Natural wine curious? Taste with Alice Feiring & me this Thursday (virtual event at Roma).

I couldn’t be more thrilled to share the news that Alice Feiring, the world’s leading advocate for and expert on natural wines, will be joining our weekly virtual wine dinner at Roma in Houston where I manage the wine program.

The cost is $119 per couple and sends you home with three bottles of wine and a vegetarian menu that outgoing chef Angelo Cuppone has created especially for the dinner. Click here for details and menu.

Alice started a bona fide revolution when she published her first book, The Battle for Wine and Love: How I Saved the World from Parkerization, in 2008. Since that time, she has published a number of titles devoted to natural wine, not to mention her many Times pieces — including her wonderful “Modern Love” columns — and bylines for leading mastheads like The World of Fine Wine and others.

Alice is also one of my best friends in the wine trade, a mentor and a role model for my own career. I’m super geeked to be hosting her for this event and there’s no doubt in my mind that it will be one to remember!

Houston wine people, I hope you can join for this one. Thanks for the support. From the natural wine curious to the natural wine veterans, this is one not to miss.

Dolomite sunrise, a prayer for a friend…

La Jolla, Tuesday, June 8, 2021.

How many sunsets have we watched together over that same horizon?
How many berakoth have we parsed before we reached 13?
How many gigs have we spun, you on skins, me on strings?
How many repasts in confraternity, how many 750s in convivium?
How many nights in Chandler’s America and Shakespeare’s Italy?
How many sunrises have we watched together over that same horizon?

Do you remember the 3 a.m. panino dunked in the Belluno périphérique?
Do you remember the 11 a.m. glass offered by the Alpini?
Do you remember the collation we shared in the Carson jail?
Do you remember the heifer we carved under the W-burg bridge?
Do you remember the Moscato d’Astis, the Brunellos, the grappas?
Do you remember the Dolomite sunrise we watched in Agordo?

From the edge of the sea to the foot of the mountain,
From the depths of desolation to the peak of our delight,
I remember them all — each and every one.  

“The allocation game is out of control.” Opinion by Brett Zimmerman, Boulder Burgundy Festival founder.

“The social challenges of the last 24 months have prompted many in the greater wine community to advocate for more inclusion and equity in our industry. But with prices like this, some purveyors of fine wine seem to be moving in exactly the opposite direction.”

Please read “the allocation game is out of control,” a post by my friend and client Brett Zimmerman.

The best Italian party last night at Eataly Dallas.

Above: My seminar yesterday on Pecorino Toscano at Eataly, Dallas. That’s the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce director, Alessia Paolicchi, left, addressing our group at the market and restaurant’s first in-person “Scuola” event since early 2020.

Nearly all shared my sentiment that we were attending a truly extraordinary event yesterday evening at Eataly in Dallas.

After a small group of food writers and enthusiasts joined a Prosciutto di Parma and Pecorino Toscano seminar in the venue’s first in-person “Scuola” (cooking school) event since the lockdowns began early last year, we all headed up stairs to Terra restaurant where we were joined by roughly 100 of the city’s leading Italian and Italophile citizens. It was a genuine who’s-who of the culinary community there, including Italian chefs, entrepreneurs, locally based writers and influencers, and food and wine trade members.

Chefs Alfio Longo and Andrea Rodella, both Dallas-based Italians, were joined by Terra’s executive chef Michael Lawson for what was surely the most sumptuous meal any of us had enjoyed in public for more than a year. They did a truly bang up job.

I have to give the warmest shout-out to the staff at Eataly Dallas for their professionalism, verve, and dedication in presenting a fantastic dinner for such a large group. I certainly wasn’t the only one who noted how remarkable it was to be at such a great event — with such a wonderful crowd — after such a long time.

And dulcis in fundo, as I was window shopping on the floor of the retail space, I ran into one of my ex-students from the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences grad program (I hope to be heading back there soon, btw). It was such a treat for me to catch up with him and learn that he’s thriving in the world of Italian food and wine.

I couldn’t have been more thrilled to be part of Eataly’s first in-person gatherings. And I couldn’t be more proud to have presented the seminar and dinner alongside some of our state’s top Italian food and wine-focused professionals. Great job, guys, all around!

Italian parliament poised to approve bill that would create an “Italian organic” brand and “organic districts.”

Above: over the last decade, organically branded food shops, like this ice cream shop and café, have flourished across Italy.

In late May, the Italian senate approved a sweeping bill that would create a new “Italian organic” brand, officially recognized “organic districts,” and sweeping subsidies for research, development, and monitoring of organic farming practices. The bill would also integrate the organic farming supply chain through government oversight.

The legislation, which is widely expected to be approved by the Italian chamber of deputies, was adopted with one vote in opposition and one abstention.

One point of contention was a brief and arguably vague line in the proposed legislation that would elevate the status of biodynamic agriculture, “putting it on a par with” organic agriculture.

Biodynamic farming’s embrace of spirituality and mysticism, say critics, including Italian senator for life Elena Cattaneo, who delivered an impassioned speech on the senate floor before the vote, make it a discipline not based on science.

Cattaneo, the only senator to vote against the legislation, lobbied unsuccessfully to amend the line about biodynamic agriculture. Her failed efforts were called a “resounding defeat” by the mainstream Italian media. In her address to her colleagues, Cattaneo, known for her groundbreaking work in stem cell research, called organic farming a “niche sector,” noting that it represents a small fraction of Italy’s farmland. She also pointed out that it would provide subsidies to fallow pastures where no food is produced.

The bill, she said, “offers no guarantee of greater health benefits or greater nutritional value” for Italian citizens.

In 2019, when the bill was first debated in the Italian parliament, Cattaneo called organic farming “a beautiful but impossible fairytale.” She and nearly 400 other Italian scientists signed an open letter to the Italian parliament in which they opposed the then nascent legislation.

“In order to justify pricing often double [that of conventionally farmed products],” she said at the time,

    we have been told that organic farming is the only way to save the world and help us to live longer and better. It’s an illusion. There is no scientific proof to confirm this. In fact, the opposite is true: analysis reveals that organic products are not qualitatively better and that large-scale organic farming is unsustainable inasmuch as it produces up to 50 percent less when it comes to top agricultural products. Large-scale organic farming would require twice as much land. In order to convert the world to organic farming, we would have to use hundreds of millions of hectares of currently fallow land, including forests and prairies.

Supporters of the bill see it as part of a wider EU initiative, known as “Farm to Fork,” to safeguard natural resources, to protect the environment, and to create a more robust organic farming supply chain across member states.

“We are extremely pleased that the senate has approved the bill,” said Maria Grazia Mammuccini, president of FedBio, a trade association that has lobbied aggressively for the creation of the “Italian organic” brand. “We have been waiting for this for more than 15 years. This much awaited legislation is finally moving forward.”

My new wine director gig in Houston! Taste with me at Roma, Weds. June 2 (free tasting).

One of the most remarkable experiences of my career in wine took shape during the 2020 lockdowns. For more than 52 weeks, with just a few breaks, I led virtual wine dinners every Thursday night for Roma restaurant in Houston. Those events were what kept the restaurant financially afloat — and what kept food on all of our tables — during the seemingly unending challenges of the pandemic.

But something else happened as well, something truly magical. Through these digital gatherings on Zoom, we created a community of Italian food and wine lovers who found comfort in our shared culinary passion as the world outside seemed to be falling apart — literally. By the summer of 2020, we regularly had 80-90 guests attending virtually each week. The friendship and culinary camaraderie we shared was something that I’ll never ever forget. It showed, once again, how food and wine can transcend their roles as nutritional and aesthetic pleasures.

When the lockdowns began in March 2020, I had worked as a media manager for Roma for more than two years, running the restaurant’s website and social media. But the restaurant’s founder, my good friend and Houston restaurant veteran Shanon Scott, had never even considered me working on the wine list with him. His thought was, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But then, after he had watched me lead more than 50 or so of these events, which also included an Italian winemaker joining us from Italy at 2:30 in the morning, I approached Shanon about me helping out with the program. By May of this year, we had agreed that I would become the restaurant’s wine director as of June 1.

On Tuesday of last week, we debuted our new list and program. And by Saturday night, there was a bottle of wine on every table — something that had never happened before at Roma. Our goal is to make the restaurant the leading Texas destination for Italian wine by 2021’s end.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be hosting a free (yes, free!) Amarone tasting at the restaurant at 6 p.m. (Wednesday, June 20). And then I’ll be pouring and chatting tableside with guests throughout the night. Please join me!

Just shoot me an email at jeremy [at] romahouston.com if you’d like to attend the event. Thank you for your support. I hope to see you tomorrow or at one of the many wine tastings and dinners — in-person and virtual — that we have planned for coming months.

Local Source, a new Texas wine distributor, tries to bring back “relationship selling.” They’re counting people, not just beans. And they’re hiring.

As the U.S. begins to open up again, times couldn’t be more exciting for the wine industry. People — trade members and consumers alike — are all eager to taste after more than a year of lockdown.

I recently spoke to a veteran of the Texas wine business, David Verheyen (above), who’s just launched a new wine distribution company here in Houston, Local Source.

David has worked in the highest levels of the Texas wine establishment. But now he’s trying to shake things up with his new company where the focus is on “relationship selling.”

As he notes in our excerpted conversation below, the big wine companies — fueled by even more consolidation during the pandemic — have given up on the “romance” of wine.

He’s trying to bring it back. And he’s not just counting beans. He’s counting people, too.

If you’re wondering why he’s standing in front of a couple of muscle cars in the image above, that’s because one his partners also stores his vintage car collection in their Houston warehouse.

Here’s what he had to say when we spoke recently by phone.

Local Source is currently hiring. See their website for contact info.

Excerpts from a recent conversation with Local Source co-founder David Verheyen, a 30-year-plus veteran of the Texas wine trade:

[My business partner and I] both come from background of working for really large corporations. So we wanted to focus on building something with a family feel and a local feel to it.

We don’t want our customers to feel like they have a number crammed down their throat from someone in New York, Miami, Atlanta, or San Francisco. We’re not the ones saying, “hey, we need to make this number.” We wanted to be about the wine and the family behind the wine — the farmer.

And that’s why we call it “Local Source.” Our people are from here. We’re not bringing in people from Las Vegas to come in and sell Champagne. We’re doing it ourselves.

We are also in importer. And we’re taking that piece of the equation out of it for our customers.

We’re looking for a more adventurous drinker when it comes to Champagne, Savoie, parts of the Rhône Valley, and parts of Southern Burgundy. We don’t want to be the “big company.” We don’t want to get in the away. We’re not built for that. We don’t want to play in that park. We are big believers in traditional European styles. And we’re also trying to build up our Italian portfolio.

Unfortunately, the days of relationship selling are over. That’s because of the technology. The big companies feel like they can dictate what the customer will buy. I started selling wine in 1989 in Texas. I never lost some feeling of the romanticism in this business. And I don’t want my employees to lose sight of that.

Taste with me virtually this Friday in Long Beach, in-person next Wednesday in Houston (free).

It’s been nothing short of exhilarating to begin doing in-person tastings again.

I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be doing an in-person tasting at Roma restaurant in Houston next Wednesday, June 2 at 6 p.m. CST.

As I’m getting out more and more, including a now sold-out Pecorino Toscano tasting I’m leading and a dinner I’m co-presenting at Eataly in Dallas next Thursday, June 3, virtual events are still happening: this Friday, May 28 at 5 p.m. PST, I’ll be co-presenting a virtual Lambrusco tasting in Long Beach with Alicia Lini of Lini 910 (my friend and longtime client) and Samantha Dugan, one of the top sparkling wine experts working in the U.S. today.

If you’d like to join either event, please just shoot an email by clicking here (unfortunately, the Eataly events are completely filled at this point).

And there are a ton in-person events on the horizon. Thank you for the support.

Special thanks to the Passionate Foodie for the image from a few years ago in Boston.

Happy birthday Paolo. I love you, I miss you.

My bromance Paolo Cantele is celebrating a special birthday today. In any other year, he and I would be together on this day, as we have been on many of his birthdays over the years.

That’s a video I made for a song I wrote about him a few years ago, above. He’s a rocker and so it had to be heavy.

Paolo has been my friend and client for more than 10 years now. Together, we have achieved some of the highest highs in our line of work. We’ve also shared some of the best meals and wines of my life together, in part thanks to his wonderful generosity.

But the thing I cherish the most — and I believe he does, too — is our long road trips across the U.S.: the conversations, the music, the on-the-road camaraderie. That’s Paolo during our very last road trip (alone or together) in February of 2020 in Boulder, Colorado. On that trip, we left from Houston, where we had done an event the night before. We then did an event in Dallas. Got trolled by a Trumper during lunch on our way to do an event in Tulsa. Did an amazing dinner at Tavernetta in Denver the next night. And ended up at Boulder Wine Merchant and then later that night at our favorite restaurant in the U.S., Frasca.

That’s me and Paolo from a couple of years ago when we did an epic wine dinner in Houston for more than 100 people. That was an incredible night.

Paolo is the king of Instagram and Instagram filters. I love this photo of him. Check it out in the video above, too.

One of our greatest moments of working together was this story by Ray Isle in Food & Wine where Ray recounts his visit to Salento and a cooking class at the Cantele winery. What a great memory!

That’s Paolo with his brother Gianni. Paolo’s the “rock ‘n’ roll kid” in the family, Gianni is Salento’s Captain America. They’re both wonderful, lovely men with whom I’ve spent many unforgettable evenings tasting and talking and trading notes on what’s important in life. Both of them put so much soul into their family’s wines.

That’s Paolo holding a baby Georgia in his arms! Before Lila Jane was born, we took her on a tour of Italy, including a fantastic stay in Lecce, one of our favorite cities in Italy, where Paolo lives. It was Georgia’s first time in Europe.

Is there any question that Paolo should be played by Gary Oldman in the movie, “The Cantele Story”? I took that Photo back in Austin in a distant 2008 when I had just moved to Texas and Paolo and I first met on a “work with,” as we call them in the trade.

That’s Paolo and Tracie on this day 10 years ago when he celebrated is birthday with us at our home in Austin.

It must have been around that same time that I first took Paolo to experience Chicken Shit Bingo at Ginny’s Little Long Horn Saloon in Austin where we lived when I first got to the state.

Paolo, my Italian brother by another mother! I love you and I miss you. Happy birthday man. I miss our road trips, our conversations about books, movies, music, philosophy, politics… I miss you man. I wish I were there celebrating with you. We’ll make up for lost time once I can get back to you and you to us.

Rock on, brother. Our world is a better place because you’re in it. Un abbraccio forte.

It’s time to counter fine wine’s historic hostility to Black people.

Above: American artist and entrepreneur Jay-Z bought a Champagne house and launched his own wine after racist comments by a Champagne executive (photo via NRK-P3’s Flickr Creative Commons).

The American artist and entrepreneur Jay-Z made headlines in 2014 when he purchased a historic Champagne house and announced his plan to launch his own line of méthode Champenoise wine.

The move was prompted by overtly racist comments made by an executive for the singer’s favorite Champagne brand.

When asked what he thought about American rappers singing about the wine and using it as a prop in their music videos, said executive replied: “That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”

The rapper would later sing:

    I used to drink [said Champagne], them motherfuckers racist
    So I switched gold bottles on to that Spade shit

Jay-Z’s new label is known as “Ace of Spades.”

A year prior, a noted Italian winemaker had published a racist rant aimed at Italy’s newly seated minister for integration, the country’s first Black cabinet member. When confronted by previous fans of his wine online, said producer doubled down and publicly professed his acute animus toward Black people in general.

Some years earlier, in the pre-social media age, an Italian winery known for its white wines published a much circulated flier with an image of a young Black woman on it. Her chest was uncovered and she had a glass of white wine in her hand. The caption read: “I like whites, too!”

Those are just the public instances of overt racism that come to mind. But they are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Just ask any Black wine professional, whether writer or tradesperson, what it’s like to be the only Black person in the room at a given tasting. The anecdotes of ignoble treatment will be myriad.

As the world of wine tries to move past its historic hostility toward Black people, a new movement for inclusion, equity, and dignity-based treatment has taken shape among White wine trade members.

That’s a good thing, no doubt.

But in the light of the industry’s newly found self-awareness, the reaction to a recent post of mine was all the more surprising.

After I suggested that we change the name of an Italian grape variety to make it inoffensive to Black people in this country, I was accused of wokeness. Is that really such a crime? Especially given the industry’s historic antagonism of Black people, is it so wrong to make a similar proposal? Evidently a number of people feel that way.

What I’m proposing — an evolution of the grape name, not a so-called cancellation — has nothing to do with wokeness or cancel culture.

It’s inspired by common decency and sense.

To all of my detractors, I propose this. You stand before a group of roughly 100 wine lovers in a restaurant on a Thursday night in Houston where nearly half the crowd is Black. Let’s even throw in a small sound system into the equation so that your voice is crystal clear. And with bottle in hand, you try presenting a grape called Negroamaro.

I’m not asking Italians to change their grape name. I’m asking them and their American partners to adapt it for Black market here in the U.S.

I’m not asking the world to cancel every name that has the word Negro in it. I’m asking the wine world to acknowledge that Black people like Italian wine, too.

I’m not asking my fellow wine professionals to diminish Italian viticulture or culture at large. I’m asking them to pay attention to the sensibilities of Black wine lovers in this country. A group that has been historically overlooked, ignored, and maltreated by the wine industry. If you claim that you haven’t seen ample evidence of that legacy in the #BLM era, you are disingenuous.

With all the EU funds that will become available next year for Italian winemakers to promote their products in America, where they sell 70 percent — yes 70 percent — of their output by most industry estimates, will it be so painful for them to create a new label for our market?

I can assure you it will be plenty painful for many Black wine lovers if they don’t.