Because of our country's rocky history with alcohol, including prohibition again “intoxicating liquors” from 1919 to 1933, our relationship with wine here in the States is different. It’s not like in other countries like Italy where it’s seen as a staple of everyday life.
For them, you go to the store to buy eggs, milk, bread and, of course, wine. You go to a restaurant and the waiter assumes you’re drinking wine with the meal. Why wouldn’t you, right? They have no judgement associated with wine. There’s not even really status associated with simple table wine.
It’s what you drink.
Years back I visited my first Italian winery or cantina as they call it. This was La Ca’Nova in the Piemonte region near Turin. We were there for a degustazione which translates as “wine tasting” in English. It was NOTHING like an American wine tasting.
The experience was a very reasonable $40 euros and came with ten courses paired with five different wines. The wines were all theirs. This was an all-out food, family, friends experience, oh, and there was wine.
Our Italian friends from Milan were the ones that introduced us to the place. We went with them on a Sunday for lunch after church along with their family which included la Nona Margarita. It was a hoot talking to her who spoke less English than I speak Italian. This was a family outing, sharing, celebration. It was a time to be cherished and enjoyed.
The room where they held the tasting was a small restaurant hosted by the winery owner’s mother. The son had taken it over from his father who had since passed. Both them worked the restaurant waiting and busing tables and, of course, serving the wine. We were their guests like we were in their home. They were honored that we had paid them a visit and treated us like family.
I was set on bringing home a case of wine and I was floored at how inexpensive it was. I took home their reserve 10 euro a bottle and their regular wines for 6 and 8. I remember telling the owner, “This is so inexpensive.” His response was a big, and I mean really big, smile. He was so proud he could share this with us and that we found it so affordable.
This was in line with what our Italian friends had already shared with us. They found our America wine prices to be very high. That makes sense because to Italians, wine is something that’s affordable for everyone.
My point for sharing this is because this difference explains why our US way of producing wine is so different from how it’s produced in small Old World wine producers.
These are first of all farmers. They care for the grapes, harvest them and supervise, not control, the natural process of making them into wine. They keep things the way they have been produced for centuries. This includes following a natural process which is less about profit and more about working with as little intervention as possible. It’s not about “how much we can produce." It's about “how can I guide what the earth produces into wine.” The mentality is, "How do I stay out of the way."
As I cover Old World wines, we’ll be sharing what we find so the glass you drink is more than just what’s in the glass, but the story that led to it. It’s often times much more than a simple glass of juice.