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.

Everything I thought I knew about Abruzzo was wrong. Gloriously wrong.

Above: brilliant, energetic, and super cool, Giulia Cataldi Madonna isn’t the winemaker that most people expect to find when they visit Abruzzo, one of Italy’s most undervalued wine regions. The work people like Giulia are doing there might just hold the key to the future of Italian viticulture.

Last month, I headed to Italy just as the red grape harvest was about to begin in the country’s central and Adriatic wine growing regions.

And thus began my journey in search of the 2022 harvest.

So much has already been written about this vintage: the winter drought that lasted nearly all spring and summer, combined with the record high temperatures in July and August, had a lot of people predicting genuine financial catastrophe. Even where emergency irrigation was allowed this year (and it was allowed throughout the country), there sometimes wasn’t enough water to feed the thirsty plants.

Gentle rainfall in mid-August — deus ex machina — was just enough to save this year’s harvest. But growers are coming to terms with the fact that extreme weather events are going to become more frequent and (excuse the pleonasm) more extreme.

On September 6, I landed in Milan very late, caught some shut eye in a sordid hotel near the train station, and then got on an early high speed train to Rome the next morning. From there, I picked up a rental car and headed straight to Abruzzo.

Above: Pecorino grapes at Cataldi Moadonna in Ofena commune were healthy and ready to pick despite the hot conditions. Ofena growers like Giulia have been dealing with extreme weather for generations. Their strategies offer clues into how Italian winemakers will need to face the challenges of climate change.

My first stop was Cataldi Madonna where the unstoppable Giulia Cataldi Madonna gave me a great tour of her family’s vineyards.

I’ve enjoyed her family’s wines for years and have often included them on wine lists I’ve managed. Their quality-price ratio can’t be beat.

But I had no idea how soulful and thoughtful this family is and why their wines matter so much — especially today.

And that was the first of many things I got wrong about Abruzzo. Gloriously wrong.

Above: I’m going to get into trouble for saying this but Giulia told me that she agrees with me 100 percent when I say that Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo is not a rosé wine. It’s a red wine. More on that later.

Maybe because of the way the wine has been marketed in the U.S., it was always my perception that Cataldi Madonna was just another huge producer that made extremely restaurant-friendly wines in large quantities.

What I learned was that Giulia and her family have been pioneers of organic farming and — more importantly in my view — of smart, healthy, sustainable, and forward-looking farming in their region.

The work they are doing with pergola training alone is going to have legacy impact on how Italians grow grapes in future.

Giulia like the other winemakers I met on my trip are forging a new “climate change era” path by showing how canopy management and — as I later learned — solar radiation are going to be two of the keys to dealing with increasingly warm and arid vintages.

Half way into my conversation and tour with Giulia, it was abundantly clear that everything I thought I knew about Abruzzo was wrong.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my notes from visits to three different wineries there (and a restaurant note or two). I hope you’ll join me on my journey of discovery. Thanks for being here.

A wine for the worst kind of thieves: taste with me in New York and Dallas this month.

Next Thursday (10/13) in New York, I’ll be pouring and talking about “a wine for the worst kind of thieves”: Garganega (pictured in photo above, snapped a few weeks ago in Soave).

The wine will be one of three in a flight inspired by readings of Medieval Italian literature and proto-Italian “pomology.”

Why was Garganega known as a “wine for the worst kind of thieves”? You’ll just have to attend my tasting to find out! We’ll also be tasting a fantastic Schiava and an old-school Nebbiolo, a wine connected to Italy’s early #MeToo movement (no joke). The latter’s role in social justice will be revealed in my talk

It’s a charity event and so it’s not a cheap date. But the deal sweetener is the fact that it will be hosted at the Robert Simon gallery on the upper eastside. Yeah, Robert’s the dude the identified the last known painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

Click here for details and registration link.

Later this month, I’ll be leading an olive oil tasting and will be bopping around the Taste of Italy Dallas trade fair at Eataly on October 27.

It’s the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce’ first bona fide trade fair there. And it should be a good time, especially because the folks at Eataly Dallas do such a bang-up job.

Buyers and media, click here to register for the walk-around tasting.

Click here to register for my Calabrian olive oil tasting.

Yom Kippur prayer. Shanah tovah.

It was the fall of 2007, nearly fifteen years ago this week, when I found myself on a park bench at the La Jolla Cove waiting to go to Yom Kippur services with my family at the same synagogue where I was a bar mitzvah some 27 years prior.

I had given my all to my relationship in New York City where I had been living for the previous decade. But it had unraveled irrevocably by that point. I had quit my marketing director job as I tried to focus on my career as a translator and songwriter. I was living on a best friend’s couch on the upper westside. On a whim and with nothing really to keep me in the city, I decided to come back home to La Jolla to see my family and reconnect with friends for the Jewish new year.

Life in New York had been thrilling for me: the bands I played in and with; the magazine where I got my first commercial writing job; the restaurants and wine shops I worked in and frequented; the wine brand I launched; the U.N. where I worked as an interpreter; the poets, musicians, actors, and artists I hung out with… It had all been a blast.

But at 40, my life was at loose ends, in part because of the relationship gone bad and in part because I knew there was more world out there for me to discover.

Nearly a year later, as I was toggling between my old life in the city and a new one in southern California, I received a message from a blogger that I followed. She was writing to wish me a happy 41st birthday. By the end of 2008, I had moved to Austin as our e-mance became a real-mance and we began to talk about building a life together.

Today, 15 years later, Yom Kippur begins this evening at sundown just as it has for as long as anyone can remember.

I won’t be going to shul this year but I’ll be spending the day with our daughters, ages nine and 10, as I fast and reflect on what it means to be a 55-year-old father to them and a partner to Tracie, my wife of nearly 13 years now.

This Yom Kippur, I’ll pray that G-d will give me the wisdom and strength to be the dad and husband I strive to be.

I’ll pray for my brothers, their wives, and their children. I’ll pray for my childhood friends. I’ll pray for my Texas family. That they may find the purpose, meaning, joy, and peace that they seek.

I’ll pray for my mother, who just turned 89. That she may take joy in her children’s and grandchildren’s joy. That she may know that we love her and appreciate all she has given us.

I’ll pray for Tracie. That she may know how much our girls and I love her. That she may know the sweetness of the life she has given us.

I’ll pray for our children and all children. That they may be safe and they may realize their dreams.

I’ll pray for our world. That all people may live secure and free, with enough to eat and a place to live, love, and grow.

Shanah tovah. Happy new year, everyone. May your fast be easy.

As Italy awaits its first post-fascist leader, Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay on “fuzzy totalitarianism” comes once again into focus.

Above: “Chi non è pronto a morire per la sua fede non è degno di professarla — Mussolini” (“those not ready to die for their faith are not worthy of professing it”). No one has ever bothered to erase a Mussolinian aphorism from the main square in Gaiole in Chianti. Photo taken by me earlier this month.

Italian politician Giorgia Meloni, whose party won the lion’s share of votes in elections on Sunday and who is expected to be elected as prime minister in coming weeks, is widely being called “Italy’s first post-fascist leader” and “Italy’s first hard-right leader.”

The epithet is owed in part to her anti-immigrant, anti-liberal (read anti-woke), and protectionist polices — spiked with a dash of conspiracy theory, Euroscepticism, and anti-globalism (sound familiar?).

The moniker is also owed to a symbol — an avatar if you will — that appears in iconography for her political party, Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy, a lyric borrowed from Italy’s 1847 national anthem): the Fiamma Tricolore or Tricolor flame that was adopted by the Movimento Sociale Italiano (Itaian Socialist Movement), the post-World War II incarnation of the fascist party. For all intents and purposes, her party is the current-day expression of that political platform, worldview, and aesthetic.

Never before today — almost 100 years to the day that Mussolini marched on Rome and seized power from the monarchy — has MSI fielded a prime minister.

For Italians born during the fascist era, the thought of a seated post-fascist government is practically, well, unthinkable. It’s as if Italy is finally having its Trump moment (many of my Italian university-era friends have called it that): the unthinkable has come to pass.

In the light of Italy’s election on Sunday, I’m not the only one who was reminded of Umberto Eco’s famous 1995 lecture at Columbia University, later published by the New York Review of Books, “Ur-Fascism” (and later translated into Italian as “Fascismo eterno” or “Eternal Fascism”). That essay is where he coined not only the term “Ur-Fascism” but also “fuzzy totalitarianism,” an expression that has taken on new and urgent meaning with Italy’s shift toward the hard right.

Here’s a link to read it in its entirety.

In the first part, he describes what it was like to grow up during fascism in Italy (he was born in 1932). It reads like the opening sequence of a Fellini movie, replete with comedy, redemption, and salvation.

In the second part, he offers “a list of features [14 of them] that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”

Those bullet points have been frequently cited in the Trump era. But to read them in context, prefaced by his memories of growing up under fascism, gives the essay renewed meaning and relevance. I highly recommend it to you.

Shanah tovah (שנה טובה). Parzen family New Year letter.

Let us turn our heads heavenward and, while thanking Him for sparing so much human life, beseech G-d to restore health and well-being to those who are suffering!
— Chabad.org

Shanah tovah (שנה טובה). Happy new year, everyone.

The last year has been a good one for our family — poo, poo, poo!

Georgia is enjoying fifth grade, her last at our elementary school. She has really begun to excel in the music program there. She plays violin and takes private lessons at the school, a music magnet, and she continues to take piano lessons with a private teacher outside of school. Yesterday, after I met her for lunch at school, she gave an impromptu piano concert for the entire fifth grade in the cafeteria! It was really magical. She’s also started taking tennis lessons, which she really enjoys (especially because tennis was Tracie’s sport in high school).

Lila Jane continues to take cello at school and piano privately. She’s also in the advanced choir at school. Next month, her school choir will sing the national anthem at the Houston Texans’ football game! (The choir teacher is a Grammy-winning children’s choir maestra and so the group gets some cool gigs like this. They are insanely good.) She also continues to write elaborate comic strips (pages and pages long, with illustrations, dialog and narrative). And she’s also become a writer for the school’s nascent paper. Last night, she was so eager to write a report that she insisted on bringing her laptop to the dinner table.

Both girls are starting to speak a little Italian and they are begging me to take them to Venice next summer (we’ll see!).

Tracie’s new career as a realtor also continues to flourish. Even though the market isn’t as “hot” as when she first began, her hard work and devotion have really paid off. We are a dual-income family now and that’s helped us accelerate our path to our financial goals.

Now that she is more steady and confident in her professional life, I’ve begun to travel for my work a bit more. I still do all the caretaking when I’m in town and I do nearly all of the cooking, which has reignited my culinary skills (that has been really fun).

The new focus in my work is my translations of ancient Italian texts on wine. A University of Toronto imprint has already agreed to publish my first one (a 14th-century work) and we already have a second and third book lined up in the series. It’s immensely rewarding for me to combine my skills and experience as an academic with my knowledge of viticulture.

As the old folks used to say (and I’m getting to be one of them), poo, poo, poo!

We have too many blessings to count.

The world beyond our home often seems perilous and precarious these days. But our home life and our community is an oasis where the girls are growing up healthy and safe — the greatest blessing in our lives.

On this Rosh Hashanah (new year), we pray for our sisters and brothers in Ukraine and Puerto Rico, we pray for the Venezuelan migrants, we pray that our leaders may rise to the occasion with grace and wisdom as our country and the world face seemingly unsurmountable challenges. We pray that our children and all children may be safe.

Shanah tovah. Happy new year.

Let us all simply shower one another with blessings!

Taste Medieval grapes with me in New York, an event hosted by Robert Simon, gallerist who discovered Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.”

Above: “Fruit, Flowers, a Ceramic Dish and a Vase on a Stone Ledge Beneath a Grape Arbor, with Two Women Gathering the Bounty” (oil on canvas) by Giovanni Battista Ruoppolo (Naples, 1629 – 1693) and Luca Giordano (Naples, 1634 – 1705), currently on display at the Robert Simon gallery in New York.

Please join me on Thursday, October 13 in New York where I’ll be presenting readings from Italy’s oldest book on viticulture and Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron at the Robert Simon gallery on the Upper East Side.

Some beyond the New York art scene will remember Robert: he was the researcher who proved that the painting “Salvator Mundi” was indeed by Leonardo da Vinci. That canvas later sold for a record $450 million, a work that some have called the “world’s most expensive painting.”

The event is being organized by my friend and dissertation advisor, Italian poet and scholar Luigi Ballerini, and his wife Paola Mieli, a practicing Lacanian psychoanalyst and writer.

The readings, mostly from my translation of Pietro de’ Crescenzi’s Ruralia commoda and related passages in Boccaccio, will be accompanied by a guided tasting of three grape varieties that appear in the 14th-century works.

I am super geeked about this, in part because I haven’t been back to the city (aside for a quick business lunch) since 2019 — for reasons all too familiar.

Here are the details. It’s a benefit so it’s not a cheap date. But I promise not to disappoint. How could I when I have Robert’s gallery as the setting? I hope to see you there. And thanks for checking it out.

And btw, I’m also preparing notes on the above painting, currently on display on East 80th St. Isn’t it grand?

A Wine for the Worst Kind of Thieves

Wine Tasting and Medieval Readings with celebrated Wine Historian and Sommelier Jeremy Parzen.

Thursday, Oct 13, 2022 at 6:30 PM

Robert Simon Fine Art
22 East 80th Street • Fourth Floor
New York NY 10075

Tickets: $150

Taste three wines as Jeremy shares three colorful readings from Italy’s oldest book on wine and Boccaccio’s Decameron. The event includes a guided tasting of three native Italian grape varieties that were popular during Boccaccio’s time and are still widely enjoyed today.

Additionally, enjoy a special preview of the exhibition: “Beyond Boundaries: Historical Art By and Of People of Color.”

All proceeds from the event will be donated to Animal Zone International, a Greek-based non-profit devoted to the sustainability of the environment through the protection and control of animals.

Click here to reserve.

Are irrigation and artificial ponds the key to mitigating climate change in Italian viticulture? Rhabdomancers wanted.

Above: Colline Teramane (Abruzzo) grower Bruno Nicodemi built an artificial pond on his family’s property in the 1970s. At the time, it was intended to foster biodiversity. Today, it’s a lifeline.

As Italian grape growers faced extreme heat and prolonged drought in what could have been an existential threat for many of them in the 2022 vintage, there was ample talk across the peninsula about the need to build artificial ponds and loosen restrictions on so-called “emergency irrigation.”

In fact, emergency irrigation has become the norm, not the exception, in central and northern Italy as the wine industry comes to terms with the impact of climate change.

In the second half of the 1990s, a string of warmer and less rainy than usual vintages seemed to herald a time of more regularity and increased prosperity for Italian winemakers.

But today, the unrelenting heat of recent summers, drought that persists through the growing season, late spring frosts, and intense weather events that can wreak havoc on ripening fruit have created a “new normal” in terms of the challenges that growers face.

Above: Lake Garda as seen from the vineyards of Ca’ dei Frati in Lugana.

In northern Italy, many farms have already outfitted their vineyards with permanent irrigation systems — where they are allowed — because the authorization for emergency irrigation is no longer an exceptional event. It’s not a question of if anymore. Now, it’s a question of when the call will be made.

In central Italy, one winemaker told me that they would have irrigated if they had the means to do so. They had never irrigated before, they told me, and so they had no infrastructure in place to water their wines once the authorization arrived.

Another grower in central Italy told me that the authorization is something they have come to expect. But this year, something unexpected happened as well: there simply wasn’t enough water to go around. Authorities, they told me, only turned on the taps for a few hours each morning and grape farmers essentially had to compete with their neighbors for their allocation.

In appellations like Lugana in Italy’s Veneto region, water allocation is not an issue thanks to nearby Lake Garda (see above).

But in places like Abruzzo or Tuscany, the ongoing drought conditions are prompting winemakers to build artificial lakes, an approach that has been publicly advocated by prolific Italian winemaker Andrea Lonardi.

Even with the creation of these reservoirs (invasi, as they are called in Italian), there will still be a question of water management: who will get the water and when.

During my recent trip to Italian wine country, a number of growers told me they are planning to build such ponds and some of the country’s top consortia are working with their members to plan and authorize their construction.

Above: Pergola-trained Garganega clusters in the heart of Soave. Note permanently mounted irrigation hose.

One of the most telling moments of my trip came when I asked Roberto Anselmi when the Soave consortium had authorized emergency irrigation this year.

He laughed and reminded me that he had famously left the appellation more than 20 years ago.

Not only are his vineyards equipped with irrigation systems. He also recently hired a rhabdomancer to help him find a water source atop one of most important vineyards, thus ensuring an independent source for challenging vintages like 2022.

Thanks to this foresight, his yield will be in line with normal years and new vines that he planted have ample water to make it through their delicate early years of growth.

“Emergency irrigation is one of the few smart things they actually did in the [Soave] consortium,” he said.

But the problem now, he pointed out, is that some have natural water resources while others don’t.

Irrigation has been a dirty word in Italian viticulture for a generation. Dry farming, it has long been held, was a key element in true “terroir expression” and “sense of place.”

But as wine growers in Italy have come to discover, if they don’t loosen the regulations on irrigation — and abandon the taboo — there might no longer be a terroir to express or a place to taste.

“In spite of drought,” Italian production levels expected to be in line with 2017-2021 averages.

The above figures come via vineyard consultant, publisher, and writer Maurizio Gily’s excellent online and print journal MilleVigne.

“Harvest 2022: +5 percent growth with respect to 2021 in spite of drought?” he writes in the title.

The table below reports official-channel predictions for must and wine production in Italy in thousands of hectoliters.

While the numbers don’t paint a rosy picture for all regions, they reveal that the disastrous scenario that many expected never materialized — a relief to all, no doubt.

I have a lot to report from my recent “harvest 2022” trip to Italy. I’m still working on putting that together. But in the meantime, I wanted to get this info out asap. Thanks for being here and please stay tuned.

“The vintage is safe.” Italian growers breathe a collective sigh of relief after August rains “save” the 2022 harvest.

Above: Turbiana grapes photographed last week (September 14) in the Lugana appellation south of Lake Garda. Note the permanently mounted irrigation hose in the bottom of the image. “Emergency irrigation” was allowed across Italy in efforts to counter a drought that began in winter and persisted throughout the summer. Combined with prolonged, extremely high temperatures, it could have represented an existential threat to this year’s crop.

“The harvest is safe. Now we need to address the market situation.”

That’s the title of an e-blast sent out today by the Corriere Vinicolo, the official voice of the Unione Italiana Vini (UIV, the Italian union of grape growers and winemakers).

The missive, including assessments from Italian wine industry leaders, paints a cautiously optimistic picture for this year’s grape crop. Just a month ago, some trade insiders were predicting catastrophe for Italian growers. But early August rains, like a deus ex machina, changed the mood from despair to relief.

“Once again,” said UIV president Lamberto Frescobaldi, borrowing a metaphor from the world of basketball, “the vine has proved to be our team’s center. It has shown that even with high temperatures and drought, we can make high-quality wines in ample quantities.”

“The harvest currently underway is delivering grapes that range from good to excellent in quality,” said Riccardo Cotarella, president of Assoenologi (Italian enologists association).

But as the editors of the Corriere point out, the short-term challenge ahead is market uncertainty.

“Demand [for Italian wines] in foreign markets seems to be holding even though it’s not as strong as 2021” according to Fabio Del Bravo, director of ISMEA (the Institute of Farming and Food Market Services), who is also quoted in the report. “But in the domestic market, there are signs of dropping sales.”