know he’ll be very busy with the harvest). Who knows? Maybe Rivella will grant me an appointment, too… Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

4 thoughts on “Rivella, barbarian at the gate: the Brunello debate goes mainstream (WARNING: POST CONTAINS POETRY)

  1. One of the many fascinating (to me, at least) things about this poem is that Cavafy was Greek and wrote most of his poetry about the ancient Greeks. Of course, to many/most ancient Greeks, it was the Romans who were the barbarians, but who nevertheless supplied/imposed the “necessary” stability on the Mediterranean world. Yet here, Rome waits calmly, if fruitlessly, for the (next) barbarian takeover and reorganization. (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”) Is Cavafy being sincere or ironic? Would he have said that Brunello (a relatively modern construction) should remain true and pure to that construction or should it move on to its next, ever morphing, identity?

    How the hell should I know what Cavafy was thinking? Let’s start loading up on Il Poggione and hunkering down.

  2. I had read a few years ago while we were still living in Italy(an Italian magazine)that he had bought some property in, I think, the Montecucco zone and immediately wanted to alter the appellation to allow more international grapes in the blend. Don’t quote me on this as my memory is, sometimes, a memory. Definitely NOT someone out after my own heart.

  3. And, just to continue on the Cavafy theme of cultural despair, here’s another of his famous poems, in which the Greeks are facing an earlier barbarian (in fact, the “original” barbarians, as Greeks labeled Persian [Mede]non-Greek speakers [who babbled bah-bah-bah, hence onomatopoetically, barbarians]}:

    Thermopylae
    Honor to those who in their lives
    have defined and guard their Thermopylae.
    Never stirring from duty;
    just and upright in all their deeds,
    yet with pity and compassion too;
    generous when they are rich, and when
    they are poor, again a little generous,
    again helping as much as they can;
    always speaking the truth,
    yet without hatred for those who lie.

    And more honor is due to them
    when they foresee (and many do foresee)
    that Ephialtes will finally appear,
    and that the Medes in the end will go through.

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