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Off The Vine

It's about the wine, not glitz

Lorn Razzano —

Once or twice a week I receive at work new winery release — handouts.

These handouts are glossy professionally photographed, — archive bound booklets telling us everything we want or don't want to — know about the new wine releases, the "beauty" of the vineyards and the — rows of wine barrels just perfectly stacked in faux brick cellars. More — importantly the winery scene now makes use of the winemaker as pop star. — Many winemakers featured in these handouts are posed just right, hair — combed to perfection, looking with studied concern at a glass of wine — positioned in front of a setting sun. Money, time and slick paper make — up these advertisements and prompts me to send you briefly back in time — with me.

It was in the fall of 1970 at the foot of the Italian — Alps. I was 21 years old and bopping from vineyard to vineyard on my great — uncle's surplus U.S. Army Harley Davidson acting as a parts courier from — small winery to small winery. This morning I was carrying in the worn — leather saddles O rings and a spare pump part to Guido Senese, a local — shepherd and home winemaker. He and his wife lived in a small hut in the — middle of an ancient vineyard that he and his father had planted shortly — after the first world war when Guido returned as a wounded veteran. The — vines belonged to a wealthy man not five kilometers from Guido's home. — Guido and his wife tended the vines and he was allowed to take what he — wished for his own winemaking. I was asked to breakfast that morning and — sat across the rough wooden table from Guido and his wife, Maria, who — was called "La Strega" the witch, for her magical work with herbs and — salves for the local people of the valley.

The couple were vegetarians, a rarity, in 1970 Italy. — At the back of the hut were stacks of cages housing a variety of wounded — or sick wild animals that the couple tended as best they could, then released — them back into the vineyards or woodlands that surrounded the vineyards. — In their cellar sat a few barrels and fermenters. Here was the machine — of magic! The first time I tasted Guido's wine I was stunned into silence. — His Nebbiolo (of Barolo and Barbaresco fame) was simply stunning! He gave — me a bottle which I brought back and tasted with my uncle. He shook his — head as he had done many times in quiet, solemn agreement. It seemed that — Guido's wine was legendary among the locals. Since I was coming back to — America for a short visit to work in my dad's wine business I begged Guido — for a few more bottles to take back with me. He gladly gave me half a — case. I stuck one of the wines in an "all comers" wine festival and it — came in first out of seventy-four wines! I had a few importers and wine — distributors taste the wines and they went bonkers! The wines had a snowball — effect and very big wine people in the Bay Area were clamoring to find — this fine winemaker to import his exquisite wines.

Sadly, Guido became sick and moved with his wife to his — sister's in Torino. This is really an open letter to emerging winemakers, — slick PR men and winery people who think that "showcasing" their efforts — with splash and color is the way to sell wine and have the everyday consumer — find out about them. My message is simple: Make a fine wine, price it — so that we can purchase it without mortgaging the farm and we will come! — Forget the hype, put the advertising cash into a good charity and give — us a little bit of Guido Senese to pour into our glasses.

Lorn Razzano has been a commercial wine and spirits judge — at state fairs in California, Oregon and Washington and is a co-founder — KSOR wine tasting. He was on winery staffs of various Italian and French — wineries in the 1970s, and has owned Ashland Wine Cellar since 1980.