Holiday,PS I Love You,Wine

Italian American Vintners & Columbus Day

Back in February, Jim Gordon delivered a blog entry after returning from the Wine Enthusiast Annual Awards ceremonies in New York City, which addressed the impact that Italian American vintners have had in the American wine business. What he wrote inspired this blog entry… Yes, I’ve been waiting that long!

[Pictured above L to R: Julie Pedroncelli St. John of Pedroncelli Winery with US Army Sgt. Cheryl Dupris]

I decided that Jim’s comments would be good content for Columbus Day, so I just archived what I wrote to him for this holiday. I’ve been waiting all year for this day to celebrate my Italian American wine making friends. I’m raising a glass of Sangiovese to them all!

Please be advised that I wish we could change the name of this day to Italian American Day, versus Columbus Day, though. As we face the facts of history, handed down as stories by ancestors who were here at the time, we now know that Italian navigator Christopher Columbus, who lead a party of explorers around the open seas under the Spanish flag, was not as honorable as my Italian American friends. I first learned of his marauding ways when I left the US and visited Puerto Rico, which goes down in history as his also discovering that island. My American history books didn’t touch on this fact, and it took becoming an adult to find this historical nugget of truth on that island, and what I read was eye opening. The natives invited him to take as much gold as he wanted, but that wasn’t enough; he wanted the entire island, and claimed it for Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, leaving nothing for the natives.

Ponce de Leon later returned and committed genocide on la Isla Verde, with the natives who survived running into the hills.

Some things – like war – never seem to change, no matter how sophisticated we we think we’ve become… And, this is why I’d rather turn Columbus Day into Italian American Day, because those who came from Italy, landing on Ellis Island, were a much more humble and highly principled people, like those whose images are part of today’s blog.

[The above image L to R: Aldo Biale (Robert Baile Vineyards) with Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars]

[Side image L to R: Evelyn Trentadue, Cheryl Dupris, Leo Trentadue of Trentadue Vineyards]

Thankfully, those who followed after these two discoverers were much kinder and gentler, and looking for a new life – not new treasures. Landing on Ellis Island, they brought culture to the new Americas. They didn’t come to take it away. For that, I celebrate Columbus Day.

[The image above is four generations of the Foppiano Family. L to R: Susan Foppiano Valera, Louis J. Foppiano, Paul Foppiano, Gianna Foppiano with her dad, and Louis M. Foppiano]

Working with Italian American families for the last ten years, their influence on my thinking about the wine industry has been profound. I’ve worked with many others of other ethnic backgrounds, and some (not all) even viewed wine as a commodity product, not a way of life.

[The side image is of Dan Teldeschi of F. Teldeschi Winery and Jim Concannon of Concannon Vineyard. Danny spends some time in the winter months each year visiting his relatives in Italy. And, as much as we know Jim Concannon to be Irish – on his father’s side – he was also raised by an Italian mother, and just as proud of that heritage.]

My greatest learning (with 15 years now invested in studying the wine business) is how the Italian Americans’ solar plexus is one of being a humble farmer; and, this position remains in a world of wine marketing sophistication that’s a flurry all around them. There’s a deep, down-to-earth element that bespeaks “this is the way it is,” not this is the way it needs to be. By that, I mean that food and wine is like saying, “food.” Wine isn’t a lifestyle that Italians want to integrate into their lives for the civilizing, health, or glamor aspects. Wine’s a habit… It’s just part of their landscape.

Being an east coaster, I was raised with those Anglo-Saxon influences (i.e., wine was for special occasions, only). It wasn’t until I moved to the west coast that I really came to learn about wine, because I became part of the vineyard process. It’s one thing to sniff and swirl. It’s another to get one’s hands dirty. When wine’s taken away from white tablecloths and it goes right into the vineyard, that’s where the true understanding becomes a reality… I’m so thankful for the Italian Americans who brought their culture to this country, even though it’s taken us hundreds of years to begin to understand and enjoy it as a way of life for us all to emulate.

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