The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Drinking History

Posted on | February 26, 2010 | Written by Tom Powers | 2 Comments

When I was a student, I was curious about history. It was less knowing the historical events in and of themselves—though places, names and dates do have a certain charm—it was more understanding the connection between what was happening in music  and in art and what was happening politically and economically. Certainly, when there was prosperity, the arts flourished. But when there was time of economic hardship, they took on a very different tone, and in many ways the arts grew more interesting during hard times than they were during times of comfort.

Adversity can breed excellent art. For example, it’s an accepted notion that artists need to suffer for their art. This is undeniably true for blues musicians. The pain of relationships often forces blues musicians experience raw feelings, and then they release those feelings in their music. This art-born-from-suffering concept can hold true for many artists working in multiple genres. Certainly the horrors of the Spanish Civil War inspired Picasso to tell the story of the bombing of the Basque town by German pilots in his painting Guernica. It vividly shows the horrors of war, in particular the suffering of civilians. But does this theory relate to wine?

I think it does.

In many ways, wine requires both peace and prosperity. For one thing, the land must be in a harmonious state to produce wine’s most basic and beautiful raw materials: the grapes. The vineyard owners must have a healthy cash flow in order to manage the considerable expenses of the operation. But what of the winemaker him or herself? Take for instance the historic Gaja Barbarescos from the 1970s. Gaja made these wines during a time when he was sharply criticized for reducing his yields, using small French oak barrels, even vinifying and bottling single vineyards separately.  And yet, these wines show the passion and the conviction of a young man who dared to defy his colleagues, even his father. They demonstrate the fortitude of a visionary who believed that his wines could rival the finest in the world. They are wines that changed the way people understood Barbaresco.

So what is an original piece of history worth? Is it tens of thousands, even millions of dollars? I would venture to say that to buy a piece of history for well under $500 is a true value. To experience a part of wine history that is still in perfect condition for this price is a remarkable value. Moreover, the fact that you or I can own, drink, enjoy, and imbibe history itself demonstrates the core values of IWM because in many ways Sergio’s mission is similar to Angelo Gaja’s—to show the world that Italy produces wines that are not merely enjoyable, not merely value-conscious, not merely beautiful, but can transcend being just a bottle of wine and become a bit of history itself.


2 Responses to “Drinking History”

  1. Nicola
    February 26th, 2010 @ 5:44 pm

    It seems that adversity is very important for quality wine production. My knowledge on this is limited, but thinking about the way a vine grows, easy access to water and to nutrients in the soil doesn’t help make great wine, on the contrary. When a vine has to struggle to grow and burrow deep into the soil to search for the needed water and nutrients, that’s when conditions are good for producing top quality grapes and wine that’s infused with complex terroir. So, perhaps adversity is critical and a core criteria for producing quality wine.

  2. Keith Hickson
    February 26th, 2010 @ 7:15 pm

    Nicola – I agree 100%. Adversity builds character in more than just people.

    Tom – great correlation linking various art forms. And history is so much more than just dates and names. A great book on blues is “The Rough Guide to Essential Blues CD’s ” by Greg Ward. The ISDN number is 1-85828-560-7 and it’s filled with stories of the musicians.

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