Speaking Italian well can be a blessing and curse. Sometimes both at once.
The other evening, when an Italophone Houston-based wine professional led a virtual wine dinner for a local Italianate restaurant, he was dismayed by the sheer aloofness, arrogance, and downright rudeness of his Italian counterparts on the other end of the call.
During the pregame call, they insulted the owner and chef (before the proprietor and his colleague joined the meeting). And during the event itself, they practically refused to thank their hosts even though the latter were “moving boxes,” as they say in the trade, selling their wine.
Instead of heeding an appeal by the moderator to avoid overly technical language (this was a consumer dinner after all), the winemaker — the son of one of Italy’s most prolific enologists — literally recited the information from technical sheets. And what made matters worse was the fact that he doesn’t speak English. Not a sin in and of itself but why was he on the meeting in the first place? By the time he got to “cryomaceration,” said Houston-based professional was ready to throw his hands in the air!
And from the frying pan into the fire, the self-proclaimed “experienced wine professional” who interpreted for him (“I’ve done events like this a thousand times”), couldn’t even render the word argilla into the English clay, one among many of the lacunes and, dare I add, personal shortcomings in his professional formation.
At a time when wineries, their importers, and their distributors on the ground are struggling to “move boxes,” there is no time for such insolence.
At a time when restaurants, one of the top channels for selling wine, are scrimping to survive, it is no time for such impertinence.
The other day I moderated an Italy-American Chamber of Commerce webinar on Italian wine trends in the pandemic era. The panelists were two of the highest-volume Italian wine buyers in the state. They spoke openly about how we are in a “buyer’s market” when they are literally inundated by inquiries from Italian winemakers who hope they’ll sell their wine. They don’t even read the emails, they said. They go straight away to the attachment to see if the pricing aligns with the current market. If it doesn’t, they hit delete.
The restaurant that I consult for has been one of the survivors in a time when scores of eateries are closing their doors permanently in Houston. The owner developed this virtual dinner format together with the local distributor and it’s been highly successful for both. Because our otherwise myopic governor has decreed that restaurants can now retail wine, the restaurateur also sells the wine at his cost to the guests. It’s another example of creative thinking that has helped keep him and the distributor afloat in this Darwinian era for wine and food professionals.
Especially as the trade wars are about to be stoked up again by U.S. government, winemakers — and not just Italian winemakers — need to partner and cooperate with American wine and food professionals instead of undermining and demeaning them.
The age of arrogance is over and they need to check their hubris at the door.