Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Achieving the American Dream Through Winemaking: A Review of American Wine Story


Achieving the American Dream through Winemaking:
A Review of American Wine Story




By Anna Aguillard, Intern

Inspirational, energetic, and modern, the documentary film American Wine Story depicts a side of the wine industry that goes largely unnoticed and underestimated: small, upstart wineries created by the select few people courageous enough to sell their belongings and start making wine, from scratch.

Anchored by the story of the late Jimi Brooks of Brooks Winery in Oregon, the documentary follows dozens of other modern winemakers across America, focusing on their journey towards the art of winemaking – why they fell in love with it, and why they remain dedicated to their businesses, despite the impossibilities that they encounter.

Each winemaker’s journey begins with a “wine epiphany,” the precise moment a person discovers the magic that lies inside each bottle of wine. Grape Radio personnel Jay Selman steps in with a more distinct and humorous definition: he experienced his wine epiphany after tasting a 91 Flora Springs Reserve that “made love to his soul.”

Although each of the many American winemakers featured in the documentary discovered their passion for wine in a different way, they all describe the same instinctive feeling of being compelled towards the art of wine. Once they got “bit by the bug,” they were powerless against their dream.  

The film’s mood reflects this innovation, as fast-paced music and rapid, sweeping shots of flat American vineyards echo the energetic young winemakers, especially Jimi Brooks. Fresh out of college, Jimi abruptly packed up and left the United States to study wine in Europe. He returned with dreams of infusing bio-dynamics, ancient style, and against-the-grain production techniques to create a new, better wine. Part of the “young punk winemakers” of the late 90s and early 2000s, Jimi’s enthusiasm was mirrored by his contemporaries, who quit their day jobs after feeling the “stir” deep inside of themselves.

One word keeps reoccurring throughout each winemaker’s explanations for why he or she dropped everything to make wine: passion. Passion drives these once-accountants, electricians, producers, lawyers, and even pro-footballers, providing them with not only the capacity to dream, but the courage to act upon their dreams.

While the documentary does romanticize the wine industry in America, it does not attempt to hide the challenges that modern winemakers face. Mother Nature’s extreme conditions, excessive rain, and early freezes determine the vineyards’ successes and failures. Some years, vineyards do not produce even a single bottle of wine. Instead of focusing on the wineries’ disappointment, however, the documentary celebrates how each winemaker overcomes these challenges. Although there are ups and downs within the industry, there always remains promise.

The ups, down, and future promises of the wine industry are perfectly illustrated as the documentary again turns back to Jimi Brooks. Just as Jimi’s winery, Brooks Wine, was beginning to gain prominence in 2004, he fell victim to a massive heart attack. On September 4, 2004, Jimi left behind his young son, his sister, a promising winery, and a community of fellow winegrowers dedicated to continuing his legacy. His sister Janie determinedly decided that she would not give up what Jimi had begun.

The documentary convinces its audience that promise always prevails. With Jamie’s dedication, Jimi’s wine business grew exponentially, and his legacy has not been forgotten. His son Pascal, whose interview both opens and closes the documentary, is now the youngest wine-owner in America.

This film is about much more than just wine. It’s about the all-revered American Dream that working hard for something you truly love always pays off in time. The winemakers are not working for themselves, they working towards something to be achieved by their children, or their children’s’ children. They are working for the future.

The people in this documentary serve as examples of determination that can be applied to everyone, regardless of whether or not you have had a “wine epiphany” or not. They are people who have identified their passion and given all of their resources – mentally, physically, and emotionally – to pursuing their dreams.

After viewing this film, I understand so much more about what goes into something as simple as a $15.00 bottle of Riesling. A years worth of weather, centuries worth of geology, and generations of human imagination all culminate into the liquid form of the American Dream.

American Wine Story may inspire you to sell your possessions, quit your job, and start your own winery. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

For more information, please visit the documentary’s website.

Friday, October 10, 2014

EurHop! Beer Festival, Rome’s own "Oktoberfest"


We asked our intern Anna Aguillard to write up a post on the Eurhop beer festival in Rome last weekend. 



It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Italy revolves around wine. The art of wine making – and it is truly an art – dates back to ancient times, and has become so engrained in Italian culture that entire cities have been formed on lands perfect for producing the alcoholic beverage.

I’m willing to bet that when you think Italy, you think wine. However, even the land of vino is not immune to the cultural phenomenon sweeping the globe: craft beer. Cue the second annual EurHop! Beer Festival, which took place this past weekend (October 3-5) at the Salone delle Fontane. Forget Oktoberfest; this is where the actual artisan beer can be found in Europe. The world-renowned craft beer pub, Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa, joined with the publishing company Publiogovana Eventi to host 45 different craft breweries featuring over 300 brews from across the globe.

The festival lasted all weekend, and was opened until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Despite being quite a trek from the city center, Salone delle Fontane was the perfect venue for the festival. Impressively modern and colorfully lit, the building mirrored the contemporary crowd that craft beer events unfailingly attract.

Although crowds were slight during the daytime, when I went on Saturday night, the line was wrapped around the Salone’s courtyard. After waiting in line for a manageable half hour, I was allowed inside to purchase a ticket. For 10.00, I was given a commemorative EurHop glass, a guidebook, three beer tokens, and a lanyard with a pouch for storing the tokens.

The guidebook was extremely helpful, so much so that I saved it for future beer-buying reference. Organized alphabetically by brewery, it offered a detailed description of every beer served, its style, its alcohol content, and its price. Beers were available in two sizes: half or whole. Most breweries charged two tokens (equivalent to two euros) for half glasses, and four for whole, although a few of the more artisan brews went for three and six. “Half” was quite a relative term – most stations were generous in their portion sizes, and despite only ever ordering half, my glass frequently overflowed.

This event is perfect for the newfound yet devoted beer enthusiast. The virtually unlimited variety (unlimited because no human can possibly consume over 300 beers in one weekend) gives patrons a chance to try beers that they wouldn’t normally purchase, and to discover new favorites.

Following the representative’s recommendation, I decided to sample Cherry Lady,”sour ale” brewed by the Italian brewery Foglie d’Erba. And thus began my infatuation with “sour” brews: from porters to fruit ales, I highly recommend the Italian craft blends. Fruity and light, these beers were refreshing without the intoxicating sugar content that their liquor-counterparts hold. Cherry Lady is brewed from, as the name indicates, fermented cherries. I also enjoyed German Freigeist Bierkultur’s Salzspeicher Raspberry, brewed from fermented raspberries. The Piemonte-based brewery Loverbeer’s D’Uvabeer was by far my favorite, despite it’s slightly more expensive price of three tokens. Made from grapes, this beer was equally as fruity as the other sour brews, but significantly less light.

After sampling three fruity sour brews, I needed something with a more complex, bitter taste. The representative at Lombardia-based Birra del Convento Carrobiolo recommended Coffee Brett, an imperial stout brewed with roasted coffee. A deep black with dark beige foam, this brew was heavily aromatic and intensely flavorful.

The most unique brew in the building came from the Italian brewery, Toccalmatto. Infused with lemon, lime, chili peppers, and ginger, the Yellow Monster Imperial Radler travelled through a unique machine filled with lemons as it was poured into each glass to increase its exotic flavors.

These are just five among the endless selection of beers. While it may not be comparable to Germany’s Oktoberfest, Italy really is stepping up its craft beer game. Pay attention - if the country does beer as exceptionally well as it does wine, EurHop will certainly become engrained into Italian culture.

For more information about the event and a complete list of breweries, visit the event’s website at http://eurhop.com/index.php/il-salone-della-birra/english-version



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Barolo Boys Review


I was given the opportunity to watch and review Barolo Boys before its release.  I decided to let Antiqua Tours intern Anna review it.  She is a newcomer to Italian wine and I thought it would be interesting to see the film through her eyes, as someone with no preconceived ideas or exceptions.  I really enjoyed what she wrote and hope you will too.

Barolo Boys: The Story of a Revolution

Review by Anna Aguillard, Intern



Wine, as ancient as its roots, unsurprisingly has a complex and dynamic history that is not easily traced, let alone clearly explained. However, Paolo Casalis and Tiziano Gaia’s upcoming documentary Barolo Boys attempts to do just that, as it traces the revolutionary story that lies behind the international phenomenon of Barolo.  I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of the film.

As a newcomer to the Italian wine scene, I am still learning about the basics of the industry and its rich history.  The documentary does an excellent job of explaining a very intricate topic; and gives enough background information to clearly explain Barolo wine’s peculiar history without getting lost in technicalities.

Barolo Wine, made from the Nebbiolo grape in Northwestern Italy, is known today as one of the world’s greatest wines. However, it didn’t always have such international acclaim. The documentary invites its audience to “take a journey” to discover the story behind Barolo’s rise to fame, which it promises to be “full of surprises.”

Beautiful shots of the Northern Italian country side are captivating, as close-up shots of red grapes dripping with dew, scenic view of misty rolling vineyards, and picturesque ancient buildings set the scene of Langhe, where the Barolo Boys’ story begins (and makes me really want to plan a trip). The film begins by explaining what the wine business was like in Langhe for producers before the Barolo “revolution” in the 1980s. Through interviews with major wine producers such as Elio Altare, Chiara Boschis, Marco de Grazia, Giorgio Rivetti, and Roberto Voerzio, the documentary depicts the “pre-revolutionary” wine industry as being about survival – there was no profit, no investment, and no innovation. By using the voices of many different experts with so many unique stories, the filmmakers do an excellent job of capturing daily life for Barolo winemakers up until the revolution.

The film then addresses the factors that lead to Barolo’s popularity explosion, focusing on the particular historical context of the boom. It does a good job in attributing the innovation to the particularly positive international sentiment during the 1980s – consumerism was on the rise, the stock market was flourishing, Italy had just won the world cup – changes were welcomed, and the Barolo Boys were the ones to bring them.

After seeing how French wines were sold for more than twenty times the price of Italian wines, a small group of producers in Langhe got together (for the first time in history) and decided to “make the best wine in the world.” This group, called the Barolo Boys, changed numerous things about the way Barolo wine had been made for centuries.

As a new wine lover, I must admit that I found the film’s explanation of Barolo wine’s traditional production to be a little bit unclear – thankfully, all I had to do was Google it. For those who, like me, are unsure: In the past, Barolo wine took up to 50 years to become drinkable, and it aged in large, wooden casks.

 The film does an excellent job of capturing just how revolutionary the Barolo Boys’ changes were. They began thinning the grape vines, cutting fermentation times to just days, and aging the wine in barriques (small barrels) instead of large crates, creating a fruitier wine that appealed internationally. These changes, however popular in the market, angered the traditional Barolo producers, to the point that Altare’s father, “never stepped foot into the vineyard again.”

Despite the opposition, the film depicts the wine revolution as a very happy time for the producers in Langhe. I really enjoyed the original footage of the Barolo Boys’ meetings, during which they ran countless experiments and tastings in their pursuit of the best wine. Their hard work paid off – due to the help of Marco de Grazia, who marketed the wine in the American market- the Barolo boys rose to fame. The film humorously emphasizes their popularity with shots of the “Barolo Boys” soccer team doing drills through the vineyards, and barriques being rolled through the Italian streets. More money came into Langhe in ten years than it had in the entire last century, and in America, the wine grew to symbolize fashion, glamour, and luxury.

The film suggests, however, that Barolo’s golden age may be coming to an end. Pitting the innovators versus the traditionalists, the film delves into both sides of the Barolo Wars that typify the archetypical clash between old and new. Although the Barolo Boys are no longer working together, the film depicts a story of the courage to make drastic changes, and the backlash that all significant changes unavoidably receive. By leaving open the question, “who is the winner” in the war between traditionalism and innovation, the film suggests that the solution lies in some combination of old traditions and new techniques.

I recommend this film for all those interested in wine, in history, or in the Italian culture’s influence on the world. With interviews from Oscar Farinetti, the president of Eataly, and Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, the film offers a holistic view of a very interesting cultural phenomenon. Let’s face it – some of Italy’s most influential contributions to mankind have been through the wine it produces, and this film succeeds in giving the industry the attention it deserves. 

For more information and ordering information, please visit
http://www.baroloboysthemovie.com/index_eng.html#book.http://www.baroloboysthemovie.com/index_eng.html#book.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Head to Litro for Natural Wine in Rome


The beautiful interior at Litro

Litro is a hip wine bar located in old Monteverde that’s getting a lot of buzz for its top offerings of natural wines. The food is more suited to an aperitivo, as the enoteca serves only a small selection of cold plates and limited warm dishes-which are all excellent. Hungry visitors should try the Lazio cheese plate, a rarity amongst restaurants that showcases locally made and produced cheeses that are delicious. The focus of the bar, its natural wine selection, is carefully curated to contain top bottles from small wineries in Italy. Litro’s menu also includes a special section for orange wines, a lesser-known type of wine worth trying. For those more interested in different spirits, Litro also offers an array of mezcals (bottles of which are artfully arranged on the walls alongside cacti).

For visitors in need of guidance, engage the warm and friendly staff members for help selecting wines. Though the wines can run a bit pricey, the environment is inviting. The enoteca has an outdoor seating area perfect for the summer, as well as an interior that’s clean and modern. Hipsters will delight at the wall decorated with clocks and wine lovers will delight at the array of bottles lining the adjacent walls.


Text and photos by Antiqua Tours intern Annie Epstein 



Address: Via Fratelli Bonnet, 5
Telephone:  +39 0645447639
Open: Tuesday through Sunday 7:00-24:00. Closed Mondays.

Monday, August 11, 2014

At the International Wine Tourism Conference in Tbilisi Georgia

Magical Tbilisi

At the end of March 2014, I participated in the International Wine Tourism Conference that took place in Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia. I spoke about wine tourism in Lazio and also participated in a panel on Social Media with fantastic colleagues. The highlight of the conference was the opportunity to participate in a familiarization media trip organized by the National Wine Agency in Georgia.
The program began two days before the conference and included a post conference visit to the Kakheti wine region. The program took us to a variety of wineries ranging from a Soviet era factory specializing in sparkling wine, to tasting the gorgeous qvevri wines made by the Alaverdi monk and learning about their 1000+ year wine making heritage, and then having the honor of joining the Sullivans as they opened their qvevri at the Twin's WineCellar in Kakheti.
A number of my fellow participants have written excellent articles about the trip and conference that offer the reader more in depth notes. Check out Vines and Designs, My Custard Pie, Just the Bottle  and the most moving piece by Allison Markin about finding her Georgian family. 
Conferences like this have a lot to offer those of us in wine tourism, we can learn from our peers, get to know an otherwise unknown region to us and of course the networking opportunities alone are worth the ticket price.
Being in the Republic of Georgia taught me a lot about one aspect of wine tourism that is often overlooked and that is the art of hospitality. Wine tourism should take the guest beyond the wine. I spoke about this briefly in the limited time I had for my presentation. Wine tour guests are not wine professionals for the most part. They are people on vacation that have an interest in wine and food. Our job is to highlight the local wine AND the region while making our guests feel comfortable and happy. Georgians have truly mastered the art of hospitality and I would advise anyone in the hospitality or service industry to visit Georgia to understand this. I was so impressed with Georgia I have returned since the conference, started a #DailyGeorgia post on my instagram feed and I have two upcoming trips planned. I will participate in this year's harvest and see for myself the magic of qvevri wine making.

I am looking forward to the next Interantional Wine Tourism Conference in Champagne, France!


Pickled garlic


At the Tbilisi market

A local bar

My great friend and winelover Irakli

Local politcal graffiti

Mako and Eko pouring Italian wine into a vessel from 1600 BC

Eko's Tsolikouri

Street art in Tbilisi

Our guide Dushenko

Me with the Caucasus in the background

Gorgeous


Sinaghi in Kakheti

Georgian cats are just as grumpy as cats elsewhere on earth

Turkish coffee with Daniel

Vineyards and mountains

Signs of vines EVERYWHERE

Freshly foraged wild greens

Puri

Opening a qvevri

Qvevri

Alaverdi

Texas

At Twin's Wine Cellar

Qvevri

Qvevri

Oh the Caucasus must be the most beautiful mountain range on earth

Tbilisi Sulfur Baths

IWINETC panel on Social Media

At Eko Glonti's house

Georgian wine makes one do silly things

With new friends

At Vino Underground in Tbilisi

My partners in crime

Les Vignerons

Beautiful people

My Georgian soul mate

Tbilisi at night

Monday, July 28, 2014

Frida Kahlo in Rome


By Antiqua Tours Caelan Fortes


Unless you have found yourself a hermit in Rome, it is impossible to travel anywhere in the city without seeing the face of Frida Kahlo. Whether plastered on a pole or against the metro’s walls, you have undoubtedly met Frida’s fixed gaze while out and about. From underneath her trademark eyebrows, her eyes call locals and visitors alike into the Scuderie del Quirinale, where an exhibition on her life and works has been on display since March 20th.
Frida has long been lauded as the feminist avant-garde icon of the twentieth century. Her exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale explores the length of her artistic career with a collection of works from all over the globe. In fact, some of her portraits are on display in Italy for the very first time! What’s most interesting about Frida’s work is that her paintings and drawings do not simply chronicle her life; instead, they are a reflection of and a response to the artistic vocabulary of different eras, cultures, and movements, across nations, synthesized in her own unique way.
Interestingly, art was not Young Frida’s, or her parents’, vision for herself. She was studying to be a doctor when she was nearly killed in a bus accident as a teen. Rather than letting this more-than-minor incident destroy her morale, she took to painting as she convalesced and described it as a “reawakening of life.” To compare all of the “first world problems” we view as day ruining – like traffic or a lack of Wifi - to Frida’s artistic beginnings really puts life, and our reactions to its curveballs, in perspective.
Frida did not exist in a bubble. She explored and immersed herself in different cultures, values, and artistic movements, all while desperately trying to stay true to herself. It is this intellectual curiosity and exploration of identity that draws me the most to Frida. For instance, the star of one room is her “Self-Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States.” Here Frida juxtaposes Mexican and American symbols while placing herself in the middle, an autobiographical Venn diagram. As explained in the description, by standing on an elevated surface between these disparate cultural objects, she is allowing them to energize her without letting them transform her. As a Taco Bell-loving American one month into living in Rome, I like to think I can relate to the struggle of cultural assimilation while clinging to tradition - at least to some degree!
One of my favorite pieces is not even by Frida, but simply of Frida. By photographer Leo Matiz, it is entitled “Frida Drinking a Beer” - and it is exactly how it sounds. I stared at the photo for so long that the exhibition’s art guards began to eye me, as if I were going to stick the picture in my Longchamp and run away with it. It is a truly humanizing shot, and not something I see in exhibitions often. A pleasant reminder that this highly venerated artist was, in fact, a real person capable of normal leisurely activities, it was as if you were to walk into a modern art exhibit and see a photograph titled “Picasso Pouring a Shot” or “Matisse and His Mimosa.”
The exhibition ends with Frida’s still lives, which act as metaphors to chronicle her physical and emotional deterioration. The curator’s notes describe the works in the final room “as a metaphor of love which, through pain, consumes like fire. Her whole capacity on loving appears burnt-out and wounded. The long and terrible suffering she bore had prostrated Frida Kahlo gravely and she was witnessing, the funeral pyre of her own desire.” The tumultuous love of Frida and Diego pervades the whole exhibition, from his nude portraits of her to her surprising painting of his mistress. Their love story is one out of a Lifetime movie, but far better and more eloquently documented.
Frida suffered widely and deeply, and this torment is palpable in her paintings. She internalized these injustices and struggled with them, but, most importantly, she took efforts to not be defined by them. This, I think, manifests itself in her many self-portraits and their various iterations - a journey to be self-aware and self-actualized despite being highly self-deprecating. Frida’s troubles with love and loss are universal and identifiable problems. You leave the exhibition wondering, “What if that were me? How would I handle it?” Frida should be venerated for her strength along with her artistic prowess; her life and works act as a lesson on suffering for all.
This exhibition, while heavy, is definitely worth a view. You do not have to be a Frida fanatic to appreciate her life, a series of travesties documented colorfully and soulfully. Her exhibition will be on display until August 31st. Stop by the Scuderie del Quirinale during your stay in Rome - and even enjoy for lunch or dinner at its bustling cafe!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Climbing in Florence


By intern Caelan Fortes


 

Last weekend, my roommate and I decided to take a spontaneous day trip to Florence - just under two hours away by fast train. The ordeal began as somewhat of a debacle, featuring us sprinting across the terminal to catch our train, but a stressful morning quickly made way for a fantastic day. As a walking art history cliché, Florence has long been my mecca. I could wax poetic about the David, speak ad nauseam about the Uffizi, but, a true tourist at heart, the most poignant part of my day was my climb up the Duomo.
Brunelleschi’s Duomo and Giotto’s Campanile, located in Piazza del Duomo, peek out over all of Florence’s buildings. Built in 1418 by Brunelleschi, the Duomo towers over the city at nearly 142 feet - larger than the domes of the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica!
After admiring and photographing the Duomo from every conceivable angle, we geared up to make the 463-step climb. We purchased a combination ticket, which allowed us entry into the Dome, Campanile, and Cathedral - all for just ten euros! The various tour books and blogs I consulted all warned of long queues, so I was prepared to wait in line for an inordinate amount of time. To our surprise, we reached the Dome’s entrance in less than an hour!
Despite signs prohibiting writing on the walls, tons of names were scribbled or carved on the Duomo’s walls. Signatures like “Pepe <3s Joanna,” “ALYSSA SPRING 2K14,” “The Millers were here” all marked the climb. To me, the graffiti served as a bit of comic relief - a Renaissance marvel building now functioned doubly as a tourist yearbook.
After a countless number of steps, we were spit out onto a walkway lining the interior of the dome, directly under Giorgio Vasari’s fresco of The Last Judgment. Paralleling only Michelangelo’s painting of the same topic in dynamism and gore, its colorful registers house many Renaissance themes. Nude figures abound, sinners being roasted alive, skewered, and flagged. Pleasantly juxtaposed, the devout were being welcomed to paradise. Some used this landing, and its propinquity to the painting, to snap pictures of the fresco, while most took advantage of the walking respite to transition from “heavy panting” to “mildly out of breath” before we continued on with our journey.
The final set of stairs, fittingly, is the steepest, but the climb is so rewarding. You step off the staircase and into an absolutely breath-taking panoramic view of Florence. We could not have picked a more idyllic day to climb. Straight ahead, you could make out the shapes of visitors who braved the climb up Giotto’s bell tower. The red terracotta rooftops fit together like legos, punctuated by the occasional cathedral. Far behind, the rolling hills formed a beautiful backdrop. The visual segue between city and nature was stunning. The scene is absolutely unreal. There are also plenty of seats from which to admire the city and catch a breath before beginning the hike back down.
Despite a barely conquered fear of heights, the climb was so worth it. Nothing makes you smaller than walking into a cathedral, and nothing makes you feel lighter than climbing one. If you have the time (and endurance), I would definitely recommend climbing Giotto’s bell tower, as well. It offers an incredible view of the Dome.
There’s a reason why most guides on Florence often list the Duomo as must-see. Experience it for yourself! Visitors are able to climb the dome Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 6:20pm, and Saturdays from 8:30 to 5pm. It’s ten euros to climb the 463 steps to the Dome’s steps; however, there are plenty of combination ticket options for exploring all the buildings of Piazza del Duomo, and most are valid for twenty-four hours if you want to do so in shifts!