Kings of the Kitchen

I love to travel.  Especially in the world of wine, how else do you ever get a sense of the place where these wines come from- or for the people who make them?  You want to learn about wine?  You want to go beyond studying and reiterating facts, and be able to come at the subject from a unique, personal perspective?  Then there is only one thing to do- you must to go.  You have to see it all in person.  You cannot rely on somebody else’s writing on the subject to tell you what you need to know about wine- it’s far too complex of a subject.  It’s far too personal.  You must go see it with your own eyes and let it get underneath your own skin.  Travel.

One thing is for sure though- the travelling itself sure isn’t easy.  I am writing this from the third train I’ve boarded today, after two very long flights, all for the purpose of arriving at the Dijon train station over 24 hours later where I will be picked up by my colleagues for the final short leg of my journey- we are destined for a house in the Hautes-Côtes where we will live and work for the next two weeks.

That being said, the mild hum of discomfort I’m feeling right now thanks to a lack of sleep and an over-abundance of excitement is not necessarily a bad thing.

The purpose of our time in Burgundy is to solidify the third edition of a book written by Camillo Favaro and Giampaolo Gravina, and photographed by Maurizio Gjivovich.  This book, “Vini e Terre di Borgogna” is the first book ever written about Burgundy in the Italian language (not translated into Italian from another language).  The perspective of the book is an invitation to explore the region of Burgundy.  The classics, the cutting edge, fantastic maps and gorgeous photography.  There are personal interviews with winemakers, and restaurant recommendations written in a friendly yet useful manner that are also uniquely Italian.  It’s a gem of a book, written by serious wine professionals with their own unique and worthwhile perspectives.

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For years I begged for and English language translation.  I pleaded- they resisted.  “But Joanie, there are SO MANY books written about Burgundy in English.  We have a hard time finding translations of these books in Italian! What does the world need with another wine book in English?”

I continued to press them though- I’ve read the original in Italian- I know there are many people like myself who would enjoy it.  It pains me to see them spend so many hours slaving over a book that, due only to the language it’s written in, can never reach such a large swath of the market.

Then last year, I got my wish.  They asked me to translate their book.

And I’m totally uncomfortable with the idea.  Here’s why.

Giampaolo Gravina, whose literary credits in the Italian and French languages would destroy most English-language wine writers, is one of the most intelligent, insightful authorities on wine.  Period.  In addition to his abilities as a professional, personally I feel indebted to him.  Giampaolo was the first person to teach me about wine.  He was my first mentor in the wine business.  I tasted my first sip of Nebbiolo with him almost 15 years ago at Vinitaly.  Reading his writing in Italian is like trying to absorb Dante or Bocaccio.  The cultural insights he hides among the layers of language he crafts around the subject of wine would make Tom Wolfe shed a tear of appreciation.  Quite simply, he’s a genius.  And I’m responsible for giving him a voice in another language.  Uncomfortable.

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The there is Camillo Favaro, one of the world’s greatest white wine producers.  This is not hyperbole.  His Erbaluce is some of the most expressive, uniquely terroir-driven wine you will ever find.  He has a deft hand in the cellar and a keen sensibility for viticultural practices.  He’s a farmer and a wine maker and a cultivator of local history.  There is literally nobody else doing what he does in his far-flung scrap of Piemonte called Piverone.  He and his father Benito, are Italy’s original garagistes.  If you can find his wines, buy everything you can get your hands on.  By definition anything he bottles is under-priced- this level of craftsmanship and obsession with terroir is impossible to quantify.  There are no benchmarks for what he’s doing.

And again, it is my privilege and responsibility to give this man a voice in English.  To say the very least, that makes me uncomfortable.

The importance of what I’m doing may be lost on the rest of you, perhaps because you can’t see these men as the Experts and Giants they are (yet).  But this is my family.  These people are the nexus of my career.  They are my inspiration.  And they are truly great writers. There is too much at stake, and this is not going to be easy.

What I am learning concretely is that nothing truly worthwhile is ever simple.  How do we learn without failure?  How do we grow without a few growing pains?  When faced with this kind of opportunity to jump in, I fear I do not have a choice.  I MUST do this.  I’m swimming out to the middle of the river. Now is the time.

And so I find myself here on this train, in a sleep-deprived semi-stupor, pondering the gravitas of the project I’m about to begin and learning to relax into this sweet, toe-curling discomfort, hurtling at breakneck pace towards Dijon.

I’m uncomfortable.  Will you join me?

About The Author

I love all things Italian: the beautiful country of Italia, the Italians themselves, the language, the food… and above all, I love Italian wine.

The people I meet in my charmed life are fascinating, the wines are extraordinary. I needed a special place like this to write about them, and to remember them.

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