Deborah Parker Wong, new Slow Wine USA editor, discusses 2021 guide (VIDEO).

Last week, leading California wine educator Deborah Parker Wong — and the new editor for the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of North America — talked to me on Zoom about the guide and how she and her team of editors are putting the 2021 edition together even as they face the challenges of the pandemic era.

See the video of our Zoom chat below.

Deborah, above, served as a senior editor for the guide for the 2020 and 2019 editions (you can download a free e-book version of the 2020 guide here). And this year, as the new coordinating editor, she’s also overseeing an expansion of the book to include Washington and New York states.

It seems like a lifetime ago that my friend Giancarlo Gariglio, the guide’s editor-in-chief, asked me to help him launch a U.S. version. It was one of the most rewarding experiences in my career as a wine writer and I couldn’t be more happy that Deborah, one of the best technical tasters I’ve ever worked with and a true California wine insider, has stepped up to lead the team of contributors in these challenging times. Slow Wine USA couldn’t be in better hands.

Of course, Deborah and I weren’t going to waste an opportunity to taste some great wine together. Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Scarpa in Monferrato (for whom I do media consulting), we each had a bottle of Scarpa 2013 to taste. It was a thrill to get to open that bottle — however virtually — with one of my favorite people in the wine world.

What a wonderful wine, from a fantastic vintage!

Tracie and I paired it with her homemade focaccia (a Parzen family favorite) that night for dinner. Deborah checked in later in the day and said she poured with a salmon and spinach frittata. The wine, a current release, is showing beautifully right now.

No violence but tensions high at our Saturday protest of the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas. Thank you Orange PD for keeping us safe.

Above: Tracie and her friend LaToya at the Saturday, June 13 protest of the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie and LaToya both grew up and attended high school together.

Despite threats of violence and rumors that “Antifa” would be at our Saturday protest of the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas, our demonstration was peaceful and without incident.

You can watch footage of the event, including interviews, here on the local Fox affiliate.
Continue reading

What does the Confederate flag mean in Texas? Racism! Join us in protest of the newly built Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas this Saturday.

“NASCAR bans Confederate flag from all its events, including races,” reported the venerable news agency Fox News yesterday. News of the ban was also published by leftwing lamestream media outlets.

Here’s an excerpt of the statement issued by NASCAR, as published by Fox: “The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry… Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”

NASCAR has banned all displays of Confederate flag. The U.S. Marine Corps also just banned all displays of the Confederate flag.

Is there any question in anyone’s mind at this point as to whether or not the Confederate flag is an offensive and divisive symbol of racism?

In case you’re wondering what the Confederate flag means in Texas, I’d like to share another statement with you, one that was published by the state of Texas in 1861.
Continue reading

These are not men. They are racist cowards. Help us raise an MLK billboard over their newly built Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas

On Friday, June 5, the U.S. Marine Corps posted the following statement on its Twitter:

    The Confederate battle flag has all too often been co-opted by violent extremist and racist groups whose divisive beliefs have no place in our Corps. Our history as a nation, and events like the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, highlight the divisiveness the use of the Confederate battle flag has had on our society. This presents a threat to our core values, unit cohesion, security, and good order and discipline. This must be addressed.

On that same day, the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David H. Berger, banned public displays of the Confederate battle flag in any form in “an order that extended to such items as mugs, posters and bumper stickers.”

Not long after the violence in Charlottesville, Granvel Block and Hank Van Slyke began displaying the Confederate flag on Martin Luther King, Dr. in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up, where her family still lives, where we visit often with our children — and where half the population is black. The flag is featured prominently, within view of Interstate 10, on their “Confederate Memorial of the Wind.”

See their flyer, below, which they used to raise funds for the construction of the “memorial.”
Continue reading

PROTEST: Sons of Confederate Veterans “Memorial of the Wind” SATURDAY JUNE 13 in Orange, Texas.

Please join us in PROTEST of the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas (at Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. and Interstate 10, north access road):

Saturday, June 13
location:
Confederate Memorial of the Wind
(Google map)

time:
10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

WE ARE ASKING ALL PROTESTERS TO WEAR A MASK
AND MAINTAIN SOCIAL DISTANCE.

CLICK HERE TO JOIN THE REPURPOSE EMAIL NEWSLETTER
to receive event details and updates

CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT
THE REPURPOSE MEMORIAL CAMPAIGN

Tracie and I were already planning a protest of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ “Memorial of the Wind” in Orange, Texas when some young people from the city contacted us yesterday asking how they could help.

Initially, we had planned to stand up by ourselves. But after our call yesterday, we’ve decided to publicize the event and try to get as many people out as we can.

Thanks to our Martin Luther King Day 2020 GoFundMe, we also have enough money to raise another billboard across the street from the memorial which stands on MLK Dr. in eye’s view of I-10 — the eastern gateway to Texas.

We plan to have a new billboard up in time for the June 13 protest and Juneteenth (June 19).

The protest is focused on the newly erected Confederate memorial but we welcome Black Lives Matter and George Floyd justice protesters as well. Please join us. Any and all are welcome. We just ask that you wear a mask and social distance.

Not long after our MLK Day protest (January 20) but before the pandemic brought life in the U.S. to a halt, Granvel Block, one of the chief organizers of the memorial, appeared in my father-in-law’s church at Sunday services. He claimed that he wanted to change churches and that he was attending different services in his search for a new place to worship. Reverend Branch (Randy, Tracie’s dad) gave him the benefit of the doubt and welcomed him. But we all know what’s going on.

Like a pedophile testing the waters, Granvel was clearly gauging whether Randy would be a pressure point that he could use to make us stop protesting their insidious racist iconography.

We believe that Granvel was the author of an anonymous defamatory letter sent to Tracie’s then 97-year-old grandmother (you can read it here; be advised that it contains sexually graphic content). It gives you a sense of just how sick and cowardly Granvel and his partner Hank Van Slyke are.

I’ve only spoken to Granvel once by phone when he threatened to “kick my ass.”

BRING IT ON, GRANVEL! BRING IT ON, HANK!

Across our nation, Confederate memorials are being removed. Your days are numbered.

What it’s like to be a black American wine blogger: “It was like a slap in the face, but yet just another reminder.”

The following post was published on Friday by my friend and fellow Houston wine blogger Katrina Rene, author of The Corkscrew Concierge, on her Facebook. She has graciously allowed me to share it here (image via Adobe Stock).

I have been approached by a few people now asking what they can do. What should they say? I honestly don’t know. But…

I can tell you that I’m mentally exhausted and pissed as hell!

I can tell you that the anger and depression has taken my breath away and left me speechless with a great sense of futility.

I can tell you that my husband and I have had these conversations so many times that it’s as natural as “what’s for dinner?”

I can tell you that it cuts me to the core to listen to my husband telling my daughter (b/c I can’t do it!) that people won’t like her, not because of anything she did, but because of what she looks like.

I can tell you that while my daughter can understand such a message, my son (who has his own challenges) will be a different story altogether when his time comes.

I can tell you that I worry about my son, lose sleep because of his challenges, and know that the world will be so much more dangerous for him.

I can tell you that my husband is always outside in front of our house and frequently walks the neighborhood with the kids so that people recognize him and know that he “belongs” there.

I can tell you that if my husband has to knock on a neighbor’s door to return a package, lost pet, etc. he always takes one of the kids with him because he’s “scary” on his own and someone may assume he’s there to do them harm.

Speaking of our neighborhood, I can tell you that my deed restriction still has the old “racial restrictions” clause that only permits people of the “Caucasian Race” to dwell there. I was shocked to see it still there (with a line neatly drawn through it) when I built my house and it was like a slap in the face, but yet just another reminder.

I can tell you that my husband dresses “a level up” wherever he goes because he understands how he is perceived and that the same rules don’t apply to him.

I can tell you that I initially didn’t want my daughter to play tennis because no else there looked like her and I was afraid she’d be singled out. I can tell you that when she used to play matches, I would hold my breath if there was any sort of disagreement because I feared someone treating her badly.

I can tell you that my husband has been pulled over while “driving black” – not speeding, no broken tail light, etc. for almost an hour while the “peace officer” looked for something, expected him to react, but then eventually let him go. I guess he was lucky.

So just imagine if all of these things factored into your daily life, affected the most simple, basic decisions you had to make, and was always there in your consciousness. It’s 2020 and this is our reality. And sadly, ours is better than many.

Remembering Giacomo Bersanetti, a wine design great, victim of COVID-19.

Above: Giacomo Bersanetti, “designer optimus,” the “ideal designer” as 20th-century wine writing icon Luigi Veronelli called him. Photo via Studio Grafico Artigiano, the eno-focused “artisanal” design studio that Bersanetti founded in 1983 together with his wife Chiara Veronelli, Luigi Veronelli’s daughter.

News of designer Giacomo Bersanetti’s passing broke at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis in Italy in March. Unanimously beloved and revered for his immense talent, creativity, and humanitas, he was remembered at the time in countless heartfelt tributes by his colleagues and peers across the world of Italian wine and beyond. The novel coronavirus was the cause of death.

Few American wine enthusiasts knew of him but the Italian wine lovers among them are intimately familiar with his work. Over the course of a prodigious career, he designed groundbreaking wine labels and pioneering bottle shapes for some of Italy’s most iconic wineries including Chiarlo, Ferrari, Gaja, and Allegrini among others.

You can read his biography here.

I only met him once, last year in Milan, after I translated a catalog for a photography exhibition that he had designed for the Zenato family’s Zenato Academy.

The Zenato winery asked me to translate this year’s catalog as well. I wish I could share the beautiful essay that Giacomo wrote for the book. Drawing from his decades of experience creating “identity” for Italian winemakers, as he liked to put it, the piece is one of the most compelling I’ve read this year. Once the catalog is published, it should be required reading for anyone interested in a career in wine communications — not only for its substance, but also for Giacomo’s brilliant, glowing, and erudite style. I’ll ask the Zenatos to allow me to share it once it’s been published.

As a modest homage to one of the greatest Italian designers of all time, I’ve translated this quote, attributed to him on the Seminario Veronelli website (part of its tribute to him).

“Illustrating identity,” he said, “is a reflection of the greatest synthesis of the concept of design. This is how I’ve imagined and interpreted it over the course of my career. And it represents design’s most incisive and meaningful expression.”

Sit tibi terra levis Iacobe.

Most of the tributes to Giacomo you’ll find on the internet are in Italian. But please see this heartfelt ad memoriam in English by a printer that worked regularly with him.

See also this U.S. patent for a bottle shape that he filed in 1999, an example of his role as a wine trade trailblazer.

Prosecco Rosé will land in U.S. by Christmas 2020. Category approved by Italy’s National Wine Committee.

Image via Adobe Stock.

On Wednesday of this week, Italy’s National Wine Committee gave Prosecco DOC producers the green light to begin making Prosecco Rosé.

The wines will be made using a minimum of 85 percent Glera and 10-15 percent Pinot Noir vinified on its skins according to a post published yesterday on the Prosecco DOC Consortium website. A minimum of 60 days lees aging will be required after the second fermentation. Up to 17 grams residual sugar will be allowed. The grapes used for the wines, including the Pinot Noir, must be sourced from within the appellation.

Wineries won’t be allowed to release their Prosecco Rosé until January 1 of the year following harvest.

But some wineries are already planning to sell their Prosecco Rosé in Italy as early as September. At least one winemaker told me this morning that he expects his Prosecco Rosé to be available in the U.S. in October — in time for the holiday season.

This morning, I spoke to Giancarlo Moretti Polegato, owner of Prosecco producer Villa Sandi (for whom I do media consulting). He was among the first to lobby for the new category in 2009 when the DOC was created. At the time, none of his fellow winemakers wanted to add it, he told me. But today they are all eager to produce and sell it because of the growing interest in sparkling rosé across the world.

He also said that while he and other producers expected the approval of the new category earlier this year, it was held up because of the ongoing health crisis.

Restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen in Italy on May 18 and on June 3, the government plans to open up its borders again.

“We are confident that the crisis is now mostly behind us,” he said.

Click here for his notes published today on the Villa Sandi blog.

Serge Hochar’s lessons for wine sales in the time of the pandemic.

In case you haven’t already seen it, a new book on the life and times of the great Serge Hochar, Chateau Musar: The Story of a Wine Icon (Académie due Vin Library 2020), it should be on your radar.

The recently published work includes tributes to and memories of Serge by some of the top names in wine and wine writing today. A blend of panegyric and non-fiction, it also recounts the story of his life and legacy as one of the greatest winemakers in a generation and the man who singlehandedly built Lebanon’s wine trade into a world-class category.

(I was thrilled that the editors included a piece I had written about Serge after his premature passing in late 2014.)

It’s a wonderful book and I highly recommend it to you (and please also see this excellent obituary by Eric Asimov for the New York Times).

Beyond the news of the book’s publication, I’ve been thinking a lot about Serge lately. He began visiting Texas on a regular basis around the time that I first moved to the state in 2008. A master of marketing and sales, he invested heavily in U.S. travel to promote his wines at the peak of the financial crisis.

That’s just one of the great lessons he taught us. Like Kermit Lynch in the late 1970s at the height of the petroleum crash, he realized that times of crisis create opportunity for enterprising wine professionals.

As an importer of Italian foods noted in a webinar that I moderated the other day, the disruption in the supply chain creates openings for unknown brands. He knew that the vacuum of premium wines caused by uncertainty and instability offered him a break-through moment.

And he seized on it. He was in the market while other winemakers from France, Italy, and Spain were staying home, afraid to invest in marketing and market work (as it’s called in the trade). Thanks to his business acumen (and his outsized charisma and charm), he made placements for his wines at marquee restaurants where a legion of future sommeliers and many Master Sommeliers were paying their dues, so to speak.

I’ll never forget walking into Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston, one of the top expense-account restaurants in the country then and now, and opening the wine list for the first time: the very first page of the list featured a vertical flight of Chateau Musar, roughly 30 wines in all. It was extraordinary.

And that leads me to the other great lesson he taught us: in times of crisis, look to underserved markets that are not saturated with competitors’ brands.

Back in 2008, Texas wasn’t even considered a tertiary market for fine wine. When I moved here that year, my peers thought I was crazy (“what will you drink?” asked one of my best friends in New York). Today, that’s all changed. But back then only downmarket wine producers were spending time in Texas.

Serge was one of the earliest supporters and promoters of TexSom, for example, then a small sommelier conference that no one had heard of outside of Texas.

He came here often in the early years of the financial crisis and he pressed the flesh with sommeliers and buyers who were eager to interact with someone like Serge, whose engagement rewarded them both professionally and personally.

I’ve been told that Pappas Bros. Steakhouse will be reopening soon here in Houston. Scrolling through its wine list online, I counted more than 20 lots from Musar this morning.

It would seem that Serge’s intuition was spot on. He was a model for our times — and all times.

Sit tibi terra levis Sergi.

Check out the book here.

How Prosecco changed the world (and my life).

In the era before the Italian wine renaissance, Prosecco wasn’t called Glera (a grape name that sounds like an ocular ailment). It was simply called Prosecco.

It’s hard to imagine a world today without Prosecco.

The last time a Houston-based, Italian-focused wine professional visited his favorite honky tonk in Austin, Texas, he was agasp to discover that the barkeep was pouring not one but two Prosecco brands by-the-glass.

In the time before the pandemic, said tradesman often drank a Tiffany-tinted bottle of Prosecco, acquired via the local Target, at his sister-in-law’s Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings in southeast Texas, a stone’s throw from the Louisiana border.

He can remember a time not so long ago that he poured his 80-something mother a glass of his favorite Champagne in his native southern California.

“Prosecco!” she exclaimed exuberantly.

Like Pinot Grigio, Prosecco has become part of the American lexicon. Its utterance evokes a bubbling lifestyle choice and a notion that sparkling wine is not just for the elite but for everyone.

That’s the magic of Prosecco: it’s a delicious, refreshing celebration under cork seal for around $15 (or $25 or more if you want to upgrade).

And I owe so much to Prosecco and that notion.

When I was a student at the University of Padua in the late 1980s, I used to join my friends as they drove up to Valdobbiadene (a short hour’s trip) to fill the trunks of their cars with farmer-vinified Prosecco — what some would call Prosecco Col Fondo today although no one called it that then.

In later years, when I returned to Italy for graduate studies, I would spend my summers playing and touring with a cover band across Proseccoland.

And it was thanks to those years spent meeting Prosecco growers and tasting their wines that I was given one of the greatest opportunities of my life, one that would change the arc of my career.

While I was working as an assistant editor for La Cucina Italiana in New York in the late 1990s, I was asked to write a 300-word piece on Prosecco for the “front of the book” as we used to say in the print media days. Instead, I called every Prosecco producer I knew (from my days playing music there) and filed a 3,000-word feature story on Prosecco that got me promoted to associate editor and wine writer for the masthead.

It’s incredible to think it now but 20 years ago, Americans hardly knew what Prosecco was. Super Tuscans were trending, Brunello was on the horizon. But no one, including me, could imagine the sales powerhouse and economic engine that Prosecco would become in this country and throughout the world.

For more than two decades now, I’ve made a living by working in wine. And it’s all thanks to a stroke of luck that I call Prosecco.

And it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Today at 11 a.m. CST (12 p.m. EST), I’ll be joined by my good friend Flavio Geretto, one of the smartest people I know in the wine business, for a live Instagram story @EthicaWines. He’s the export director for Prosecco producers Villa Sandi and La Gioiosa (the latter now imported by Ethica).

I’ve done a lot of media consulting for Flavio over the last year and a half and we always have a blast working together. We even realized that we were both students in Padua at the same time (me at the college of letters, he in the economics department) and we used to go to the same clubs.

We’ll be joined by winemaker Stefano Gava, another colleague whom I admire greatly, as we talk about how to taste Prosecco like a pro. Please join us if you can.

Every click counts, every like matters. Thanks for your support.