Bleak times for Italians & Italian wines

giampaolo venica

Above: One of my favorite Italian winemakers, Giampaolo Venica, visited us last week in Austin, Texas. He met Georgia P for the first time.

Familial vicissitudes quieted things down here on the blog last week. And today, I feel compelled to return to recent events in Italy that — I believe — have had and will have a profound effect on Italian wines and the people who grow and produce them.

Here’s the NY Times thread of coverage on last week’s elections in Italy, which resulted in a rebuke of the German-backed austerity measures set forth by technocrat (and now politically ruined) Monti and a political gridlock, a sort of Mexican standoff, between center-left Bersani (a relic from Italy’s communist era), center-right Berlusconi (charlatan in chief), and self-defined revolutionary Grillo (a comedian turned political activist although not a candidate himself).

If you follow current events, you know — and don’t need me to tell you — that Italy is on a precipice. And as its third-largest economy, it’s carrying the Eurozone on its back.

On Tuesday of last week, after the election results had been filed, I spoke to an old friend of mine in Padua, a few years older than me and a professional musician who supports his family on his concert income and production fees.

“I’m thinking about moving to Eastern Europe,” he told me when we spoke (for reasons that had nothing to do with wine), noting that emerging markets like Poland offer considerably lower taxes and greater employment opportunities.

The thought of a middle-aged jazz musician from Italy moving to Poland! It would have been hard to imagine such a thing even five years ago (let alone last week).

cappellano barolo

Above: Giampaolo and I shared a bottle of 2006 Cappellano Barolo Otin Fiorin from Mark Sayre’s list. The wine was remarkably bright and very fresh. Although very youthful, it was going through a moment of grace and shared its fruit and its soul with us.

Tuesday evening, when we were visited here in Austin by our good friend Giampaolo Venica (whom I respect as much for his winemaking as I do for his personal ethos), our conversation was dominated by the dire situation faced by young Italians, who have very few prospects in terms of employment or economic mobility.

“What good is a university degree,” asked Giampaolo who is in his mid-thirties, “when there are no jobs to be had?” (Italy hit record unemployment rates in January according to news reports; that figure will only climb as uncertainty and gridlock fears persist.)

Italian wine is not made in a vacuum. It’s not a shiny, straw-flasked package intended to evoke the dolce far niente, Coppola-fueled stereotype that most Americans love to embrace.

All too often, wine bloggers in the U.S. — Italophile and otherwise — focus purely on the false romance of Italian wine. Few speak Italian and an even smaller number follow the news from Italy and/or Italian wine blogs.

In my view, there is a generational tragedy unfolding in Italy, affecting Italians young and old, including those who make the wines that we — at least I — love so very much.

Wine, like all things we eat and drink, is a product of agriculture and human culture. And like the people that produce it, wine is intrinsically and unavoidably ideological and ethical in nature. It is after all, to borrow a phrase, human, all too human.

No, I have no tasting note for you today, no star anise or gooseberry.

Just an invitation to remember that there are people behind every wine that we drink. And today, I think it’s worthwhile to take time out to remember that our fellows in Italy are facing some really tough choices to come before elections are held again (probably in a year’s time).

Thanks for reading…

8 thoughts on “Bleak times for Italians & Italian wines

  1. While I can’t profess to be an expert in Italian politics or economics, I’m still in shock a week later. So sad, the popular reliance on false promises – a reflection, I think, of the general lack of hope in the future. When I see shadows of the same here, I worry for my kids and their generation.

  2. Hi JP,
    Very true. Yesterday I picked up from the airport a winemaker from Monforte. The ‘crisis’ in Italy is hard to imagine in Australia. It reminds me of post war Italy when my parents left to come to Australia as there was no opportunity for work, life, etc in Italy.

  3. Pingback: An Orange Wine before its time with Chef @BobbyMatos & speaker @DoBianchi | Ciao Bello

  4. I have recently received my dual citizenship and was considering moving my family to Italy to live and work for a while. The unanimous sentiment is that Italy is an absolute mess, and for the foreseeable future it would be a really bad time to relocate and look for work there. So sad…

  5. 2B-
    I guess you didn’t read my entry or articles in about the elections but no worries. I agree with you, too much romanticizing about what goes in Italy and not enough serious consideration of the political and economic realities behind the news, assuming that people read the news about Italy that is. I think it has nothing to do with the fact that some people don’t speak Italian and more to do with people seeing what they want to see and dismissing Italy as a less than serious country- pizza and mandolino style.

    I have seen a lot of very superficial coverage of what is going on even in the best US papers. That said, all of the main Italian newspapers do have some English articles and Reuters has been doing a great job of covering the news. At least they have chosen serious head of the Senate and the House. I-Italy has many articles in English for those interested.

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