Same time, next year: meet me in Boulder this weekend for Boulder Burgundy Festival. Elaine Brown, Esther Mobley, and Carlin Karr are featured speakers.

Festival founder Brett Zimmerman presents one of the marquee dinners at last year’s Boulder Burgundy Festival at Steakhouse Number 316 in Boulder. The wines, the food, and the people at all of the festival’s events are as compelling as they are welcoming and inspiring.

I dunno, but I always feel a little guilty when I say goodbye to Tracie, the girls, and the Chihuahuas when I get on the plane for my “long weekend” of work at the Boulder Burgundy Festival each year.

I mean, it really sucks to leave your family for a three-day weekend and head to one of the most beautiful valleys in all of north American for tastings and dinners featuring some of the best and most expensive wines in the world.

It sucks even more when you consider that my gig is Italian wine. I mean, what am I thinking? Hanging out with a bunch of French wine lovers and French winemakers?

It’s a really tough job but someone has to do it. Seriously…

Please join me this weekend for the Boulder Burgundy Festival where I have been the event’s official blogger and media consultant for more than a decade (I must be doing something right if they keep inviting me back each year!).

This year, we’re looking forward to hosting Elaine Brown (whom you all already know), Esther Mobley (another wine writer celeb who needs no introduction when it comes to the wine intelligentsia of which you, reader, are undoubtedly a member), and Carlin Karr, who, beyond being one of the nicest and most brilliant people I have ever met in the wine trade, is one of the top-five wine buyers in the country today.

The only bummer is that Tracie will not be there this year. That’s because we have some big news to share soon and she needs to be here in Houston. And no, it’s not that she’s having another Parzen baby. No, no, no, it’s not that. But it’s big and it’s good (stay tuned for that).

The Paulée lunch sold out as soon as it hit the internets. But there are a few spots left for the dinners and grand tasting (Burgundy geeks and certification seekers: the Sunday walk-around is probably the best value available in the U.S. in terms of being able to taste through a wide field of Burgundy including some of the most out-of-reach stuff; just be sure to get there early!). And I ask you to keep in mind that Boulder Burgundy Festival is a non-profit whose proceeds all go to local and national charities.

I hope you will join us and I’m looking forward to tasting some exceptional wines with some exceptional people and some of the best food in the U.S. Thank you Brett and Boulder Wine Merchant for making me a part of it each year!

What’s the difference between pergola and tendone? The answer may be the key to viticulture in the age of climate change.

The notion that tendone and pergola training systems could represent one of the grand solutions for winemakers facing the wrathful challenges of climate change was first suggested to me many years ago by the writer, publisher, and in-demand vineyard manager Maurizio Gily.

The topic came up following a call he had received from a winery in Texas asking him to consult on a new vineyard planting. The ancient training technique, which can trace its origins to bronze-era trellising used by the Etruscans, could be ideal, he said, for protecting the plants and their fruit from extreme weather events including severe storms and late-spring frosts (while high temperatures are a major problem for Texas wine growers, it’s the late-spring frosts — remember the 2021 freeze? — that can cause a farmer to lose their entire crop).

But there’s a bigger element in play, I learned recently when Chiara Ciavolich, legacy grower at her family’s farm in Abruzzo, took me on a tour of her estate together with her longtime vineyard manager Guerino Pescara.

The first question they answered was what’s the difference between pergola and tendone training?

Where pergola is a patchwork of small square structures that support the vines, tendone is a continuous and seamless series of pergolas, as it were. (To better get a sense of the system, keep in mind that a tendone in Italian means big tent.)

And here’s where that difference, a seemingly small divergence but actually extremely impactful, comes into play.

Beyond protecting the vines and fruit from severe weather, the canopy formed by the tendone mitigates or facilitates solar radiation. That’s why tendone is so important: because the canopy covers the entire parcel and not just the earth where the vines have their roots.

Guerino spent the better part of an hour that day explaining to me how solar radiation, beyond being a key to photosynthesis, also determines water retention and drainage. And in years like 2022 when prolonged drought and extreme summer temperatures represented existential threats to growers, solar radiation mitigation is an increasingly important component in vineyard management.

To the layperson, the first photo above may seem like an abandoned vineyard. But professionals will discern how the vegetation between the rows and canopy vegetation create a balance in solar radiation and water retention.

The art of managing the vegetation, Guerino explained, is not only the key to making great wines (and man, are the wines of Ciavolich great!). But it also may be the key to mitigating the effects of climate change.

The wines tasted at Caivolich were among the best during my early September harvest tour of central and northern Italy.

Beyond being a keeper of one of Abruzzo’s most important flames, she is also a intellectual winemaker whose thoughtfulness and deeper sense of history and legacy are reflected in her extraordinary wines.

Her “Fosso Cancelli” line floored me with a clarity and focus of fruit that spanned the entire flight. As much as I loved the whites, including her opulent interpretation of Pecorino, it was her Montepulciano that stopped the show. The freshness, vibrant fruit, buoyancy, and nuance of this wine make it a stand-out Italian red — no matter what the appellation.

It was such a treat for me to meet Chiara and Guerino. And it didn’t take long before my conversation with Chiara veered into 20th-century and contemporary literature (my kind of winemaker!). I highly recommend her wines and if you ever get the chance to taste and interact with her, take the opportunity. I really enjoyed visiting with her and came away inspired by our chat.

I also have to give a shout-out to her village’s most popular restaurant, La Bilancia, a legendary and top wine and food destination. Those are the peppers they bring to spice up your primi. I didn’t have time for a proper meal there but I can’t wait to get back (thanks again to Aburuzzo consortium marketing director Davide Acerra for hooking everything up!).

Anxiety of influence delivers a delicious Ripasso from the most unlikely place.

According to the Wiki, the 20th-century critical theorist Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” was “based primarily on [his] belief that there is no such thing as an original poem, that every new composition is simply a misreading or misinterpretation of an earlier poem and that influence is unavoidable and inescapable; all writers inevitably, to some degree, adopt, manipulate or alter and assimilate certain aspects of the content or subject matter, literary style or form from their predecessors.”

Bloom’s “anxiety” came to mind a few weeks ago when Tracie and I opened a bottle of Gino Cuneo’s 2014 Ripasso, a wine made using partially dried Corvina, Molinara, and Rodinella grapes in the style of Valpolicella. The main technical difference between his and his Veneto counterparts’ wines is that he grows his fruit in Washington State.

But unlike Bloom, who often saw the detriment of literature owed to influence, we discovered in Gino’s wine a wonderful continuity with the wines of the “precursor,” as the famous Yale scholar might have called it.

The historic reach of influence in North American viticulture is widespread and pervasive — and sometimes even invasive.

A great example of this is the planting of Francophile “international” grape varieties in Sonoma and Napa in the era that followed the repeal of Prohibition and the end of the Second World War. It’s widely accepted today that Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon where not the ideal varieties to plant in Northern California’s arid climate where average temperatures of late summer generally and greatly exceed those in the grapes’ respective spiritual homelands, namely Burgundy and Bordeaux.

But the landed gentry of that era, as it were, saw French wines as the model — their anxiety of influence — for the wines they wanted to grow and drink. Prior to Prohibition, the previous generation of grape farmers there were Italophile and often Italian. The new California wine of the post-WWII epoch was conceived as an “ennoblement” of the region’s viticulture. (It’s important to remember that Italian immigrants were often considered second-class citizens in America at that time.)

By the time the enoblogopshere began to take shape in the 2000s, there was already a distinct new wave of wine lovers who decried “California Chardonnay” and “Napa Valley Cab” as mediocre, misguided, and ill-conceived imitations of their French models.

These and other transcultural questions of Bloomian influence crossed my mind the other night as we enjoyed Cuneo’s wine with a well-done porterhouse steak (that’s the way our girls like it; a parental-filial compromise).

The thing that struck me about it was how classic the wine showed, with notes of almond and black cherry that are typical of Valpolicella-grown Corvina. It also had the alcohol and the power that the ripasso method traditionally delivers. (It’s my impression that Cuneo makes this wine more like a lighter-style Amarone than a ripasso-method wine. Technically, a Ripasso is made by fermenting the new must on the solids of previously vinified Amarone. I believe that this wine, on the other hand, is made partially from dried grapes. Gino, if you are here, please share the vinification. Thank you!)

In my experience, Italian-inspired wines from the U.S. often lose their classic varietal traits. It’s rare that a California-grown Sangiovese or Barbera evokes aromas and flavors of the same grapes grown in their land of origin.

Tracie and I have a high bar for Italianate wine made in the U.S. But this one really thrilled our palates and commanded our attention with its pseudo-typicity and delicious flavors and food-friendliness.

Isn’t great when a bottle of wine gets you thinking thoughts like this? It seems the anxiety of influence isn’t so bad after all…

Thank you, Gino, for sharing this bottle of wine with us! We really enjoyed it!

Anti-Semitism and our semi-Semite children.

Above: a sunset in La Jolla, California where I grew up. Before my family moved there, realtors redlined Jews until it became apparent that community wouldn’t thrive without them.

It’s widely known that La Jolla, the beautiful oceanside neighborhood in San Diego where I grew up, was off-limits to Jews until the 1960s when the University of California began to build a campus there.

“They didn’t let Jews in until they built a university and they needed Jews.” That’s what my father used to say. He was a Chicago-based psychoanalyst who moved there with our family in 1971. We were part of an early wave of midwest professionals who migrated west toward the Pacific.

He was echoing words spoken loudly by the founder of U.C.S.D., Roger Revelle (for whom one of the university’s colleges is named).

“You can’t have a university without having Jewish professors,” said Revelle in a now famous speech. “The Real Estate Broker’s Association and their supporters in La Jolla had to make up their minds whether they wanted a university or an anti-Semitic covenant. You couldn’t have both.”

I had my first bitter taste of anti-Semitism when a seven-year-old playmate and neighbor of mine told me that his parents had forbidden him from interacting with me. “Because you’re a Jew,” he said.

Throughout junior high (as it was called then) and high school, it was a normal occurrence for other students to taunt me and my Jewish friends with anti-Semitic epithets. My two best and inseparable friends throughout my teens were Jews. One of our classmates dubbed us — with insouciant but innocuous malice common in our age group — the “Jew Crew.” (He’s still a good friend. A few years ago he remarked off-handedly, “I don’t know why all of my best friends are Jews.”)

But aside from the stress caused by heckling, being a Semite has never impeded me or my brothers from achieving everything we wanted in life. I feel it’s important to note, as my younger brother once wisely pointed out, that the only suffering inflicted on us by anti-Semites in our early years was solely emotional and superficial.

That all changed for me when the white supremacists openly chanted “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville in 2017. That’s when I began to realize that anti-Semitic violence was no longer a far-fetched notion in our country.

The 2019 shooting at a San Diego-area synagogue really and quite literally brought it home: a close childhood friend of mine was a member there and my older brother and his wife have worshipped there. They knew the 60-year-old woman who was killed by the shooter.

Seeing images of white supremacists chanting, raising their arms in Nazi salutes, and displaying anti-Semitic messages over the 405 freeway in Los Angeles brought a chill to my spine. When I lived, studied, and worked in LA as an undergrad and grad student, I used to drive on that stretch of road nearly every single day. The overpass where their rally took place is not far from the Getty Museum (where I used to work, although not at that location) and the Skirball Cultural Center, a Jewish community hub. I used to attend the nearby Stephen Wise Temple on the high holy days when I lived on campus at U.C.L.A.

During my last years in New York City, I used to wait on the entertainer who unleashed a chorus of anti-Semitic rhetoric with his own inflammatory remarks over the last few weeks. He lived in a SoHo building where a high-profile Italian restaurant was located on the ground floor. I was the restaurant’s marketing director and I often worked the dining room as a sommelier.

His overtly racist comments have made anti-Semitism a dinner table topic of conversation in our home.

Our children, ages nine and 10, are not considered Jews by most of my conreligionists. That’s because Jewish law holds that the mother must be a Jew for the kids to be Jews. Tracie is a gentile. I like to call them “semi-Semites.”

But Jewish culture and Jewish language are a big part of our daily banter. And we happen to live in the historic Jewish neighborhood of Houston. Many of their classmates are Jews and we often attend Jewish observances with other families.

Our girls have been tight-lipped about this episode. They are aware of it because it’s been unavoidable on the news. And there’s no doubt that they are affected by it, in part because Tracie and I have been outwardly upset by it.

Where I grew up thinking that a few nasty words about my ethnicity were all I would have to tolerate throughout my life, they are living in a world where verbal and physical violence are threats that self-identifying Jews have to live with every day. Anti-Semitism is no longer a sad joke that we can brush off as anachronistic. Even a living former president of the U.S. has been known to make anti-Semitic comments. It’s no surprise that his political mentor was a rabid anti-Semite.

When Tracie and I first talked about starting a family together 13 years ago, I never would have imagined that our kids would grow up with this cultural pressure and stress. Yet here we are.

In our everyday interactions, people around us often use racist language about Jews without even realizing how harmful it is. I only wish they would stop to reflect about how it’s going to shape our children’s self-perceptions and their perceptions of the world around them. In today’s world, that verbal violence seems closer than ever to the physical violence that my ancestors fled.

Thanks for letting me share this personal history with you. Parzen family friends, please consider following the Anti-Defamation League and their newsletter. Their reporting will give you a better sense of how pervasive anti-Semitism is in our country today.

Support my research through the Do Bianchi wine club. Thanksgiving offering now available.

Some folks will remember that I used to run a wine club in California where I would sell mixed six-packs from my warehouse in San Diego.

I am happy to report that I am launching the club again.

And you can help to support my work and research here at Do Bianchi by enjoying some great Italian wines selected by me.

If you’d like to receive information about my current holiday offering (perfect for Thanksgiving), please send me an email by clicking here (jparzen @ gee mail).

The offer is available exclusively to California residents (sorry, Texas, but our state doesn’t like wine unless it comes through the fat cat channels).

And I also have some higher end wines and extra party wines available for those who need them for entertaining this season.

The centerpiece of this month’s offering is the BES 2020 Barbera del Monferrato (above).

That wine is currently featured on one of California’s top Italian-focused wine lists.

It’s a gorgeous expression of a grape and wine region that deserve our attention — now more than ever because of the role Barbera is playing a climate changing world. It’s grown and vinified by a lovely couple who moved to the countryside in Monferrato some years ago because their special needs son needed a break from city life.

BES stands for bere e sognare (drink and dream) but it also stands for bisogni educativi speciali (special educational needs). It’s also an acronym for the couple’s last names.

This is Barbera at its finest imho, from honest growers who make the wine as purely and transparently as possible. I fell in love with it when I first tasted it a few years ago and I’m thrilled to be offering it to my friends through my wine club.

And it’s just one of the six wines in my Thanksgiving holiday six pack.

Hit me up if you need some wine! I’ll use the sales to keep my medieval wine lit research going. And you’ll get to drink some of my favorite wines.

Click here to email me and I’ll send you details. Thank you for the support and solidarity!

A tasting note experiment breaks new ground in my grad seminars at Slow Food U.

Above: my graduate student class at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy, on the last day of our seminars earlier this month.

Last week, Slow Food U grad students attended my last four lectures/seminars for this academic year.

Like nearly every year the university has invited me to teach there (the first year was 2016), our class did a wine tasting where the students are asked to write a classic tasting note, including a 100-point scale score.

After a discussion of the invention and widescale diffusion of the now ubiquitous score and tasting note in the 1980s and 1990s, we turn each year to Eric Asimov’s wonderful book How to Love Wine where we read his chapter on the “Tyranny of the Tasting Note.”

In that essay, he writes: “At best, tasting notes are a waste of time. At worst, they are pernicious.”

He then goes on to compare tasting notes and accompanying scores for the same wine from three different wine writers, each writing for a high-profile masthead.

As you can imagine, each writer delivers wildly different tasting descriptors and widely divergent scores.

This year, as in years past, our class tasted a wine and was asked to write a tasting note and score the wine.

The results — it’s only natural — ranged broadly, as predicted.

But this year for the first time, I asked my students to write a second note for the wine.

For the first one, they were tasked with writing a classic note, à la Wine Advocate or Wine Spectator.

But for the second, I asked them to write about how the wine makes them feel. In other words, I asked them to describe not the wine but the emotion that the wine evoked in them.

The outcome was remarkable. Where their classic tasting notes were predictably divergent (even to the point that their descriptors were incongruous with one another), their “emotional” notes were nearly identical across the board.

Of those who offered to read them aloud (they were not required to share), the same theme emerged again and again: this wine makes me feel like calling up my friend and organizing a meal (the wine was a wonderful Barbera from Monferrato btw). A number of them even used the same word when they said it made them feel like they would like to “organize a picnic.”

One of the things that have always struck me about tasting wine in a social setting, whether in a large group like my class or one-on-one with a person you care about, is how when two or more tasters arrive at the quasi-identical sensation in a wine, it immediately becomes an “ah ha” moment where the lonely coil of human experience seems to be cast off by sharing a sort of sensory intimacy.

It’s like when my wife Tracie and I taste a wine and we both land on the same impression: Wouldn’t this be perfect for your King Ranch Chicken recipe? Yes, for sure! Let’s have that on Saturday night!

In 2019, Eric wrote published one of his most powerful pieces (imho) for the Times, “It’s Time to Rethink Wine Criticism.”

“It’s time to re-examine the nature of American wine criticism today… And it’s time to consider a better model that might be more useful to consumers, a system that would empower them to make their own choices rather than tether them endlessly to critics’ bottle-by-bottle reviews.”

I don’t have a solution for the wine trade’s ongoing criticism conundrum.

But our experiment last week brought to mind something that wine writer (and novelist) Jay McInerney once said to me over a bottle of wine we were sharing.

Tastings notes vexed him when writing for the Wall Street Journal, he shared. He would much rather write a poem for each wine he was asked to review. Writing poetry may be easier for Jay than most.

But while I don’t have an answer to the thorny question of a post-tasting note/score world, I do think that it lies on the horizon: what if we stop asking what a wine tastes like (an exercise that requires us to use a literally figure known as synaesthesia) and instead we ask ourselves what a wine makes a feel.

Especially in the light of the joy that my students felt when discovering that their “feelings” aligned, I believe this could be the path to a more useful critical theory of wine.

As unconventional and unscientific as it sounds, emotion — not technical information — is what really brings us all together around a glass or a bottle of wine. There’s no disputing that.

Otherwise, we wouldn’t still be here, ceaselessly poring over (and pouring over and over again) a wine that we like or dislike. Poetic chops not required. Just self-awareness and honesty.

Thanks again to my students and the admin staff at Slow Food U for a great experience and stay! Looking forward to next year.

A Friuli-focused podcast you need to know (and not just because I’m on it).

Just over the course of the last month, I’ve had the great fortune to interact with a half dozen wine professionals with whom I worked (and/or drank) during the late 1990s and early aughts in New York City.

It was such a magical time to be there, especially as far as the Italian wine and food scene was concerned.

Just think how many Italian restaurants opened between 1998 and 2008 (when the financial crisis took an inestimable toll on the trade). Even following the tragedy of the two towers, New York continued to be a beacon in the global Italian gastronomic renaissance.

Looking back on it all and considering how many of those folks went on to become leaders in our industry, most would agree it was a culinary golden age. And the wines were pretty damn good, too.

One of those wine professionals with whom I came up in the trade was none other than Wayne Young. That’s me and Wayne, above, last month at the Ca’ dei Frati winery in Lugana (photo by my buddy Gianpaolo Giacobbo, Ca’ dei Frati’s media rep and super groovy dude).

Wayne and I have been tight friends since that time and we’ve also worked on some great projects together. At the tail end of that decade, we organized two epic blogger trips to Friuli. And when I say epic

I was so stoked when he asked me to join him on his podcast a few weeks ago. I really can’t stand the sound of my own voice (as hard as that is to believe). But I can’t recommend his Friuli-focused Taverna podcast to you enough.

Check it out here and thanks for listening.

He makes fantastic wine on his grandparents’ Alta Langa farm. But the DOCG won’t let him in.

It’s not every day that you get an Instagram message from someone named Fenoglio.

But that’s what happened a few months ago when a note showed up in my inbox from Matteo Fenoglio, a young and superbly talented grower and winemaker from Alta Langa and a distant relative of the celebrated Langa writer Beppe Fenoglio, a partisan and 20th-century Italian hero.

With his missive, he invited me to visit his small winery in Serravalle Langhe where his family has farmed for generations. It would be difficult for me to make the trek given my work and family responsibilities, I responded. But if he wanted to come see me in nearby Bra where I teach a few weeks each year, I would love to taste the wine.

Yesterday, he drove over to Bra from the family farm in Serravalle Langhe, where he grows Pinot Noir, and we sat down to taste at the Hotel Badellino where I stay each time I’m in town (thanks again, Mr. Giacomo for setting us up with a spot to taste!).

He farms organically, he told me. He doesn’t inoculate his wine; does the riddling by hand; uses organic sugar for the tirage; ages the wine on its lees in his family’s infernot without the use of temperature control; and he never adds a liqueur d’expedition. His total production is around 10,000 bottles. (His other gig is hazelnut farming btw.)

This compelling wine really impressed me with its gorgeous, delicate aromas of berry and bright red fruit. On the palate, the wine was fresh with the red fruits getting slightly darker. The clean finish lingered with hints of the flavors in the palate. It was delicious. I loved the nuance and clarity of the fruit as it played against the wine’s gently salty backdrop.

But despite being a legacy grower in Serravalle Langhe, a commune where Alta Langa can be produced, the growers association has refused to let him join their consortium. Admissions are currently closed, they told him. He can only watch with bewilderment as some of the big wine groups have planted vineyards and built wineries there while he is sidelined by bureaucracy.

Alta Langa, the Langa Highlands, as it were, is a name created especially for this relatively new appellation. It refers to the minimum altitude for the vineyards, 250 m.s.l.

Over about an hour we spent together, we talked about how the toponym Alta Langa really isn’t a place name at all. It was coined especially for the appellation as it was birthed. While all the new wineries being raised and vineyards being planting around him, he seems to feel like he hasn’t been invited to the party (let’s just leave it at that).

Evoking the novels of Fenoglio and his contemporary Cesare Pavese, he told the story of how his family were farmers who fled the post-war depression of their hills to work in the Ferrero factory in Alba where he was born. But they never abandoned their parents’ land. And when he came of age, he began to farm there again, including some old vines still growing there.

I found him to be as compelling as his wine. And I highly recommend both. Search them out.

Back at Slow Food U this week and notes from my Medieval Italian lit lecture in NYC.

It’s been a whirlwind.

On Wednesday night, for the first time since February of 2020, I made it back to New York, a city where I lived, worked, and played a ton of music for more than a decade between 1997 and 2008.

On Wednesday night, I had dinner at home with my dissertation advisor, editor, and friend, the Milanese poet Luigi Ballerini, and his wife Paola, a Lacanian psychoanalyst and writer as well.

I couldn’t tell if I was in a Fellini or Woody Allen movie (tending toward the latter given the cityscape).

It was so awesome to back in the city! Daybreak runs around the reservoir in Central Park, ubiquitous bagels, and salty Manhattan clam chowder flooded my mind with memories of my years there. I even managed to see a couple of my best friends (both drummers I used to play with and a wine writer, go figure!).

But the highlight of my trip was my talk and guided wine tasting at the extraordinary Robert Simon gallery on the Upper East Side.

For the occasion, I shared notes from my translation of Pietro Crescenzi’s 14th-century treatise on Italian viticulture (to be published, at this point, in spring 2023 by a University of Toronto press imprint). And I also spoke about the role that wine plays in Boccaccio’s Decameron.

We poured three wines that evening: a Garganega, a Schiava, and a Nebbiolo. Each of these varieties were mentioned for the first time in Crescenzi’s work.

In his entry on Garganega, he talks about how popular the wines were among the university communities in Padua and Bologna (where Europe’s oldest schools for higher learning were founded in the 13th and 12th centuries respectively).

Schiava, reports Crescenzi, was Italy’s most prolific grape in that era, grown primarily in what is today Brescia province.

And Nebbiolo, which virtually disappears from ampelographers’ vellum and incunabula after Crescenzi’s mention, only to reappear in the first half of the 19th century, was inspiration for a line in Boccaccio’s #metoo novella, “the Marchioness of Monferrato.”

We also discussed Boccaccio’s notes on “wine like fire” in the epilogue of the Decameron. Both are equally dangerous and useful, he writes of humankind’s rational distortions of nature.

It was a great event and extremely fulfilling and rewarding for me to share my research.

And dulcis in fundo, when you hang out with the Upper East Side collector crowd, they all appreciate the rich cultural resources we enjoy in Houston where my family has lived for nearly a decade. I get so much shit for being a Texan when I travel in the U.S. But on the Upper East Side, everyone swoons over our museums like Houston’s Menil Collection.

Still feeling high from the experience, I got on a plane for Italy on Friday evening. And after catching up with my best friends at their new home in downtown Brescia on Saturday night, I headed out for Piedmont wine country. I even managed to get a winery visit in as I made my way to the town of Bra and the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences where I’ll be teaching wine communications in the grad program this week (my seventh year teaching here, if I’m not mistaken).

That’s my class above. A great and very motivated group of students.

I’m only halfway through my trip and it’s already been an unforgettable experience. Thanks for letting me share it with you. Now wish me luck, speed — and Nebbiolo!

Happy birthday Tracie! The girls and I love you!

Happy birthday Tracie! The girls and I love you! Our doggies love you, too!

Here’s one of the three songs I wrote for you this year: “Southeast Texas Girl in Italy.”

This one is about the time of your life before we met, when you were living on the island of Ischia and writing your blog “My Life Italian.”

(I know you’ve already heard it a million times, between me writing, recording, and mixing it in our home studio. But it still sounds fresh!)

I’ll never forget when we first were in touch back in 2008. I couldn’t believe that a woman as beautiful as you would even give me the time of day!

But it turned out that we had a lot in common, including our dream of building a family together.

Who would have ever thunk it? A southeast Texan who speaks Italian with a Neapolitan accent and a southern Californian who speaks Italian with a Venetian accent.

My grandparents spoke to each other in Yiddish when they didn’t want their children and grandchildren to understand what they were saying. We speak Italian!

I love you Tracie P! Happy birthday! You are such a wonderful mother to the girls and a beautiful and caring partner to me. And you are the sexiest realtor I’ve ever met (I have a confession to make: I’m sleeping with my agent!).

The girls and I are looking forward to your birthday menu, a bottle of white Rhône, and cupcakes for birthday dessert. We love you more than words or songs could say.