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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Barbera - Monica Pisciella's #Barbera2 summary

As many of you know, Rosa d'Oro Vineyards was one of five domestic wineries that participated in  #Barbera2 this May in Nizza Monferrato, as well as the Barbera Festival in Amador County.

Monica Pisciella was the chief organizer of the event and she was even able to attend the Barbera Festival in Amador, cementing the cross-cultural aspect of Barbera production. Below is her overview of  the events.


by Monica Pisciella

Translation: Gianni Lovato
Editing: J.S. Manning, U.C. Davis
Recently in Nizza Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy and in the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, California, USA, producers, bloggers, and consumers on the two continents have been the leading actors in separate events that, purely by chance, had been planned only a few weeks apart and due of the miracle of the web they were drawn close to a point of almost becoming halves of an international Barbera project.

It was a passion for Barbera and a desire to explore it which united the two worlds in Piemonte and California with different ways of working with the same vine, of producing wine, of marketing Barbera and of promoting the territory. These two separate events which explored world of Barbera led to a comparative dialog to explain, show, and evaluate the production and quality of the Barbera in these different worlds. This interaction led to a constructive recognition of the diversity Barbera viniculture as well as an appreciation of the similarities and differences of producers and consumers in both countries which in turn is fostering a closer association between Barbera producers and consumers in both Italy and California. Interestingly, it was a combination of Barbera and the internet which led to the building of this transoceanic bridge.

Piedmont, # barbera2

On May 14, at the historical Foro Boario in Nizza Monferrato (AT), after more than six months of planning, the day of #barbera2 finally arrived (yes: the hash-tag # facilitated finding, both on Twitter and FaceBook, all the messages, photos, videos and links related to the event). Gathered around the tables, the 100 participants included aficionados, professionals, journalists and producers. On June 11, at the Cooper Vineyards ranch, in Amador County – CA, the Barbera Festival followed, a grand kermesse dedicated to Barbera with about 80 Wineries participating and attended by 2,000 paying visitors. The difference were many, but there were also common threads that crossed the Ocean and wiped out the distances: the intense passion for Barbera, paired with the commitment of all the producers and organizers involved, and with the same great dream of drawing closer people with kindred knowledge of this vine and wine.
At #barbera2 some of the 100 attendants came from far away. Not only from all parts of Italy, including the Islands, but also from Northern Europe and the USA. There were journalists, professional sommeliers, wine experts, importers and representatives, but also simply aficionados, people with entirely different, unrelated occupations. Of particular significance was also the participation of those taking part for the first time in a numbered tasting. Everyone showed up on time at 9:30 on a Saturday morning, united by the customary use of the web and Social Media (particularly Twitter), either professionally o for recreation.
Welcoming them all was Foro Boario, a venue impeccably staged with tables forming a large square at the center of which several “Barbera witnesses” followed one another with their presentations, while the participants could interact with them as well as with each other. The proceedings were filmed and broadcast in live streaming and with access to an excellent simultaneous two-way translations in English and Italian. The speakers included Lucia Galasso (anthropologist), Maurizio Gily (director of Millevigne), Roberto Abate (agronomist), Franca Maria Ratti (oenologists), Prof. Davide Bennato (docent of Digital Media Sociology at Catania University); the five producers of Barbera from Piedmont, whose wine were being tasted: Cascina Gilli, Cascina Garitina, Iuli, Varaldo and Vigneti Massa; two producers from California: Paul Cattrone of PDC Wines and Nick Buttitta of Rosa d'Oro Vineyards, as well as the Californian winemaker Gordon Binz, representing Boeger Vineyards, Cooper Vineyards, Muscardini cellars.
The goal of the presentations was to exchange ideas related to the viticulture in different areas and to the characteristics of Barbera, the vine and the wine, in a simple language accessible to all.
“#barbera2 is intended as a watershed point in communications about wine – asserted Gianluca Morino, a producer (Cascina Garitina) in Nizza and sponsor of the event - I have invested in this innovative and bold project, because I truly believe in the need to communicate about both wine and territory in a simpler, leaner fashion. Our wish is to rejuvenate the image of Barbera, bringing it closer to folks, and I believe that, in our own small way, we have succeeded. Those in attendance have been able to taste wines coming from far-away places; from geographically and physically different vineyards; we are trying to give life and substance to the concept of “terroir”. The Barbera is a wine for everyone: in all its variations, young or matured in barriques, it deserves equal dignity. From this perspective it is becoming increasingly important that it be paired with food, underscoring its ability to enhance the flavor of different dishes.”
During the presentations by the speakers, so many messages were posted on Twitter that the “#barbera2” hash-tag jumped to third place in the “most popular subject” ratings, just below the Turin Book Expo. Thanks to the interaction of many, the dialogue with the outsiders hummed intensively, connecting #barbera2 to the rest of the world, where Wine & Food professionals and simple aficionados “twitted” about Barbera from several Countries.
“Seeing so much interest and curiosity expressed by people twittering from all over the world, was the realization of a long/held dream” commented Gianluca Morino, at the end of the day.
Despite the truly large number of participants, many of them were invited to speak or comment during the event, in accordance with the declared goal of putting wine, and Barbera in particular, in touch with folks.
“We started - added Morino – with an idea: the need for a new kind of wine communications, more open and less self-serving, simpler, facing a consumer frequently intimidated by an elitist language that often scares him away making him feel inadequate and incapable of understanding and of making a choice. At times this results in steering the consumer towards other simpler beverages like beer or, worse yet, carbonated & artificially colored drinks”
The new means of communication, Social Media and particularly Twitter among them, hold a fundamental role in information world, recasting it into a more horizontal and bidirectional, hence participative, force.
“Given a choice I would rather skip other events, but never a numbered tasting, I believe they are too important” - these are the words of Samuel Sanders, an importer of Italian wines, who came from Holland to Piedmont specifically to take part in this event - “On occasions like these, we discover interesting wines for the market and we come in direct contact with consumers. It is them, not the experts, who will buy wine, in the end”
“I believe – says Sergio Miravalle, a Journalist with La Stampa – that, observing events such as this, many institutions ought to question and reflect on how, to this day, public money is being spent to promote wines and territories. One can't help feeling that old formulas are used, with no understanding of the speed at which the world has been changing and still is”.
Striving to add a tangible symbol of Barbera and its territory, Stefano Calosso - a nurseryman from nearby Acqui – and his wife, Valeria De Martini, donated each participant a young Barbera vine cutting, subsequently planted on plot at Cascina Garitina.
The producers from California present expressed their satisfaction as well. “barbera#2 – asserted Paul Cattrone, of PDC WINES, Walnut Creek, the American producer who cooperated the most to bringing to fruition this particular twinning from overseas – gave me a way to get in touch with the people, particularly producers and consumers, who in Italy share their passion for Barbera and the Social Networks. Furthermore it provided an opportunity to meet with Italian producers in the birthplace of Barbera and opened my eyes to the differences between Italy and California in wine production. In fact Italy has a deep sense of terroir, whereas in California greater emphasis is given to the vineyard and its care and vinification techniques ”
Nick Buttitta of ROSA d'ORO VINEYARDS (Lake County) was also enthusiastic. “Everything was well organized and worked like clockwork; much curiosity and never any prejudice toward Barbera from California”. #barbera2 brought good luck to Nick: just a few days ago, during the 2011 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition, Rosa d’Oro was awarded two prizes for their 2009 Barbera.

Amador County, Barbera festival

Barbera Festival was also held on a Saturday, at 10 am. Brian Miller (in the picture), the organizer, anticipate every detail with the greatest care, from car parking to the disposal of recyclable waste. The public, mainly came from Amador County - an area of California where Barbera has taken hold and gained many passionate followers among the producers – found several tasting stations under the trees, only a few steps away from the Barbera vines, in an atmosphere resembling the informal get-together of a Sunday spent in the countryside.
Next to the tasting stations there were also two #barbera2 tents: one reserved for the press, where journalists and bloggers could find samples replicating the tasting held in Nizza and, among the press releases, information on Wineries, wines and recipes. Next to it was another area, dedicated to the public: the high turnout indicated the high level of satisfaction at having the opportunity to taste Barbera from Piedmont. I was pleasantly surprised by the warm acceptance granted to us: many had heard or read about #barbera2 from Twitter or Facebook.
Two different landscapes for Barberas that express themselves differently. The Californian Barbera: younger, fruity, with modest acidity in most cases, easy to drink, possibly answering to the demands of a public that discovered its love of wine in more recent times. The Barbera from Piedmont: different, showing its long tradition through its complexity, the difference between the various areas of growth, as well as the different interpretations among producers. Furthermore, the acidity that distinguishes it and typically characterizes the Barbera to which we are used.
In the US we meet again Paul Cattrone, who outlines a terse assessment: “I was truly very satisfied with both events. I imagine #barbera2 and Barbera Festival as two parts of one sole event and I would like if, in future editions, could become integrated, in both Italy and California. I found interesting how much room was accorded to the presentation of Barbera, its terroir and producers as well as the dialogue with consumers that was started at #barbera2. I would love it if, in future occasions, the producers had more time to tell their story. It would also be nice if, at the next Barbera Festival, we could have, the day before or after, an event dedicate to presentations, just as it happened at #barbera2. Differences remain, but distances disappear, thanks to the modern means of communication, all to the advantage of a Barbera able to communicate with professionals and aficionados and become part of their daily reality.
Right: at the festival, Mike Dunn, journalist from the Sacramento Bee newspaper, and the famous retailer Darrell Corti



In Amador County Barbera grows on approximately 164 acres, divided among 33 producers. In California the total area dedicated to Barbera is 6,900 with a total of 200 producers. There is no meaningful difference in prices depending on the areas and, with the exception of the Montevina brand, sold nationwide, more than 80% of the Barbera produced in California is sold internally by the Firms, mostly to end consumers or to restaurants and wine shops in a 50 mile radius, at a price averaging between $20 and $30. Barbera priced below $ 15 is principally sold to large distributors. For these wineries, oenogastronomic tourism plays a major role and a significant portion of their promotional budget is allocated to it. Quite substantial are the investments in construction of modern greeting and tasting halls, very captivating in their design and in their presence as infrastructures dedicated to leisure time.

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