Remembering Giacomo Bersanetti, a wine design great, victim of COVID-19.

Above: Giacomo Bersanetti, “designer optimus,” the “ideal designer” as 20th-century wine writing icon Luigi Veronelli called him. Photo via Studio Grafico Artigiano, the eno-focused “artisanal” design studio that Bersanetti founded in 1983 together with his wife Chiara Veronelli, Luigi Veronelli’s daughter.

News of designer Giacomo Bersanetti’s passing broke at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis in Italy in March. Unanimously beloved and revered for his immense talent, creativity, and humanitas, he was remembered at the time in countless heartfelt tributes by his colleagues and peers across the world of Italian wine and beyond. The novel coronavirus was the cause of death.

Few American wine enthusiasts knew of him but the Italian wine lovers among them are intimately familiar with his work. Over the course of a prodigious career, he designed groundbreaking wine labels and pioneering bottle shapes for some of Italy’s most iconic wineries including Chiarlo, Ferrari, Gaja, and Allegrini among others.

You can read his biography here.

I only met him once, last year in Milan, after I translated a catalog for a photography exhibition that he had designed for the Zenato family’s Zenato Academy.

The Zenato winery asked me to translate this year’s catalog as well. I wish I could share the beautiful essay that Giacomo wrote for the book. Drawing from his decades of experience creating “identity” for Italian winemakers, as he liked to put it, the piece is one of the most compelling I’ve read this year. Once the catalog is published, it should be required reading for anyone interested in a career in wine communications — not only for its substance, but also for Giacomo’s brilliant, glowing, and erudite style. I’ll ask the Zenatos to allow me to share it once it’s been published.

As a modest homage to one of the greatest Italian designers of all time, I’ve translated this quote, attributed to him on the Seminario Veronelli website (part of its tribute to him).

“Illustrating identity,” he said, “is a reflection of the greatest synthesis of the concept of design. This is how I’ve imagined and interpreted it over the course of my career. And it represents design’s most incisive and meaningful expression.”

Sit tibi terra levis Iacobe.

Most of the tributes to Giacomo you’ll find on the internet are in Italian. But please see this heartfelt ad memoriam in English by a printer that worked regularly with him.

See also this U.S. patent for a bottle shape that he filed in 1999, an example of his role as a wine trade trailblazer.

Prosecco Rosé will land in U.S. by Christmas 2020. Category approved by Italy’s National Wine Committee.

Image via Adobe Stock.

On Wednesday of this week, Italy’s National Wine Committee gave Prosecco DOC producers the green light to begin making Prosecco Rosé.

The wines will be made using a minimum of 85 percent Glera and 10-15 percent Pinot Noir vinified on its skins according to a post published yesterday on the Prosecco DOC Consortium website. A minimum of 60 days lees aging will be required after the second fermentation. Up to 17 grams residual sugar will be allowed. The grapes used for the wines, including the Pinot Noir, must be sourced from within the appellation.

Wineries won’t be allowed to release their Prosecco Rosé until January 1 of the year following harvest.

But some wineries are already planning to sell their Prosecco Rosé in Italy as early as September. At least one winemaker told me this morning that he expects his Prosecco Rosé to be available in the U.S. in October — in time for the holiday season.

This morning, I spoke to Giancarlo Moretti Polegato, owner of Prosecco producer Villa Sandi (for whom I do media consulting). He was among the first to lobby for the new category in 2009 when the DOC was created. At the time, none of his fellow winemakers wanted to add it, he told me. But today they are all eager to produce and sell it because of the growing interest in sparkling rosé across the world.

He also said that while he and other producers expected the approval of the new category earlier this year, it was held up because of the ongoing health crisis.

Restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen in Italy on May 18 and on June 3, the government plans to open up its borders again.

“We are confident that the crisis is now mostly behind us,” he said.

Click here for his notes published today on the Villa Sandi blog.

Serge Hochar’s lessons for wine sales in the time of the pandemic.

In case you haven’t already seen it, a new book on the life and times of the great Serge Hochar, Chateau Musar: The Story of a Wine Icon (Académie due Vin Library 2020), it should be on your radar.

The recently published work includes tributes to and memories of Serge by some of the top names in wine and wine writing today. A blend of panegyric and non-fiction, it also recounts the story of his life and legacy as one of the greatest winemakers in a generation and the man who singlehandedly built Lebanon’s wine trade into a world-class category.

(I was thrilled that the editors included a piece I had written about Serge after his premature passing in late 2014.)

It’s a wonderful book and I highly recommend it to you (and please also see this excellent obituary by Eric Asimov for the New York Times).

Beyond the news of the book’s publication, I’ve been thinking a lot about Serge lately. He began visiting Texas on a regular basis around the time that I first moved to the state in 2008. A master of marketing and sales, he invested heavily in U.S. travel to promote his wines at the peak of the financial crisis.

That’s just one of the great lessons he taught us. Like Kermit Lynch in the late 1970s at the height of the petroleum crash, he realized that times of crisis create opportunity for enterprising wine professionals.

As an importer of Italian foods noted in a webinar that I moderated the other day, the disruption in the supply chain creates openings for unknown brands. He knew that the vacuum of premium wines caused by uncertainty and instability offered him a break-through moment.

And he seized on it. He was in the market while other winemakers from France, Italy, and Spain were staying home, afraid to invest in marketing and market work (as it’s called in the trade). Thanks to his business acumen (and his outsized charisma and charm), he made placements for his wines at marquee restaurants where a legion of future sommeliers and many Master Sommeliers were paying their dues, so to speak.

I’ll never forget walking into Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston, one of the top expense-account restaurants in the country then and now, and opening the wine list for the first time: the very first page of the list featured a vertical flight of Chateau Musar, roughly 30 wines in all. It was extraordinary.

And that leads me to the other great lesson he taught us: in times of crisis, look to underserved markets that are not saturated with competitors’ brands.

Back in 2008, Texas wasn’t even considered a tertiary market for fine wine. When I moved here that year, my peers thought I was crazy (“what will you drink?” asked one of my best friends in New York). Today, that’s all changed. But back then only downmarket wine producers were spending time in Texas.

Serge was one of the earliest supporters and promoters of TexSom, for example, then a small sommelier conference that no one had heard of outside of Texas.

He came here often in the early years of the financial crisis and he pressed the flesh with sommeliers and buyers who were eager to interact with someone like Serge, whose engagement rewarded them both professionally and personally.

I’ve been told that Pappas Bros. Steakhouse will be reopening soon here in Houston. Scrolling through its wine list online, I counted more than 20 lots from Musar this morning.

It would seem that Serge’s intuition was spot on. He was a model for our times — and all times.

Sit tibi terra levis Sergi.

Check out the book here.

How Prosecco changed the world (and my life).

In the era before the Italian wine renaissance, Prosecco wasn’t called Glera (a grape name that sounds like an ocular ailment). It was simply called Prosecco.

It’s hard to imagine a world today without Prosecco.

The last time a Houston-based, Italian-focused wine professional visited his favorite honky tonk in Austin, Texas, he was agasp to discover that the barkeep was pouring not one but two Prosecco brands by-the-glass.

In the time before the pandemic, said tradesman often drank a Tiffany-tinted bottle of Prosecco, acquired via the local Target, at his sister-in-law’s Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings in southeast Texas, a stone’s throw from the Louisiana border.

He can remember a time not so long ago that he poured his 80-something mother a glass of his favorite Champagne in his native southern California.

“Prosecco!” she exclaimed exuberantly.

Like Pinot Grigio, Prosecco has become part of the American lexicon. Its utterance evokes a bubbling lifestyle choice and a notion that sparkling wine is not just for the elite but for everyone.

That’s the magic of Prosecco: it’s a delicious, refreshing celebration under cork seal for around $15 (or $25 or more if you want to upgrade).

And I owe so much to Prosecco and that notion.

When I was a student at the University of Padua in the late 1980s, I used to join my friends as they drove up to Valdobbiadene (a short hour’s trip) to fill the trunks of their cars with farmer-vinified Prosecco — what some would call Prosecco Col Fondo today although no one called it that then.

In later years, when I returned to Italy for graduate studies, I would spend my summers playing and touring with a cover band across Proseccoland.

And it was thanks to those years spent meeting Prosecco growers and tasting their wines that I was given one of the greatest opportunities of my life, one that would change the arc of my career.

While I was working as an assistant editor for La Cucina Italiana in New York in the late 1990s, I was asked to write a 300-word piece on Prosecco for the “front of the book” as we used to say in the print media days. Instead, I called every Prosecco producer I knew (from my days playing music there) and filed a 3,000-word feature story on Prosecco that got me promoted to associate editor and wine writer for the masthead.

It’s incredible to think it now but 20 years ago, Americans hardly knew what Prosecco was. Super Tuscans were trending, Brunello was on the horizon. But no one, including me, could imagine the sales powerhouse and economic engine that Prosecco would become in this country and throughout the world.

For more than two decades now, I’ve made a living by working in wine. And it’s all thanks to a stroke of luck that I call Prosecco.

And it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Today at 11 a.m. CST (12 p.m. EST), I’ll be joined by my good friend Flavio Geretto, one of the smartest people I know in the wine business, for a live Instagram story @EthicaWines. He’s the export director for Prosecco producers Villa Sandi and La Gioiosa (the latter now imported by Ethica).

I’ve done a lot of media consulting for Flavio over the last year and a half and we always have a blast working together. We even realized that we were both students in Padua at the same time (me at the college of letters, he in the economics department) and we used to go to the same clubs.

We’ll be joined by winemaker Stefano Gava, another colleague whom I admire greatly, as we talk about how to taste Prosecco like a pro. Please join us if you can.

Every click counts, every like matters. Thanks for your support.

#ImissItaly. Dreaming of La Subida (and don’t miss the massive Zoom aperitivo from Friuli tomorrow).

It seems like a lifetime ago. In many ways, it was.

In January, a middle-aged traveling salesman made his last trip to Italy before the world changed in ways that no one could imagine.

Stranded over a weekend between Friday and Monday meetings, he snuck away for a moment of respite in a village that lies literally on the edge of the western world.

There he hiked through vineyards and read a novel he’d been meaning to crack. He couldn’t call his loved ones in any case because the internet connection was too faint.

He rested, drew a hot bath, and gathered his thoughts and dreams before he headed to one of his favorite taverns in the world, La Subida.

The purple top turnips had been julienned, soaked in red wine sediment and patiently cooked in a pot before being tossed with lovingly crumbled musetto, Friuli’s boiled pork sausage.

Glorious brovada, so simple, so rich in flavor, so satisfying in his belly and his heart!

What a wonderful pairing for the tavern-keeper’s wine, the traveler thought to himself. It was a fresh, mineral-driven Tocai (Friulano) that achieved balance thanks to its masterful blend of fruit sourced from different plots with different ripening times. But then again, of course it does: if it grows with it, it goes with it, he chimed silently remembering the adage uttered by a famed restaurateur.

Every aspiring restaurant professional, thought the traveler, should experience this dining experience as he had for the first time nearly a decade to the day before this last visit.

The taverner Mitja Sirk worked the dining room like Muhammad Ali. Outside a silence fell upon the countryside as the waning gibbous moon hung in the sky.

Lonesome but fortified, the man found fleeting peace in his bones as he hiked back down the hill to his bed.

I’m dreaming of Mitja’s Subida this morning. It all seems like a world away even though I was there just a few months ago.

Tomorrow, the kind folks of Friuli are mounting what they are billing to be the largest toast of all time.

At noon CST (1 p.m. EST), 7 p.m. CET, you can attend a white wine toast hosted by the Strada del Vino e dei Sapori del Friuli Venezia Giulia (the Friuli “wine and flavors” trail).

Register on Zoom here.

The middle-aged salesman hopes to get back there soon. Some day, he will.

“People are looking for new.” How to succeed in Italian food and wine sales in the COVID-19 era.

On Tuesday of this week, nearly 200 people attended the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South Central webinar, “Open for Business: The Italian Food and Wine Supply Chain.” It was the first of series of live events presented by the IACC entitled “Challenges and Opportunities in the Post-Pandemic Era.”

For Italian food and wine producers who are either currently working in the U.S. or looking to break into the market here, I highly recommend that you check out what veteran importer Cecilia Ercolino (above) has to say.

“People are looking for new,” she noted, drawing from her own experience as the owner of an “essential” business.

Because of disruptions in the supply chain, she explained, consumers are willing to abandon their loyalty to one particular brand or another. As a result, there is immense opportunity for Italian food producers to break into the market.

She also spoke at length about how companies that are willing to do “whatever it takes” are the ones that are making gains in the market. It’s a new era in sales and marketing for Italian food and wine, she said. Wine and food producers need to look to their importers and distributors for guidance on what the support they need to move their products. And they need to listen.

The other speakers also offer compelling insights into creative and innovative ways to reach buyers and consumers in the COVID-19 era.

A lot of viewers will be surprised at how many opportunities the crisis has created for open-minded food and wine producers.

I highly recommend it to you and I was proud to be one of the moderators. As soon as we have the details for the next event, I’ll share them here. Thanks for watching. Please feel free to share. There is some solid info in there.

A kismet story: my Italian brother by another mother Sandro Angelini and me on Instagram live today at 11 a.m. CST.

There were a lot of people I already knew at Ethica Wines before I started working with the company as a media consultant in late 2019. After all, the owner and founder is a friend I met 30 years ago when I was touring in a cover band in Belluno province (no shit!). He’s been a wonderful friend to me over the years. And a handful of the sales and marketing folks have been my students at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences.

But before this January, I had never met the inimitable Alessandro “Sandro” Angelini, one of Ethica’s sales managers, whom I soon discovered was my Italian brother by another mother. That’s Sandro, above, donning his Cappello Alpino, the classic Alpine soldier hat (from his days during mandatory military service), a photo I poached this morning from his Facebook.

It only took one dinner (and a few bottles of Barolo) on a chilly night in Novello before he and I realized that we used to go to the same clubs and used to hang in the same bars back in the day, when I was a student and musician in Italy.

We weren’t surprised to learn that we also share a profound appreciation of great wine and food. He’s a true gourmet, in the genuine sense of the word. And he’s also a true mensch, a person of great humanity.

AND the dude can also tell a great joke in Veneto dialect (unprintable here, of course).

I’m super stoked that he and I will be meeting again in a live story today at 11 a.m. CST (12 p.m. EST) on the @EthicaWines Instagram.

We’ll be discussing and tasting wines from the La-Vis cooperative (that’s a photo of the mural that appears outside the winery, below, taken when I visited and first met Sandro in January).

I hope you can join us! Thanks for your support.

How sommeliers are keeping guests (and themselves) safe as dine-in service resumes in Houston.

Please check out my post today for the Houston Press on how sommeliers are keeping guests and themselves safe as dine-in service resumes in our city.

It’s a challenging time to be a restaurant worker, even if you are a wine director overseeing a world-class cellar.

Texas is one of the first states to allow restaurants to reopen. As all of the wine professionals I spoke to noted, there is no model for how to execute wine service safely. And neither the state or federal government have provided adequate guidance.

A mere 11 days have passed since our state’s governor superseded local orders to isolate, wear masks, and keep restaurants and other businesses closed. There are anecdotal reports of numerous restaurateurs not following social distancing protocols. But everyone I talked to for this piece is taking it extremely seriously. I was surprised by what some of them told me (including those who didn’t end up in the post).

Thanks for checking it out and please stay safe.

Master Sommelier Brett Zimmerman shows how to produce a virtual tasting video — by example.

Master Sommelier Brett Zimmerman at home in Boulder, Colorado.

Master Sommelier Brett Zimmerman, owner of the Boulder Wine Merchant, may be best known among wine lovers across the country for his Boulder Burgundy Festival. The gathering would have celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.

But some in the wine trade will remember that the early years of his career as a master were spent focused on his passion for the wines of Italy.

Knowing that he’s a big fan of its wines, a few weeks ago my client Antica Casa Scarpa reached out to Brett asking him to contribute a few educational videos to its ongoing “Scarpa Cellar Dive” social media campaign (you can view the first one below or follow along on the Scarpa US blog here).

As he does in all things, he produced a clip that serves as an instruction manual for how to produce high-quality wine education videos. From the lighting, framing, and backdrop to the length and confident tone of his presentation, this is how it’s done.

As stay home/work safe orders remain in place around the country, the wine industry is sprinting toward a new virtual presence and new ways to interact with trade and consumers. But teaching and sales skills don’t always translate into high-quality video production.

Note how Brett’s face is well lit. This is so important for making the a video compelling and engaging.

Note the even pacing of his presentation. He speaks with an even-keeled conversational tone but he keeps it moving along — another important element in keeping the viewer engaged.

Note the quality of the image. I believe he shot this with his phone: it’s an example of how lighting and setting can give the production polish to footage shot with a personal smart device.

Note the backdrop. It’s Brett’s living room at home. It gives the clip warmth and most importantly in my view, it imparts authenticity and intimacy. You feel like you’re “at home” with the presenter.

Lastly, note how well prepared he is. He’s done his homework. And he provides information that’s genuinely useful. What good is the production quality if the substance is lacking?

Can you tell how much I love this vlog post? I wanted to share it here because I think it’s a great model for all of us amateur videographer wine professionals.

Brett and and I first met in New York in 2007 when he was working as the in-house educator for a major importer of Italian wines. We reconnected later in Texas when he was leading seminars and tastings for TexSom (in its early years). A few years later, he asked to me to join the Boulder Wine Merchant team as the blogger for the Boulder Burgundy Festival (one of the most rewarding experiences of my career in wine).

In my view, he is the apotheosis of the Master Sommelier. He’s worked in nearly every field of the industry: as a floor sommelier, restaurateur, educator, and retailer. He is the embodiment of collegiality, hospitality, and professionalism. He’s also a professional chef (dinner at the Zimmermans’ is an extraordinary experience, I can say from personal experience). And he’s also one of the nicest and kindest people I know in the business.

Cheers to you, Brett! Thanks for being part of the Scarpa campaign and thank you for everything you’ve done to support me over the years.

Check out his video below. We’ll be posting another one later this week. And if you’d like to be part of the Scarpa Cellar Dive program, just send me a note and we’ll see if we can’t get you a sample bottle or replace a bottle you already have in your cellar.

Happy Mother’s Day, Tracie P! We love you with all our hearts.

Happy Mother’s Day, Tracie P!

Just like me, you’ll never forget that photo, I’m sure. It was taken by a friend of ours on the occasion of Parker Elementary’s second flash mob concert, just a few weeks into the stay at home/work safe order in our city.

It was one of the scariest moments of our 12 years together. Was our community safe? Were our family and friends across the nation and the world going to be okay? What challenges would our own family face in the months that lay ahead? We’re still asking ourselves those questions.

But every day, like the morning of that concert, you get out of bed with a ready smile and hug for our girls, a new art or music project to keep them engaged, a special recipe to make our mealtimes colorful, and a coffee cup full of patience and tenderness for sometimes teary daughters and their often weary father.

Every day since the whole world changed, you have taught Georgia and Lila Jane — and me — about resilience. You’ve shown us how strength through hope, even in the face of uncertainty’s behemoth, is something we must never abandon as we carve out our new life in a world coming apart at its seams.

When we first met, I knew early on — we both knew — that we could build a life and a family together (remember how scary times were back then, dating in the thick of the financial crisis?). But neither of us could have imagined that we would be raising a family during a global pandemic. Today, on this Mother’s Day 2020, I can only thank my lucky stars to have a woman like you as my partner. Our daughters are blessed by your grace.

I love you, we love you with all our hearts. Happy Mother’s Day.