Italian Wine: Art or Brand?

This article isn’t about wine IN art (Bacchus by Caravaggio here), but wine AS art…compared to wine as “brand”.

Brand is big these days. A lot of people want to have a brand, sell a brand, or be a brand. In this new age, wine sellers have turned to tools like Qualtrics to control brand perception and value in the eyes of their patrons. Since the engine for brand is marketing, we are living in the Age of Marketing with Don Draper as our icon.

Art is something else altogether. Art is the way one soul expresses something precious to another in an arc of connection that dances lightly across time and space. It connects people to one another and to themselves. The true artist doesn’t take a survey to see what the customer wants, he/she runs the risk of authentically expressing the depths of his/her essence.

Real art, like Michelangelo’s David, stops you in your tracks. The copy in the Piazza della Signoria doesn’t have the same effect, nor do the posters or the plastic miniatures.

Until I moved to Italy, I didn’t know there was wine like that: wine that could touch the soul with authenticity, originality, personality and vitality. It is made “naturally”, but not all “natural” or organic or biodynamic wine is this kind of wine.

I only came to appreciate wine as art when I began to understood its context (the people who made the wine and why, the place, the weather, the culture, the history, etc.). Knowing the context deepened the meaning of the sensorial experience of enjoying the wine. I began to see wine from another perspective.

My goal with this blog is to find, visit and write about “Wine As Art” in Italy. It’s tricky because you can’t go look up “Wine as Art” on the internet. There is no classification or certification for that. Finding it requires not only tasting the wine but diving into the story of the people, the place and the grapes behind the wine and in the wine.

In this video, Elena Pantaleoni explains that “Wine As Art” (what she calls “artisanal wine”) is not a “method” but an “approach”. The approach is allow the wine to express the grapes, the place, the people and the vintage year without having a certain outcome in mind.

I am using the term “Wine as Art” because the term “artisanal wine” has largely been hijacked by brand marketers. The largest growing brand in the US in 2012 (most recent statistics), for example, is “Handcraft” by the Delicato Family Winery who: “Balances the heart and soul of a family business with big-picture strategic approaches” (Source: website). Read more about The Myth of the Family Winery in the US.

The cornerstones of the “Wine As Art” approach are risk and trust:
-make a hard decision that is coherent with the depths of your soul
-trust that you can accept whatever happens afterwards.

Every vineyard profile on this blog tells this kind of story…

Of old vines and native varieties lovingly brought back…

Or natural growing methods adopted…

Or exceptional kinds of soil…
(These are fossilized shells found in a vineyard.)
Or bringing soil back to life…

Or returning to natural cellar methods…etc.

And of the beauty, individuality and character of the wines themselves…

Winegrowers are making “Wine As Art” all over the world, but especially in Italy. There is a wild renaissance going on because of:
– the huge diversity in terroir
– the number of native varieties: currently 355 but actually hundreds more*
– wine growing history that goes back to ancient times
– a culture that still values authentic food and wine
– a “return to the land” movement in a faltering industrial economy

At the same time, the “Wine As Art” winegrowers are:
– a minuscule percentage of the 265,000 wine producers in Italy, less than 5%**
– often under attack from bureaucratic entities whose rules and regulations are primarily aligned with corporate, industrial interests

What can you do?
Discover, buy, drink, and share “Wine As Art”.

All of the above require effort and attention.
By definition, there is no easy, fast, simple way.

I remember once a philosopher friend told me, “Many people want to resolve all the mysteries of life quickly and efficiently. But there are others who want to dive deeper into the mysteries.”

I’m in the latter category. I can’t resist sharing all I know about the winegrowers who dare to be authentic and the wines that result.

Note: I don’t sell or get paid to promote wine of any kind. If you are interested in learning more about Italian “Wine As Art”, contact me for information on private classes, events or trips.

*Source: Quattrocalici Out of the 265,000, there are probably fewer than 5% making “Wine As Art” (There are about 900 in the FIVI, 600 cited by SlowFood in the Slow Wine guide, 129 in Vinnatur, 33 in Renaissance Italia, 24 in ViniVeri Some of those are not making “Wine As Art”, some are in more than one list and some are not included in any, but the number is small).

**Source: Quattrocalici

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