Wine Terrorists?

(Above: Not the best way to rack your wine. From Time: A commando vineyard owner empties one of 13 wine tanks filled with Chilean wine in Nimes, France. Photo Credit: Pascal Parrot / Getty)

Perhaps adding some real bite to the enoterm terroirist, there’s an article at Time Magazine about the recent explosion of a homemade bomb at a small winery in Limoux (click here for my earlier post on this subject). Local vigneron and amateur explosives enthusiast Jérôme Soulère was apprehended by authorities after the accidental detonation of one of his devices at his winery. Soulère was at the hospital when nabbed by police; as it turns out, he’s a member of the comité régional d’action viticole, aka CRAV, a group of militant winemakers active in southern France that was formed, as the group claims, to protest against the consequences of a globalized wine industry.

I’m not one to condone violence, and frankly these guys seem pretty loony to me. But they have a point, or more relevantly, they believe they’ve got a point and they’re willing to go to extremes to get people to listen. Still, something doesn’t sit right with using the tag ‘terrorist’ here…

Anyway, that’s open to debate.

From the article:

CRAV’s commando operations began with the 2005 bombing of a state agricultural building. CRAV members, or independent sympathizers, have repeatedly carried out bombings or acts of vandalism since, including three acts of property destruction in a 10 day span in May this year alone. In mid-July, CRAV logos were discovered spray-painted at a Narbonne agriculture collective whose vandalized vats had drained nearly 132,000 gallons of wine on the ground — an estimated loss of around $450,000. Last year, it sent a video to newly-elected President Nicolas Sarkozy demanding assistance to the region’s grape growers, or “blood will flow”.

Quixotic as it may seem to outsiders, the group — and many Langeudoc-Rousillon growers who support its aims while condemning the violence used to achieve them — want the French government to protect them from a rapidly globalizing market. Foreign wine from cheaper producers such as Italy, Spain, Australia, the US, and South America — where costs can be one-fifth of those in France — has saturated the market, and driven down demand for locally-grown grapes. That has depressed the price Langeudoc-Rousillon growers get for their crops by up to 50% in recent years.

(Link to the original article at Time)


Remembering Genoa

(Above: The heavy boots of the Italian military police. Image courtesy of Indymedia)

Yesterday marked a grim anniversary of sorts. Seven years ago on July 21, during the tumultuous G8 conference hosted by Italy in the Ligurian city of Genoa, Italian riot police stormed the Diaz Petrini school which had been officially designated a housing center for visiting activists, independent journalists and various protesters. Somewhere between 150 and 200 carabinieri, clad in body armor and carrying night sticks and shields, thrashed the unarmed people inside the school, most of whom were either already in their sleeping bags or preparing for bed. Dozens and dozens of people were seriously injured and then hauled off to prison.

Those arrested were later released for lack of charges, and an inquiry into the raid was launched. On July 14 of this year, fifteen police officers, guards and medics were convicted for their roles in the violence. Although as this shocking article in the UK’s Guardian points out, none of them are likely to ever go to prison due to Italy’s complicated appeals system.

Also unresolved–and it will likely remain this way–is who directed the brutal police response (One of Silvio Berlusconi’s cronies and cabinet ministers, Gianfranco Fini, the leader of Italy’s right-wing National Alliance, was allegedly at police headquarters that night). Tellingly, evidence the police claimed justified the raid was later declared false; other evidence reported confiscated during the raid was found to have been planted at the scene; it has subsequently been ‘mislaid’.

(Go here for some of the Guardian’s coverage of the violent riots and damage to Genoa during the G8 summit)

(Click here to read Nick Davies’ article about the legacy of the Diaz Petrini raid)

This all comes to mind after reading Jeremy Parzen’s posts over at Do Bianchi and VinoWire about a recent political comic parodying remarks made by once-again prime minister Silvio Berlusconi at a recent farmers’ union conference:

“I am proud of having gathered together a splendid team of young ministers,” Berlusconi told the group of commercial farmers on Friday. “But an old man’s experience was also needed. I can be compared to Brunello di Montalcino, which, as you know, gets better with age.”

A lot of room for improvement, clearly (Fini is currently the president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies). Of course as we all know, nothing in Italy (nor elsewhere for that matter) is ever quite what it seems, even the Brunello.

You would think that state sanctioned brutality, whether explicit or implicit, is something we’d move beyond in the West in the 21st century. But as the events in Genoa in 2001 demonstrate–and, perhaps much more damning–the actions of the United States during this decade, from wiretapping and domestic spying to extraordinary rendition and sanctioned torture, we’re clearly still stuck hard to a violent and brutal past.

Side note:

Below, the list of world leaders in attendance at the 2001 G8 in Genoa. It’s quite the cast of characters…

Steal This Film


When I first met my friend Alan Toner in Rome in 2003, he was always toting around this oversized backpack that contained both a laptop and a digital video camera, and possibly a change of clothes. Last year, our paths crossed at VinItaly in Verona and we had a hilarious escapade on foot and bus through the suburbs trying to track down Critical Wine’s annual convergence.

At some point Alan told me about a documentary film he’d put together with two other friends called “Steal This Film”. Their film used the temporary shut down of the Pirate Bay in Norway to explore the complexities surrounding networked file-sharing and the distribution of content, particularly music and movies. Naturally, “Steal This Film” was available exclusively as a peer-to-peer download for free (although donations were accepted). In a relatively short period, it had been downloaded over 3 million times.

The group’s second effort, “Steal This Film II”, takes the ideas from the first film and seeks to look at the conflicts over the distribution of content via file sharing in a historical context. Think the introduction of the printing press and you’ll get the point. While I personally believe that content like music and movies is worth paying for, I harbor no loyalty towards the the antiquated distribution systems in place to distribute such content. There are major signs that this system is quickly disintegrating and what will emerge to take its place is anyone’s guess. Oh, Internet magic. To draw a more a vinous analogy, consider the three-tier liquor distribution system in the United States. Will anyone really miss that? Come to think of it, the three-tier system would be missed: See the comments section for more.

Download “Steal This Film II”

(Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing has a short write up of “Steal This Film II” here.)

(UPDATE: For another perspective on the implosion of the recording industry/RIAA, check out this article at the financial advice site Motley Fool. To wit: “…a good sign of a dying industry that investors might want to avoid is when it would rather litigate than innovate, signaling a potential destroyer of value. If it starts to pursue paying customers — which doesn’t seem that outlandish at this point — then I guess we’ll all know the extent of the desperation. Investor, beware.” Alder over at Vinography linked to this article in the comments thread to his excellent post on a recent shifty sting operation set up by Boo to them!)

Meteorites, Terroir and a Not So Bella Italia

Friday’s linkfest happens on Saturday this week. Oh, the holidays. Busy anyone?

The sky is falling. And falling into my glass. At first glance this Wired article about meteorite impacts on the ancient Earth might not seem to have much to do with the concept of terroir. However, as I thought more about it, and of the natural forces and energies unleashed by such an impact–and, as inferred here, of the minerals and microbes delivered by those forces–I couldn’t help but wonder how meteor impacts might have influenced the geology of Earth today. And, by extension, the soils and rocks in which we grow our food: talk about cosmic forces! And if the meteor idea seems like a stretch, then certainly the biomass buildup after the extinctions resulting from the more massive impacts of the Cretaceous, has had a significant influence on our lives today. They ain’t called fossil fuels for nothing.

(Click here for the Wired article)

The fossilization of Italian culture? This excellent New York Times article about the general sense of malessere sweeping contemporary Italian society made the blog rounds this past week (e.g., here at On the Wine Trail in Itlay and here at Do Bianchi), but it’s a topic that I feel worthy bringing up again for those who haven’t read it. Today, much of what we in the United States understand about Italy and Italians comes directly from a consumerist experience, one driven as much by marketing as anything else. Indeed, the Italian brand is a powerful icon supported even by specialized guides.

But a bigger point lies beneath the surface of this article, one that I’ve seen both while living in Italy and traveling there regularly for work. To put it directly, Italian society is not adapting well to globalization. You could say that about many countries, but in Italy the challenges presented by globalization feel more acute than most modern western nations. Rapidly rising costs, backwards technology, stifling bureaucracy and an astonishing number of young people living with their parents well into their 30s are but the most obvious symptoms. The resurgence of the fascist and nationalist parties of the political right are a darker reaction that many foreign visitors miss entirely.

A couple more links on this theme, then on to the humor, I promise. Salon’s awesome blog, How the World Works, had this post about the shift of populations in the developed world to urban centers, as well the general decrease in overall populations of several Western nations. These are two of the major demographic issues faced by Italy today, and I’ve witnessed them play out in the suburban sprawl of Rome to the winding alleyways of wine towns like Avellino and Alba.

Then there’s this totally awesome Flash movie about Italy and its fellow European nations. I know, it plays with stereotypes, but it’s produced by the animator-humorist Bruno Bozzetto. I find his sharp wit and sense of satire to be quite indicative of a particularly Italian response to the challenges facing the country today.

Sweeney Todd–I can’t wait! NY Times review here.

And then, Friday’s Dinosaur Comics summed up my Christmas shopping thus far: