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).

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!

“Any additional tariffs will basically put a nail in the coffin.” Act now to voice your concerns about European wine tariffs.

Image via Adobe Stock.

“Any additional tariffs will basically put a nail in the coffin,” said one of the nation’s top French wine buyers in a text late last week.

“I have known Americans who lost jobs as a direct result of tariffs,” he told me. “But [I] have yet to hear of any French wineries letting people go due to tariffs. [Because of] COVID yes, tariffs, no.”

As the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) considers new, expanded, and increased tariffs on European wines, U.S. wine importers, distributors, retailers and wine -focused restaurateurs face the prospect of even more layoffs. And if implemented, the new round of tariffs would come at a time when they are already under extreme strain due to the ongoing pandemic.

Last year, the USTR imposed 25 percent duties on French wine in response to the World Trade Organization ruling that the European Union had violated the terms of its agreement with the U.S. when it subsidized the production of the Airbus.

On August 12, the USTR will announce its decision to augment the current tariffs. These could include tariffs of up to 100 percent and they could be expanded to include Italian wines as well (currently, only wines from the Airbus partner countries are affected).

The 2019 tariffs (still in place) have already had a devastating effect on the U.S. wine trade.

They were intended to impact European wine growers. Whether or not they have achieved the desired outcome is debatable. But anecdotally it seems that they have caused minimal economic pain in European wine country.

The economic pain inflicted on U.S. small businesses, on the other hand, has been acute.

The U.S. Wine Trade Alliance (USWTA), a consortium of small business owners formed last year in response to the tariffs, argues that the USTR duties are more harmful to American small businesses than they are to European wine growers. And the harm they do is exacerbated and amplified by the fact that closures due to the current health crisis (with no end in sight) has practically decimated a generation of U.S. wine professionals.

The USTR is currently accepting public comments on potential new and expanded tariffs (see below). The deadline for comment is July 26.

See the of possible new, expanded, and increased tariffs here (Annex II).

You can find the USTR comment portal here.

Before you comment, please be sure to read the USWTA guidelines for commenting here.

Beyond adding a comment to the USTR portal, here are some of things you can do to support the USWTA campaign as we await the USTR decision:

– become a USWTA member here (by filling out the form, you will be added to the mailing list);
– follow the USWTA Instagram and Twitter and please join the Facebook group;
– share, retweet, and repost USWTA media, and encourage your employees, colleagues, and peers to do the same.

Alicia Lini joins me Thursday, July 16 for a virtual wine dinner at ROMA in Houston.

I’m thrilled to announce that Alicia Lini (above), one of my best friends in the wine business and producer of some of my favorite Lambruscos, will be joining me for a virtual wine dinner on Thursday, July 16 at ROMA here in Houston.

Alicia and I first met more than a decade ago while I was working in the wine trade in New York. The launch of her brand was my first major campaign as a media consultant and its success shaped my career for the decade to come.

A few years ago, Alicia asked me to give her hand promoting her brand again here in the U.S. and it’s been another immensely rewarding experience — especially because of our friendship.

Next Thursday, she’ll be joining me for an ongoing series of virtual wine dinners I’ve been leading for ROMA, where I’ve been running media for owner Shanon Scott for a few years now.

These events have taken on a truly magical feel: they are a world unto themselves, where everyone can cast away the worries, pressures, and stress of what’s happening around our families.

They sell out regularly and we have capped them at 25 couples and/or individuals so that everyone can be onscreen throughout.

Chef Angelo Cuppone and Shanon are working on the menu as I write this and I’ll share as soon we publish it on the restaurant’s website and social media.

Alicia and I have shared so many unforgettable moments over the course of our time working together. Here’s the story of how she and I ended up in a green room with Pattie Boyd, the woman who inspired some of the greatest love songs of all time.

Houston wine and food friends: please join us next Thursday for what is sure to be a great evening of Lambursco and classic Emilian cuisine (email or PM me if you want me to hold a spot for you).

Thank you for your support and solidarity. Tracie, the girls, and I are still hunkered down, healthy and safe in our house in southwest Houston. But our city and state continue to report record numbers of daily contagions and hospitalizations. And members of our extended family continue to battle the virus. COVID-19 is real. We are seeing it firsthand. Please where a mask when you go out and stay home if you can. Support those who have no other choice but to work outside their homes. G-d bless America. G-d bless us all.

Wine professionals: please follow the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance as we gear up to fight new tariffs!

Parzen family COVID-19 update: our nuclear family is healthy, safe, and isolated in Houston. Unfortunately, some of our extended family members are now ill and we are praying for their speedy recovery. Many of our friends in Southeast Texas have also been infected. But Tracie, the girls, and I are hunkered down at our house and we’re all healthy. Please keep all affected Americans in your thoughts and prayers. Please wear a mask and stay home if you can. Support those who have no other choice but to work outside the home.

Yesterday a Houston-based wine blogger had the great fortune to sit in on a Zoom call organized by the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance (USWTA). It was humbling to share the time and conversation with some of the greatest wine professionals active in our country today.

On the call, USWTA president Ben Aneff described the group’s efforts to lobby the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) on the issue of existing and potentially increased and expand tariffs on European wines.

Currently, the USTR is considering a new round of tariffs. And it is hosting a comment portal on its site where Americans can express their concerns about how current and new tariffs do and will affect their livelihoods.

Read about it in the USWTA newsletter here, including the timetable for comments and the decision-making process.

Ben and his team are currently working on a new online portal that will help guide wine trade members and consumers across the U.S. as they post their comments on the USTR site. Please stay tuned for that.

As Ben mentioned on the call, the U.S. wine trade wasn’t prepared for the first round of tariffs that were imposed last year. But the newly founded USWTA is now aggressively using all resources available to make the wine industry’s voices heard in Washington. And it needs all of our support.

As we wait for the new USWTA portal to come online, please:

– become a USWTA member here (by filling out the form, you will be added to the mailing list);
– read the USWTA guidelines for commenting on the USTR site (extremely important);
– please follow the USWTA Instagram and Twitter and please join the Facebook group;
– share, retweet, and repost USWTA media, and encourage your employees, colleagues, and peers to do the same.

A pandemic-era wine sales strategy that works at Roma in Houston.

best italian houstonIn the wake of yesterday’s post (“The age of arrogance is over. Winemakers, please check your hubris at the (virtual) door!”), a lot of people have asked me about the restaurant that had organized the virtual wine dinner.

It’s a “trattoria inspired” independent venue called Roma in Rice Village, the Houston neighborhood where Rice University is located. I help out with its online presence.

Owner Shanon Scott is a Houston restaurant trade veteran and one of our community’s most beloved restaurateurs. A former maître d’ at some of the city’s highest-profile Italian dining destinations, he opened his own place in a classic Houston-style bungalow about three and half years ago. He’s also become a good friend of ours over the years. I love working with him and share his passion for great Italian cuisine.

Every week, he hosts a virtual wine dinner: guests (mostly couples) pick up their food and three bottles of wine between 5-7 p.m. each Thursday and then settle in around a computer or smart phone with a Zoom link. Most Thursdays, a winemaker or winery ambassador from Italy dials in as well and leads the participants through the wines. I serve as event moderator.

The campaign has been highly successful for both Roma and the distributor Shanon’s partnered with, Impero Wine Distributors, a Florida-based importer with wholesale operations scattered across the U.S.

pasta with tuna and capersThe man in the back of the house, Angelo Cuppone, is a classically trained chef from Pesaro (the Marches, Italy) and his cooking style is classic. My favorite dishes there are the lasagne and the carbonara but our 11-year-old cousin (whose family lives down the street) is partial to the grilled octopus. All the prosciutto they serve is sliced on a Berkel — another huge plus in our book. The restaurant is one of our extended Houston family’s go-tos.

For those who have never worked in the food service industry, it may be hard to fathom what a challenging time this is for food and wine professionals. Landlords don’t stop charging rents even when pandemics force lockdowns and catastrophic loss of business. And restaurant workers — from dishwashers to back waiters to line cooks to servers — have rents to pay and kids to feed even when an epidemic forces restaurateurs to entirely reimagine their business models.

Scores of Houston restaurants have permanently shuttered their doors in recent weeks. Bernie’s Burger Bus, for example, an immensely popular independent Houston hamburger chain (the kitchen was housed in a yellow school bus), had just begun an expansion when the virus arrived. No one in our community could believe that such a successful model could fall victim to COVID-19. But it did.

Similarly, the wine trade has been decimated by the fallout. Last week, Southern Glazer’s, one of our nation’s largest wholesalers, laid off most of its sales force according to anecdotal reports. I recently contacted its Houston sales office to help out a restaurant owner friend in Orange, Texas (where Tracie grew up). He wanted to set up an account with company to service his new wine program. The sales rep I spoke to told me that he is the sole agent taking orders for Southeast Texas. I can’t imagine that Southern Glazer’s will share the exact number of fired workers but the fact that there’s just one rep for such a huge swath of Texas is an indication that it’s currently working with a skeleton crew.

In my view, Shanon and his Impero sales rep, Melania Spagnoli, are true heroes. The virtual wine dinner model they’ve created is “moving boxes” (wine tradespeak for selling wine) in a perilous time and it’s helping to feed a lot of families — including my own.

Food photos by Al Torres Photography.

The age of arrogance is over. Winemakers, please check your hubris at the (virtual) door!

Above: Petulantia meet Hybris.

Speaking Italian well can be a blessing and curse. Sometimes both at once.

The other evening, when an Italophone Houston-based wine professional led a virtual wine dinner for a local Italianate restaurant, he was dismayed by the sheer aloofness, arrogance, and downright rudeness of his Italian counterparts on the other end of the call.

During the pregame call, they insulted the owner and chef (before the proprietor and his colleague joined the meeting). And during the event itself, they practically refused to thank their hosts even though the latter were “moving boxes,” as they say in the trade, selling their wine.

Instead of heeding an appeal by the moderator to avoid overly technical language (this was a consumer dinner after all), the winemaker — the son of one of Italy’s most prolific enologists — literally recited the information from technical sheets. And what made matters worse was the fact that he doesn’t speak English. Not a sin in and of itself but why was he on the meeting in the first place? By the time he got to “cryomaceration,” said Houston-based professional was ready to throw his hands in the air!

And from the frying pan into the fire, the self-proclaimed “experienced wine professional” who interpreted for him (“I’ve done events like this a thousand times”), couldn’t even render the word argilla into the English clay, one among many of the lacunes and, dare I add, personal shortcomings in his professional formation.

At a time when wineries, their importers, and their distributors on the ground are struggling to “move boxes,” there is no time for such insolence.

At a time when restaurants, one of the top channels for selling wine, are scrimping to survive, it is no time for such impertinence.

The other day I moderated an Italy-American Chamber of Commerce webinar on Italian wine trends in the pandemic era. The panelists were two of the highest-volume Italian wine buyers in the state. They spoke openly about how we are in a “buyer’s market” when they are literally inundated by inquiries from Italian winemakers who hope they’ll sell their wine. They don’t even read the emails, they said. They go straight away to the attachment to see if the pricing aligns with the current market. If it doesn’t, they hit delete.

The restaurant that I consult for has been one of the survivors in a time when scores of eateries are closing their doors permanently in Houston. The owner developed this virtual dinner format together with the local distributor and it’s been highly successful for both. Because our otherwise myopic governor has decreed that restaurants can now retail wine, the restaurateur also sells the wine at his cost to the guests. It’s another example of creative thinking that has helped keep him and the distributor afloat in this Darwinian era for wine and food professionals.

Especially as the trade wars are about to be stoked up again by U.S. government, winemakers — and not just Italian winemakers — need to partner and cooperate with American wine and food professionals instead of undermining and demeaning them.

The age of arrogance is over and they need to check their hubris at the door.