Luigi Coppo, one of the coolest Piedmont winemakers I know, joins us this week in Houston (and heartfelt thanks to everyone who took part in the Ricasoli event).

We don’t drink a ton of red wine at our house. We mostly pour lean, fresh or oxidative, white wines, especially during the warm Houston summer.

But earlier this year, when I brought home a bottle of my friend Luigi Coppo’s Barbera d’Asti L’Avvocata, Tracie completely freaked over it (meaning, she LOVED it).

Barbera is generally known for its high levels of acidity and this wine is no exception. But Luigi’s deft hand as winemaker delivers extraordinary balance in this single-vineyard designate that still lands at a more than affordable price. It’s one of our favorite reds of 2020.

Luigi (above), who’s become a good friend over the last few years, will be joining us this week for the weekly virtual wine dinner I present at Roma restaurant here in our adoptive southeast Texas city.

I knew his dad back in the day when he used to come into one of the restaurants where I used to work back in the day. The family’s flagship cru Barbera d’Asti is one of the Barbera trinity of all-time greats imho (Braida and Scarpa make my other two favorites).

Because I’ve spent so much time in Piedmont in recent years teaching at Slow Food U., Luigi and I have had the opportunity to hang and taste on multiple occasions. We were even planning to write some songs together (before the pandemic took shape).

He’s one of the coolest people I know in Monferrato wine and I’m super stoked to be hosting him this week.

Click here for menu, wines, and details.

I also have to give a shout-out this morning to Francesco Ricasoli, who was featured last week, and to everyone who joined the call. We had more than 70 people on the Zoom and it was one of the most memorable in the series.

The news from the world outside these days is just bad, bad, and worse. And so many of us, like our family, are sheltering in place and isolating — alone, together — in a collective effort to stop the spread of COVID. It’s nothing short of depressing, especially when we think of the countless people in our state and country who are suffering right now.

But our Thursday night supper club has become a retreat, a respite, and a salve for the constant din of dreary headlines, soundbites, and tweets.

Francesco, thanks for helping make last week’s “gathering” one of the most magical so far. And thanks to all of our guests: it wouldn’t be possible without you.

If you’re in Houston this week, I hope you can join us. You won’t regret it (AND CHEF ANGELO IS MAKING VITELLO TONNATO FOR THIS ONE!).

Thanks for your support.

The original Chianti “formula” translated.

Above: Bettino Ricasoli, the “Iron Baron” (1809-1880), united Italy’s second prime minister, grape grower, winemaker, architect of the Sangiovese renaissance, and creator of the Chianti appellation. Photo of his portrait at Brolio Castle in Gaiole in Chianti, taken in January 2020.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be presenting Francesco Ricasoli, descendent of Bettino Ricasoli, the creator of Chianti, at a virtual wine dinner here in Houston. To celebrate the occasion, I wanted to share my translation of the famous letter in which the “Iron Baron” Bettino scribed what has come to be known as the Chianti formula.

The letter was republished last year by Olschki Editore, one of Italy’s most prestigious academic publishers, in a wonderful critical edition of the Baron’s epistolary correspondence with Professor Cesare Studiati of the University of Pisa: Alla ricerca del “vino perfetto”. Il Chianti del Barone di Brolio (In Search of the Perfect Wine: the Baron of Brolio’s Chianti).

Many years ago, when the letter was not readily available, I traveled to Chianti to meet with Francesco and his father (also named Bettino) who pointed me to a source where I could find the original text. Not long thereafter, I published the translation here on my blog and I’m happy to post it again today for the occasion of Francesco’s visit with us tomorrow night (Francesco is such a great guy, btw).

Above: a photograph of a page from the famed letter (right) and the Baron’s writing desk (from Alla ricerca del “vino perfetto”).

It’s true that the formula does include Malvasia as one of the grapes the Baron used to produce his “ideal” of Chianti. Many continue to focus on that detail.

It’s important to note how he specifies that Malvasia works well for producing wines for daily consumption whereas it’s excluded for the wines intended for aging — what we would call “fine wine” today.

Even more important in my view is that the Baron writes about the results of his research on native Tuscan grapes. At a time when Gamay was the most widely planted grape variety in Tuscany (yes, Gamay, but more on that later), his findings led him to reaffirm the extreme potential of native grape varieties there.

During the late 1880, it was practically unthinkable that fine wines from Italy would one day be shipped beyond it borders. But the Baron’s vision that Italy could produce world-class wines was ultimately proved right. Chianti today is arguably one of the world’s most widely known appellations, rivaled only by designations like Bordeaux in terms of its recognizability.

The Baron’s findings led grape growers across Tuscany to grub up the French grape varieties they favored and replant with native grapes, and in particular, Sangiovese (known as Sangioveto at the time). Singlehandedly (and I can’t emphasize this enough), he had launched the native grape renaissance and revolution, a watershed moment that still shapes our perceptions and love of Italian wines.

My translation of the letter follows.

Above: the Ricasoli family’s private chapel at Brolio Castle. I visited the estate in January on my last trip to Italy. I highly recommend the castle tour, even for veteran wine professionals. It’s really fantastic.

Bettino Ricasoli “the Iron Baron” to Cesare Studiati
September 26, 1872

As early as 1840, I began experimenting with every grape variety. I cultivated each one in significant quantities on my Brolio estate. Our goal was to test the quality and taste of the wines produced from each grape.

Following this comparative study, I restricted the number of grapes at Brolio and began growing Sangioveto, Canaiolo, and Malvasia almost exclusively. In 1867, I decided once again to make wine using these three grapes. I made a relatively large vat of each one and then I blended the three in another vat using exact proportions.

In March of last year, the experiment was finished and I was satisfied with the results. The wines were subsequently shipped.

Later I verified the results of the early experiments: the Sangioveto gave the wine its primary aroma (something I aim for in particular) and a certain vigor in taste; the Canaiolo gave it a sweetness that balanced the harshness of the former but did not take away from the aroma, even though it has an aroma of its own; the Malvasia, a grape that can be excluded for wines intended for aging, tends to dilute the resulting wine created by the former two, it increases the flavor but also makes the wine lighter and thus more suitable for daily consumption.

Until we meet again, Jaynes Gastropub. “We had some good times, didn’t we?”

Above: the Jayne Burger — “Niman Ranch ground beef, aged Vermont cheddar, house pickled onions, garlic aioli, fries.”

The year was 2009 — and oh what a good year it was — when a lapsed New Yorker cum native Californian sat down in a newly opened restaurant in Austin, Texas with his southeast Texan bride-to-be.

“What a great place you have here!” he said to the server as he approached their table.

“Thank you,” he replied. “Have you ever heard of a restaurant called ‘Jaynes Gastropub’ in San Diego? The owners modeled the restaurant after Jaynes.”

The Texan joint was a nearly cookie-cutter version of the San Diego original.

Above: “We had some good times, didn’t we?” wrote Jayne and Jon on their social media yesterday. Jaynes’ opening coincided with the first boom of natural wine in the U.S.

From the “custom millwork, zinc bar, mosaic tile floor all the way up to the 1920′s tin ceiling” to the large mirrors and Anglophilic paraphernalia adorning the walls, Jaynes made you feel like you had traveled to another time and place.

When it opened in 2007, the restaurant rode atop the new wave of gastropubs that opened across the U.S.

Guests would work their way through appetizers like Gambas al Ajillo, Chips and Gravy Poutine, Queso Fundido, Crispy Calamari, munching away and washing it down with groovy European wines and international craft beers.

You’d ask for a bottle of lithe Nebbiolo or a hearty Mourvèdre as you struggled deliciously to decide between mouth-watering mains like Lamb Shepherd’s Pie, Steak Frites, or the legendary Jayne Burger (above). Or sometimes, you’d just order nearly the whole damn menu and share with friends around the wonderful hand-crafted community table on the patio, the wine and music flowing all the while.

Jaynes was good eating at its best, in a time when Americans were still learning a thing or three from British gastropub culture — comfort food prepared masterfully with the highest quality ingredients.

Above: Jaynes was also a place where great musicians gathered and great music happened — paired with white Burgundy and old Nebbiolo.

Yes, I’m so sorry to say but you read that write: Jaynes was.

Yesterday, Jayne and her husband Jon announced in an Instagram post that the restaurant will not reopen.

The only thing that attenuates our sadness is the tide of warm memories that fills our hearts and minds.

Jaynes gave Tracie and me so much. It was one of the backdrops of our early courtship, the host of our wedding reception, and the place where everyone knew our names when we returned to my hometown. Our children played there together, we played countless concerts there.

Above, from left: John Yelenosky, Megan Yelenosky, Jayne Battle, Jon Erickson, Tracie Parzen, and Jeremy Parzen at Jaynes — where else?

Jayne and Jon, Tracie and I can’t thank you enough for the hospitality, the generosity, the friendship and solidarity that you’ve shared with us over the years. There will never be another Jaynes and the magic of those years will forever be inscribed in our hearts, in the name of joy and love.

We’re looking forward to the next chapter in your lives. Or should I say, all of our lives? For none of our lives will be the same without Jaynes Gastropub.

Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
‘Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say hello
To the folks that I know
Tell them I won’t be long
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song
We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day

Museum of Man Us. A shout-out to brother and museum director Micah Parzen.

Images via the Museum of Us Facebook.

It was ten years ago this month that my brother Micah Parzen, an anthropologist and attorney, became the director of San Diego’s iconic Museum of Man.

As of yesterday, thanks to his efforts, the museum is now called the Museum of Us.

From his earliest days as steward of one of the city’s most recognizable and influential cultural institutions, he talked privately about his desire to make the museum’s name more representative of the community it serves.

The blowback from city patricians was unexpectedly harsh.

In a world where citizens of all walks of life are more actively reflecting on the significance of urban iconography, it may be hard for some to understand why people would react so aggressively to the thought of updating the museum’s name. But it took my brother a decade to achieve the political balance and capital that made it possible.

It’s part of his overarching campaign to “decolonize” the museum commmunity in the U.S. by recognizing and addressing systemic disenfranchisement.

“Change is hard and change is messy,” he said in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribuine, “but it can be transformational, too. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Read the interview and coverage of his efforts here.

If you’ve ever flown into the main San Diego airport, it’s more likely than not that you passed nearly directly over the museum (above). In many ways, the unmistakable neo-colonial Spanish baroque architecture is a symbol for the city itself, a synecdoche of its cultural history and past.

Today, that museum is the museum of us. And that’s thanks to my brother. We couldn’t be more proud. Be sure to check out the Union-Tribune story.

Taste with Chianti Classico pioneer Francesco Ricasoli and me next Thursday at Roma’s virtual wine dinner in Houston.

Next Thursday, August 6, I’ll be presenting a virtual wine dinner and guided tasting with Chianti Classico producer Francesco Ricasoli (above).

The event is part of an ongoing weekly series hosted by Roma in Houston (one of my clients). Check out this Houston Chronicle write-up on the dinners, which appeared yesterday on the paper’s website.

Last night, our featured guest was my good friend Paolo Cantele who joined from Lecce, Puglia. Francesco will be joining from his offices at Brolio Castle in the heart of Chianti Classico.

I first met Francesco more than a decade ago when I was searching for a letter written by his ancestor, the “Iron Baron” Bettino Ricasoli, united Italy’s second prime minister and the architect of the Tuscan wine renaissance in the second half of the 19th century.

The celebrated letter in question included Baron Ricasoli’s historic “recipe” for Chianti Classico (more on that later; there are a lot of misconceptions about what he actually wrote). But more importantly, his reflections on Sangiovese firmly established the variety as the quintessential Tuscan red grape. In more ways than one, it created the model — the marriage of Tuscan soil and grape — for Sangiovese wines like Brunello di Montalcino, among others. And today, as the new wave of Chianti Classico comes into focus, Francesco has continued his family’s legacy as Tuscan viticultural pioneers with his groundbreaking work on Chiantigiana subsoils and cru designations.

Francesco and I have stayed in touch over the years and I had the great fortune of meeting and tasting with him in January during my last trip to Italy before the pandemic. He is one of Italy’s most fascinating winemakers imho and his work is as compelling as his wines are delicious.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to be presenting him and his wines next week here in Houston. I hope you can join us.

Next week, I’ll share the story of the letter (which has now been republished), its legacy, and my fascination with it.

As wine, food, and lifestyle writer Emma Balter wrote for the Houston Chronicle this week, these virtual dinners are a lifeline for the restaurant and all the families it helps to support, including my own. The events are a lot of fun and provide a much needed respite from the pressures and stress of life in the U.S. right now. Thank you for your continued support. Click here for a preview of next week’s dinner.

Racism, yesterday and today, in the Italian wine industry.

Above: Lake Garda as seen from Desenzano, Lombardy (image via Adobe Stock).

In 2008, not long after Barack Obama had been elected as the 44th President of the United States, one of Italy’s highest-profile wine guides televised its annual wine awards gala on national television.

During the course of the broadcast, one of the presenters mused that the newly elected U.S. president’s favorite wine must be Brunello or Nero d’Avola. Translated literally, the former means brownish while the latter could be rendered as black [grape] from [the town of] Avola.

It was around the same time that Italy’s prime minister told reporters that he liked Obama because he was “young, handsome, and tanned.”

Can you imagine the outcry if an Italian winemaker or wine writer were to make similar comments today? What would happen if a public figure from France were to speculate that Obama’s favorite wine must be Pinot Noir (black Pinot)?

Above: a screenshot taken from the landing page of a prominent Italian winemaker’s website. It’s a modified stock photo to which the designer added the text on the protest sign.

Over the last few months, I’ve heard from a number of American wine writers and wine professionals who have expressed concerns about racism in the Italian wine trade. One of them sent me the link to the website of a high-profile Italian winemaker.

The screenshot above comes from the landing page. The image was created using a rights-free stock photo to which the designer added the text on the cardboard sign the woman is holding (in the original photo, the text read: “the future is female”).

“Is this winemaker a racist?” he asked me.

Honestly, I don’t have an answer. But it’s clear that they are tone-deaf to what’s happening across the world today in terms of anti-racist reckoning.

As Americans passionate about Italian wine, we often tend to buy into the superficial and sometimes feigned progressive attitudes of Italian winemakers. Who can forget the notorious case in 2013 when a celebrated Italian natural wine producer posted repulsive and egregiously racist comments about Italy’s then minister of integration? (Few recall the blowback against American wine professionals who publicly declared that they wouldn’t sell said winemaker’s wines anymore and against American wine writers who wrote about the affaire.)

Part of the problem — the disconnect — is the language barrier. But the overarching issue, in my view, is that we tend to consider the wine without taking a broader look at the culture that produced it. Viticulture, after all, is also a reflection of culture.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the overwhelming majority — and let me just repeat that — the overwhelming majority of Italian winemakers I know personally is on the right side of the racism and anti-racism dialectic. They, like us, are reckoning with their personal and national attitudes on race as they, like us, continue to evolve as anti-racists.

But sadly, if we dig a little bit deeper and scratch below the surface, we often discover that the wines we love are raised by people whose attitudes on race may diverge significantly from our own. And of course, there are also racists among us who continue to embrace those wines and the winemakers who produce them.

Over the last few weeks, a number of prominent natural wine advocates have distanced themselves from a young and outwardly progressive winemaker whose family has been implicated in a human exploitation investigation. Everyone I’ve spoken to in that region of Italy tells me that most people “on the ground” suspected that the family engaged in questionable employment policies. But in their own statement on the ongoing inquiry, the young winemaker and family member insinuates that they themself had no knowledge of any wrongdoing.

Where does the answer lie? Those are the hard questions we need to be asking.

In the 1920s, when the American poet Langston Hughes visited Italy for the first time with his friend Romeo, the townsfolk of Desenszano offered him vino neroblack wine.

“Later that night,” wrote Hughes in his autobiography, “Romeo explained to me that never in Desenzano, so far as he knew, had there been a Negro before, so naturally everybody wanted to look at me at close hand, and touch me, and treat me to a glass of vino nero. Romeo said they were all his friends, but hardly would the whole theater have rushed into the street between reels had it not been for me, a Negro, being with him.”

Can you imagine how a black wine lover would feel today if something similar happened to them? Can you imagine how a black woman feels when they land on the website of Italian winemaker and see an image like the one above?

Let me just say it once more, those are the hard questions we need to be asking if we want to be anti-racists in wine — and life.

Join Paolo Cantele and me this Thursday for a virtual wine dinner in Houston.

Georgia was about nine months old the first time we took her to Italy. That’s her with Paolo at the Cantele winery outside Lecce.

Paolo Cantele isn’t just one of my best friends in Italy.

He’s one of my best friends, period.

A “road warrior” like me, he and I went on what would turn out to be our last road trip of the year back in February, not long before our countries — his and mine — began to shut down.

We’ve traveled across Italy and the U.S. together, we’ve eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world together, we’ve discussed literature and film (our friendship began with his most amazing story about meeting Ninetto Davoli!), we share a love of music and culture.

I’ll never forget taking Paolo honky tonking in Austin for the first time. That’s Paolo at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon in 2010 (long before Dale Watson bought the place). We played chicken shit bingo — de rigueur!

In Oklahoma this year, we were even trolled together by a Trump supporter! No shit.

I just love the guy and we’ve had some truly unforgettable experiences together.

Paolo and I also work together: this Thursday he and I will be hosting a virtual wine dinner organized by one of my local clients, ROMA.

Owner Shanon Scott, chef Angelo Cuppone, and I have been doing these since late April and they’ve morphed into a de facto supper club. They are super fun and the regular crowd has developed a bonhomie that’s much needed in these days of attenuated socializing. Tracie and I look forward to them each week.

See the menu and details here. The couples price includes dinner for two and three bottles of wine. It’s a great deal and the week chef outdid himself with the perfect lineup for summer.

Please join us if you can: it’s a great way to support local businesses (including my own) and spend an evening with likeminded food and wine lovers. You won’t regret it.

Call (713) 664-7581 to reserve (these sell out fast so please be sure to snag your spot).

Help us raise an MLK billboard overlooking the newly built Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up.

Above: the new billboard we are planning to raise across from the newly constructed Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up. It will look down on the site from across the road. Click here to read Dr. King’s speech where the quote appears.

In case you haven’t heard about our ongoing efforts to repurpose the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ newly built memorial — including the Confederate flag — in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up, here’s the link to the story NowThis Politics published about our campaign a few years ago.

The memorial stands on Martin Luther King Dr. in a community where half the population is black and where there is a sordid and ongoing legacy of racial violence against black people that stretches back to Jim Crow and the Civil War.

We’ve had to put our protest plans on hold because of the health crisis in Southeast Texas. But we are just a few hundred dollars away from our $5,500 GoFundMe goal to raise our new billboard across from the memorial for the next six months — through MLK Day 2021.

The U.S. Marines and Navy have banned the display of the Confederate flag. NASCAR has banned it. And most recently, the U.S. Secretary of Defense has banned it from all U.S. military installations. Cities across the country are removing statues and monuments.

Even Mitch McConnell has said he didn’t “have any problem” with renaming [military] bases for “people who didn’t rebel against the country.” Isn’t that something?

Just this week, the U.S. House of Representatives cast an “overwhelming” and bipartisan vote to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.

Isn’t it time that black mothers and fathers should have the right to drive their children to school along MLK Dr., one of the city’s main arteries, without such an affront to their dignity?

Last month, after NASCAR banned the symbol of hate, the Sons of Confederate Veterans flew it over a race in Talladega, towing it with a plane.

They are racist cowards and it’s time for them to repurpose their site in Orange to reflect the community and community values — not their bizarre and puerile cosplay fantasies.

Please consider giving to or sharing our campaign. Every donation, no matter how small, makes a difference. Every click counts. We’re so close to our goal.

Thank you for your support and solidarity.

Wine shop workers are essential workers too. They need and deserve our support.

Above: Riccardo Guerrieri hands off a curbside delivery at Vinology in Houston.

Many Americans will scoff at the thought that wine shop workers are “essential” workers.

But they might also be surprised to learn that most states have designated liquor stores as essential businesses — and that includes wine shops.

In Houston where we live, like elsewhere in our nation, health officials have openly shared their reasoning behind the decision to allow the retail sale of alcohol during mandatory lockdown: “to avoid a spike in residents flooding hospitals with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal,” according to the Houston Chronicle, the city’s paper of record.

The move by cities, counties, and states across the country is part of a larger wave of legislators and administrators relaxing restrictions on alcohol sales during the ongoing pandemic.

In Texas, for example, our otherwise microcephalic governor has allowed restaurants to sell alcohol, including wine, directly to customers. Before the health crisis, this would have been unthinkable in a state with some of America’s most restrictive laws regulating the sale of alcohol (geared to appease the powerful wholesaler lobby, a classic case of Republican hypocrisy where all-American fair competition is stifled by government overreach).

So, yes, wine shop workers, just like the importers and distributors that supply the products they sell, are essential. They are also mothers, fathers, spouses, partners, and caretakers for the elderly and disabled, human beings with mortgages, rent, and health insurance premiums to pay and kids to feed.

And we can and should support them by patronizing the businesses where they are employed.

Since the pandemic and lockdowns began, our family has continued to buy wine regularly, although our budget is much tighter these days and our price ceiling has lowered significantly.

Because of disruptions in the supply chain, I’ve come to rely even more heavily on my local wine merchants for the selection we bring home.

At Vinology in Houston, for example, my friend Riccardo Guerrieri selects all the wines I purchase. I give him a price ceiling and general notes on what Tracie and I want to drink. And he’s done an incredible job of surprising and delighting us with his picks. Because he knows our palates so well, he’s also been finding us great deals on wines he knows we’ll like (he’s literally batting a thousand right now).

At the Houston Wine Merchant, on the other hand, another retailer I rely on for sourcing wine, the staff has been keeping the online inventory up-to-date with meticulous precision. This allows me to browse the “shelves” as if I were visiting the shop in person. And more importantly, when I can’t find the exact wine I want, the portal’s filters make it possible to narrow my searches. As a result, we’ve discovered producers we don’t commonly reach for.

One positive thing about the new normal in wine sales is that all of my favorite retailers are doing curbside delivery, thus ensuring my safety and their own.

Every time someone from Vinology or Houston Wine Merchant emerges from the shop and puts a case of wine in the back seat of my F150, I remember that they are front-line, essential workers. And they need and deserve our support.

You can also support wine retailers, wine-focused restaurateurs, wine distributors and importers by leaving a comment on the U.S. Trade Representative website expressing your concern that expanded and increased tariffs on European wines will have an outsized impact on small businesses in the U.S. at a time when they are already facing enormous challenges owed to the ongoing pandemic. Use the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance portal to streamline the process. The deadline for comment is July 26.

Why most Americans don’t care about wine tariffs.

Above: a European winemaker hosts a tasting of his wines in Colorado in late February, 2020.

“Tariff threats return,” read one of the wine retailer email newsletters that reached my inbox over the last week. “Our business could totally get blown up by a trade Death Star.”

“[My business partner] and I have spent 19 years building our business,” reported another, “and it could get wiped out in one blow. For better or worse, we’ve tied our love of European wine to the life of our shop. We have 25 employees, many with families; we pay their health insurance; we pay a boatload of taxes. [Our shop] is a micro business, but there are many thousands of employees and owners around the country who will be similarly affected — to say nothing of how this will impact our wine loving customers.”

Across the U.S., wine retailers are mobilizing their customer base and trade networks in an effort to raise awareness of how potentially increased and expanded tariffs on European wines could — literally — decimate their ranks.

Most of the roughly 20 or so similarly conative messages received over the past few weeks weeks point to a portal recently created by the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance (USWTA), an advocacy group formed by European wine-focused small businesses. It streamlines the process whereby the user, whether trade member or consumer, can comment on the U.S. Trade Representative site and express their concerns regarding the tariffs currently under consideration. The deadline for comment is July 26. The decision on whether or not to remove, expand, and/or increase the duties will be announced on August 12.

With so much energy being poured into this campaign by understandably qualmish wine merchants, it’s hard to imagine that the U.S. government won’t take note of the existential threat posed by the potential tariffs and their resulting dismay.

But tradesfolk in our country’s major cities often forget that they remain a minority in our nation.

I was reminded of this when I recently contacted the office of a top anti-tariff congressperson whose district lies just north of metropolitan Houston where I live. The area where he lives and dines (as I discovered) is one of greater Houston’s more affluent. But despite the extreme concentration of wealth in his neck of the woods (Houstonians will get the pun), there isn’t much in terms of haute cuisine in the community he represents beyond the quintessential high-end and highly predictable steak house franchises.

When I spoke to the owner and executive chef of the seemingly lone high-concept restaurant there (where, I learned, said representative frequently eats), the food professional told me that while he was aware of the tariff issue, it hasn’t affected his business at all.

How is that possible? I asked him.

His wine program does include a sizable allocation of expensive French wines. But those lots were purchased some time ago, he said, partly as an investment (a classic restaurant model). Like the guests he serves, he focuses primarily on top California wines.

And when he revealed his overarching approach to his restaurant group’s wine programs, the axiomatic delivery rolled off his palate so mellifluously that I can’t imagine it was his first time uttering the phrase.

“If it doesn’t have the grape name on the label,” he informed me, “they ain’t going to drink it.”

He was referring to pecunious Americans’ well-documented penchant and preference for “varietal wines,” bottlings sometimes even blended using different varieties but labeled with a single grape name, e.g., “Chardonnay,” “Merlot,” “Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir,” etc.

His aphorism rang true when I spoke to said representative’s office. The person on the other line seemed entirely unaware of the heightened interest in European wines that has taken shape in this country over the last two decades.

For the record, both the restaurateur and the government official with whom I spoke were exceedingly generous with their time and both were glad to lend a hand in connecting me with the persons I was trying to reach.

But the notion that the tariffs under consideration would disproportionately affect Americans without achieving the desired result was something that hadn’t previously or remotely crossed their minds.

Wine culture has grown enormously in the U.S. over the last 20 years or so. But for most Americans, it doesn’t really matter where that Pinot Grigio comes from. It might as well be from Australia or Texas, as long as the grape name is inscribed on the package.

Just think of how wine is sold in American airports (or should I say, try to remember the way wine used to be sold in airports). In these transport hubs, where Americans from all walks of life and of all stripes meet (however fleetingly), the sale of wine is primarily categorized, classified, and bartered using its designate ampelonym: what wines do you have by the glass? is commonly answered by Chard, Sauv Blanc, Cab, Syrah, Pinot, and Merlot.

Shortly before the pandemic redefined “living” in America, a European winemaker and I took a road trip that led us from Houston to Dallas to Tulsa to Boulder. We hosted well-attended wine tastings in each city we visited.

But what about all the places and people in between?

Until a majority of Americans dives into the nuanced and subtle differences between Nebbiolo from Langa and its varietal counterpart from upper Piedmont, the threat of wine tariffs will be as ephemeral to them as it is existential to us.

Please visit the USWTA portal and make your voice heard!