“Fucking contadini,” Walter once yelled at me “don’t care about great bottles of wine and even less for their territorio.” He also told me, “I don’t want to do anything unless I’m having fun.” Walter evidently is not the usual overall-wearing contadino but a vignaiolo. He is also, evidently, a collector of glass damigiane, which could be described as 54-liter super-sized Chianti flasks (remember those?!). These bulbous straw-covered glass containers are usually used for temporary wine storage, but in 2009 he used 31 of them to age the local variety Freisa. He calls this wine L’Avvelenata / The Poisoned. Thankfully, the TTB didn’t ask for a translation when we submitted the label for approval.
There’s some sense to the name beyond superficial provocation. The wine’s name is the same as a song by 70‘s singer-songwriter Francesco Guccini where Guccini gives an autobiographical account of being L’Avvelenata. Though Guccini never explicitly says it, one gets the idea that he is ‘poisoned’ by the muse of singing and making poetry — not giving a shit about much else:
I sing when and how I can, and when I feel like it,
Without clapping or heckling…
Io canto quando posso, come posso, quando ne ho voglia
senza applausi o fischi…
Or, maybe Guccini seems to give an autobiographical account. He sings the canzone as if he were the ‘poisoned,’ or, inspired person. Yet, in a clever subject-object reversal, it’s Guccini himself who is ‘poisoning’ the canzone. (Grammatically, it is impossible for Guccini to be avvelenata. He would have to be avvelenato, with the past participle declining with the man Guccini). The canzone becomes avvelenata by Guccini: [La Canzone] Avvelenata. The Poisoned, a word referenced to a person and not an object, becomes an unapologetic and crafty way to put forth his decision and conviction to follow the often iffy career of a singer-songwriter. Likewise, [La Freisa] Avvelenata is a not a wine that poisons or inspires Walter, but a wine that was ‘poisoned’ or inspired by him — not as some egocentric winemaker, but as a vignaiolo unapologetically wanting “to have fun” with a “territorio” through a “great bottle of wine.”
Imagine a younger Walter Massa humming Guccini’s L’Avvelenata along the vine rows of his native Colli Tortonesi. The song becomes Walter’s inspiration even more if you perform a quick switch-a-roo of ‘dischi’ (records) for ‘vini’:
Who cares about the risks of them selling or not,
Don’t buy my records, spit on me.
Vendere o no non passa fra i miei rischi, non
comprare i miei dischi e sputami adosso.
Don’t let Walter or Guccini fool you with their off-the-cuff, come-what-will, I’m-dancing-with-muses-and-destiny way of presenting themselves. By naming his Freisa after this particular song, Walter is making a compelling statement about the producer as the artist and craftsman, working in his own medium of terroir (vineyard, variety, cellar, etc.). He, like Guccini below, is also implying that he feels the need to hone his own creative urges and whims without worrying too much about the public and critics; yet nonetheless, he pretty clearly wants you to “listen” to this wine he has made and, maybe even as Guccini says, “fuck all the rest”:
I have many things still to tell you about
for those that want to listen — fuck all the rest!
Ho tante cose ancora da raccontare per chi vuol
ascoltare e a culo tutto il resto!
Thus, the protracted deduction: Guccini poisons his song; the song poisons and inspires Walter; Walter poisons the wine. Throw yourself as a wine lover into the mix, and one gets quite the bottling of fecund inspiration!
Obviously, any possible lead-up to fecund inspiration needs a release valve. One needs to be distracted from this need to sing or create wine for oneself. I can see Walter with a mischievous smile agreeing with Guccini here:
Do you think I care to take on the problems of being a star up there singing?
I more enjoy getting drunk or masturbating, or even fucking.
Secondo voi ma a me cosa mi frega di assumermi la bega di star quassù a cantare,
godo molto di più nell’ ubriacarmi oppure a masturbarmi o, al limite, a scopare…
But, don’t get tricked again by the nonchalance. Of course Guccini and Walter want to be stars, but not in the blockbuster sense. They want that intimacy of sharing an authentic passion they have created. I can vouch for Walter. Every time I bring someone to visit him, he gets passionate about the possibilities of the vintage and his instruments of the Colli Tortonesi and its varieties (Timorasso, Freisa, Croatina, Barbera). I’ve been to Walter’s a lot over the years, and every time we see each other he opens with, “What do you want to drink?” When we start to taste new vintages out of the tank, there’s the sense that he’s looking for his own vignaiolo authenticity appreciated and listened to. No doubt you’d get more of a smile from him by leaning your ear to the glass, and listening to the sound of the wine as it fills it, rather than some “I like, I don’t like,” conversation cutter. We’re all involved in projects and careers for many reasons, but when one has authenticity as a baseline, it comes across clearly, without compromise or apology to life’s realities or responsibilities. It’s not some mad genius behavior; it’s not even a choice, it’s a deep need to search and discover. There’s Walter again, I can hear him on his cell phone, tilling with the tractor and yelling out in Piedmontese accent that he doesn’t want any of that “gloria da stronzi” (ass-hole glory):
…do you think I would’ve written these songs for a couple of bucks,
For some kind of asshole-glory?
…credete che per questi quattro soldi, questa gloria da stronzi,
avrei scritto canzoni?
Drinking, cursing, not really caring to be a rock star even if you are a rock star, making song and drinking wine…that’s the spirit!
I like making songs and drinking wine, I like making a mess.
Mi piace far canzioni e bere vino, mi piace far casino.
All play and no work? Probably not. But, you know, many never even begin on the road to making something authentic. And, for sure, it doesn’t come from quattro soldi (a little money) or gloria da stronzi. I think it’s worth repeating the verse above, and adding the first line of the song, which Walter quotes on the label:
But if I would have foreseen all this, considered all the reasons and excuses, the still relevant conclusions,
Do you think I would’ve written these songs for a couple of bucks, for some kind of asshole-glory?
Ma s’ io avessi previsto tutto questo, dati causa e pretesto, le attuali conclusioni
credete che per questi quattro soldi, questa gloria da stronzi, avrei scritto canzoni?
2010 Vigneti Massa ‘L’Avvelenata’ [Freisa 100%]
The wine was fermented in stainless steel with native yeasts and then racked into 31 glass damigiane (54 liter / 14+ gallon large glass jugs), which Walter left outside for over a year. Glass isn’t a great insulator, so the wine went through extreme temperature differences. The variety Freisa is vinified in many ways (sparkling or still, sweet or dry). Massa’s 2010 ‘L’Avvelenata’ Freisa, like his ‘Pertichetta’ Croatina, is vinified still and dry, with structure and lots of complexity. It shows the spicy, elegant and complex side of Freisa. It will be interesting to see if it ages; it’s gorgeous now.