There's trouble going on in the bucolic rolling hills of the Piedmont region of Italy.
And it's all about Barbera.
Seems the Consorzio and other interested promotional parties decided to hold a conference/showcase in the Piedmont, featuring many of the producers of Barbera. They wanted to emphasize the pioneering steps they were taking, and the stylistic changes they were making, all in an effort to make Barbera seem, in the words of one of the more passionate of the locals, "important".
Okay, so far, so good. Catch a little limelite, do a little tap dance, get some media coverage---all pretty standard.
But the consorzio was either terribly hip and up-to-date with trends, or had some advisors that were keyed in to cutting edge social media, because somebody came up with the idea to capitalize on the new internet standard of blogging and tweeting to reach a wider audience.
Several bloggers were invited to attend (expenses paid, as is often the case for formal press to get them to come, and is irresistible to the new wave blogistas, since most of them don't have any wherewithal to get there without being financed). Naturally---and this should come as little surprise---the bloggers said (and this is not an exact quote, but probably close to what actually happened), "Well, hell yeah!!!!"
And so the eager bloggers, PCs and Apples in hand, made their trek to Piedmont. They were wined. The were dined. They were toured, and they were tasted and they were seminared constantly. (They are actually there, right now, as I tap out this article.)
And did they blog? You bet they did. With fervor. The publicity started coming. Real time, baby!
Only one tiny little thing marred the event: what if you gave a wine party, and no one liked the wine? And then said so? Loudly and longly?
All is not well at Barbera Meeting 2010.
You can get some idea of the tension and turmoil here, at the official Barbera 2010 website and blog aggregator, helmed by Jeremy Parzen. http://barbera2010.com/
Or you can take a look at some individual blogsites, such as this one by the redoubtable Thor Iverson http://oenologic.blogspot.com/ , or this one by the outspoken Cory Cartwright http://saignee.wordpress.com
You see, there's that little problem I alluded to earlier: these new wave bloggers and tweeters? They are fiercely independent sorts. They are extremely individualistic, and often loud and prickly about it. They say exactly what they feel, and their feelings are often passionately opinionated. They are even at times highly knowledgeable in what they're saying.
Now, mind you, they are loving the trip. After all, what's not to love in a free trip to the Piedmont??? And they're meeting some great people, and are quite impressed with the land and the people. But they have some serious doubts about the wine, and they're saying so.
Turns out that much of what's going on with Barbera these days, especially with the producers who want to make Barbera "important"---which means respected, appreciated, and notably more expensive and profitable and in favor with modern consumers---involves adding heft and weight and volume to a normally fairly quiet and likable little variety. Barbera for many years has been, along with Dolcetto, one of the straightforward country wines the locals drink while they gleefully export the "important" high price Barolo and Barberesco to wine aficonados around the world.
And how better to make Barbera "important" than emphasizing and aggrandizing all its elements? Grow the grapes so they are more intense, richer, riper, fuller. Make the wine so you extract the maximum from these richer grapes. Then cater to the custom of the times and put all that wine in brand new oak barrels for longer and longer periods of time.
Then you will have an 'important' wine, you see.
It may not taste like Barbera anymore though. Or, as many of the bloggers are pointing out, it may not taste like anything much at all, except generic, fat, rich, oaky wine. From somewhere, yes, but not necessarily from anywhere in particular.
Turns out maybe it's not the best idea for PR purposes to invite a group of fiercely independent and very mouthy people to come taste your wines and write about them. Could have the same effect of being invited to judge a Most Beautiful Baby contest and telling the proud parents all their babies are undeniably ugly. Ouch!
Now mind you, these bloggers are not finding all the wines terrible---they are simply saying they do not like the direction the producers are going in, for they feel they are not showing the unique properties of Barbera and the Piedmont as they should, and instead making it just another indiscriminate "me too" international style of wine.
And it's all too likely that the more mainstream wine media would find these wines laudable. That's what seems to get the "name" writers excited, at least; so it's possible it would work here.
So who are the poor producers to listen too? These irritating and yappy little people, these ephemeral internet scribes who came out of nowhere, armed only with an opinion and an internet connection; or the mass-market influence-peddlers who with one article, one score, can establish a wine firmly in the pantheon of profound profit?
I have my own opinion on who is more likely "right" in this instance. I also have an opinion about who will more likely be heeded by the producers. And I will keep both opinions to myself.
Take a look. and make up your own mind.