Vinitaly, don’t have too much fun without me!

Every year at my Vinitaly, there’s a first-day toast organized by a loosely knit group of Italian wine bloggers and social media users at the Abruzzo region stand.

It’s been an honor and a joy for me to be included over the years. That’s our group in 2019, above, at the last Vinitaly before the closures began in early 2020.

As my social feeds are being flooded with images posted by my American colleagues, some of them already in Italy as they gear up for the fair, my heart is teeming with bittersweetness.

Because I have to be in Italy next month to teach at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences, I wasn’t able to make the trip this year to the trade fair. Now that Tracie is working full-time, we need to budget our time parsimoniously and a trip to the fair would mean missing a weekend in Houston when Tracie will be showing houses and I’ll be taking care of the girls. (When I go in May to teach, I’m literally going to be on the ground for five days while I teach four seminars.)

One of the most compelling experiences in my post-2020 era has been reconnecting in person and in real time with wine people and friends in Italy and the U.S. I’m so bummed that I won’t be in Verona next week.

But less travel, especially less travel to Europe, is part of our family’s new normal. It’s not a sacrifice, by any means. But it’s part of our new life rhythm. And that’s a good thing. As Tracie has been working, I’ve been spending more time with the girls working on music and doing schoolwork. They both play a stringed instrument, they both take piano, they both perform with the school choir, and they are both girls scouts. So please call me Mr. Mom. I love every single minute of it.

What I wouldn’t give to look for a parking place for an hour!

What I wouldn’t give to stand inline for a stinky bathroom at Veronafiere (the fairgrounds where the event is held), my shoes sopping from the centimeter of liquid on the floor! (Don’t ask.)

And what I wouldn’t do to fight the crowds, the throngs of drunken laypeople, the cigarette smoke (which I really don’t mind but…), the wifi and cell coverage that never work, and the long lines to buy a bottle of water or a sandwich!

Seriously, what I wouldn’t give to see my many friends I’ll be missing next week.

To everyone going to the fair, have a great one! Buona fiera! Buon Vinitaly! But don’t have too much fun without me!

Ashtin Berry is one of the greatest wine writers of our generation.

Please consider giving to Unicef’s Ukraine child refugee fund. This link takes you straight to the donation page. G-d bless our Ukrainian sisters and brothers. Thank you.

Read. Ashtin. Berry. Now.

“There is nothing inherently wrong with minimalism,” she writes in a recent post on Instagram, “but it’s essential to understand how aesthetic trends are always in discussion with social structures. and also note when aesthetics are being used to push harmful biases. Minimalism is an aesthetic and it is also a lifestyle and if you aren’t careful you can end up perpetuating biases about poor and racialized people.”

In my view, there is no eno-focused writer today who is addressing the epistemological implications of wine culture with such unbridled perspicacity and clarity of voice.

Her post yesterday (above) is one in a series where she parses some of the thornier nuances of the contemporary natural wine world. Along the way, she draws from a broad spectrum of critical theorists, some of whom will surely surprise even the informed student of 20th century thought.

I’m certainly not the first to note the power of her voice. She’s been featured in countless who’s who lists by prominent wine-centered mastheads.

Those publications, at least as far as I can find, tend to focus on her utterly vital inner- and extra-industry activism. There is no question that her community work has had an outsized and welcomed impact.

But what intrigues me most about her writing is that she approaches the subject as a critical theorist. She is a Roland Barthes of our wine time, a writer who dissects the aesthetics — the ars poetica — of contemporary wine culture with acumen and deep insight. She is also a Noam Chomsky in her ability to see behind what Nietzsche would have called the “sacred texts” of wine, the cultural hegemony (to borrow from Gramsci) that continues to drive what she calls the “moralized consumption” of wine (and other lifestyle products).

I know those are big shoes to fill but fill them she does… and then some.

She also possesses a preternatural ability to ferment her observations into approachable, highly drinkable language. In a wine writing world where the register of language and the hermetic argot are often used in an exclusionary capacity (she address this trend as well), she seamlessly renders her thought into palatable demotic language digestible by all. It’s a glorious, beautiful balancing act that delivers spectacular results in widening the horizons of lay people and trade members alike.

Can you tell that I am entirely absorbed by her writing? I’m a little late to the game but am glad to be here. And thanks to Tracie for hipping me to her feed.

Ashtin Berry is one of the greatest wine writers of our generation. Read her.

Addio Roma. You really broke my heart.

Please consider giving to Unicef’s Ukraine child refugee fund. This link takes you straight to the donation page. G-d bless our Ukrainian sisters and brothers. Thank you.

Above: in November of last year, I presented a sold-out dinner at Roma in Houston featuring the wines of Alicia Lini (standing).

It’s with deep sadness that I share the news: Roma, the Houston restaurant where I ran the website, e-letter, and social media for nearly five years; where I helped the owner rebrand his business; where I ran weekly virtual wine dinners during the lockdowns; and where I wrote the wine list since May of last year, is no longer my client.

The reason? The new chef, Kevin Bryant, doesn’t believe my marketing skills are up to snuff. Evidently he and his wife are marketing geniuses. Five years down the drain. Just like that. All because of a pig-headed chef who thinks that chicken liver mousse passes for a bona fide topping on crostini toscani.

It was clear from the start that he wanted me out and he wanted his wife in. She’s a high-powered publicist with a who’s who of leading Houston restaurateurs in her portfolio. At least that’s what she and her husband think.

Honestly, I wasn’t really interested in working with a chef who believes “steak tartare” is an Italian dish. (All the previous chefs I worked with there were Italian and had cooked and trained in Italy.)

The thing I’ll miss is the incredible community we built through the weekly virtual wine dinners I ran for nearly two years. It’s hard to believe now but we must have presented roughly 100 Zoom events, often with an Italian winemaker participating on the other side of the Atlantic. It was one of the most compelling and rewarding experiences in my career in wine. So many of my now ex-guests have told me that those events were what kept them sane during isolation. It was a virtual supper club where people forged connections and friendships. I’ll never forget the night that a prominent Houston doctor, the wife of a noted Houston wine blogger, began helping people get vaccine appointments in the early days of availability.

No regrets, coyote. The restaurant business is always full of drama and microcephalic players like “the Kevin,” our family’s apt nickname for him. And this wasn’t my first rodeo, as we say in Texas.

Addio Roma. You really broke my heart.