Gaja on “leftist hipsters” & the delicious peculiarity of Italian wine

cerasuolo abruzzo

Above: Praesidium, a Vini Veri producer, is a winery that seamlessly aligns natural winemaking and elegance with a genuine expression of its appellation.

Italian wine needs “more marketing and fewer leftist hipsters,” said Angelo Gaja in a post published today by Luciano Ferraro, wine editor for Corriere della Sera.

While I don’t agree with the part about “leftists” (being a card-carrying member myself), I do believe that the Italians — as Gaja points out in the post — could learn a thing or two from the French, who are brilliant wine marketers (just think of the 1855 classification and how it reshaped and continues to dominate wine sales around the world).

Gaja had just returned, together with roughly 400 Italian producers, from Vinexpo in France, where his transalpine counterparts impressed him with their proactive attitude toward a market in crisis.

Francophilia aside, Luciano’s post and Gaja’s notes made me think of a wine I tasted this spring, a stunning Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo by Praesidium that impressed me with its delicate equilibrium between brilliant originality and faith in tradition.

I loved the wine and immediately Googled it to find out more (it had been sent to me by Katell Pleven of Vine Collective; check out a podcast interview with Katell, posted earlier this month by Levi Dalton on I’ll Drink to That).

Even though the estate produces some of the most expensive wine available from Abruzzo, it doesn’t even have a website (Gaja doesn’t have a website either but I’ve heard that one is in the works).

At least from this side of the Atlantic, it would appear that Praesidium engages in little or no marketing at all beyond its participation in Vini Veri and efforts by its U.S. importer (this post was the most informative I could find).

As someone who makes his living primarily in wine marketing, I’m all for an Italian embrace of more aggressive and ambitious marketing. I love Italian wine and beyond my professional life, I feel personally invested in its success because I enjoy drinking it.

But Gaja — a genius marketer, supreme in Italy and rivaled by few beyond Italy’s borders — and his observations made me remember that part of what makes Italian wine so great is its own self-imposed challenges and obstacles.

It’s an element of Italian culture that dates back to the centuries of foreign occupation between the Renaissance and the modern era. During that period, Italians developed a sense of provincialism that, to this day, often leads them to see little beyond the mura of their villages.

But in my experience, their chasmophilia and topophilia can impart a uniqueness — a delicious peculiarity — to their wines that defies the homologation demanded by consumerism and its marketers.

So as much as I admire Angelo Gaja for his role as an architect in the renaissance of Italian wine, I also cherish the backward-looking producer like Praesidium who sees little purpose in marketing their high-end wines.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Praesidium Cerasuolo, that backwardness allows us to pass through the portone of a tiny village in the province of Aquila by way of the bottle and glass…

3 thoughts on “Gaja on “leftist hipsters” & the delicious peculiarity of Italian wine

  1. I was thinking of you, Alfonso, as I wrote this. How many times do we throw up our hands in frustration at the way Italian wine is marketed?

    And in many ways, Gaja is right on.

    But as much as I’d like for Selvapiana to get a decent website, I sure hope they never change the wines. The two seem to go hand in hand… :)

    And yes, those Gajas drive fast too!

  2. I’m not sure what’s all included in the term “marketing” here, but the language of motion interests me. Whose interests are served by the uses of “forward” and “backward”? Can we not think instead in spatial terms, such as scale?

    Gaja wants to be big and transnational, so he moves fast, talks international, and scorns the small. His kind of ambitions require something very different than the desire of the vignaiolo who wants to make wine for a particular community. What the vignaiolo needs is not advertising, but matchmaking precision.

    Gaja is the backward one. This the 21st century: no one has to live in the same earthly paradise. The problem is not global advertising by get-big-or-get-out producers, but how best to organize the demand side in order to support particular producers at a level the producers consider sufficient.

    Look at the exploded music industry. We now have precision music/listener matchmaking via internet, the downside of which has tended to be less money for the makers. In wine, what we have to figure out is how to match wine to customer (this has improved greatly), how to distribute the wine as cheaply and as well as possible (still a ways to go), and how to make it pay well enough to let the good smaller producers enjoy a good life and sustainable business.

    I think the internet has changed things enough to let small producers find their audience, so to speak, and deal directly with them at a price that makes it worthwhile for everybody.

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