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When an economist turns into a winemaker

22 June 2013

9:00 AM

22 June 2013

9:00 AM

My friend Mitch Feierstein is a jolly, cheerful, life-enhancing fellow. He is emphatically not one of those economists whose purse-lipped response to any new phenomenon is ‘no good will come of this’ and who have predicted six of the past two recessions. But he is a profound pessimist. In a book he published last year, Planet Ponzi, he devotes page after relentless page to the troubles of the world economy. He depicts the West as a ship without engine or rudder, adrift on a sea of bad debt, worse paper and wholly unrealistic expectations. It is even gloomier than the voyage of the Ancient Mariner. He at least found redemption.

There may be only one way out. Perhaps a global ‘bad bank’ could corral all the valueless paper and gradually write it away, without producing hyperinflation and destroying the few surviving moral underpinnings of the international financial system. Perhaps. In the short run, like the Russian grand duke, Mitch believes that between the revolution and the firing squad, there is always time for a bottle of champagne. In a dog Latin para-phrase, e pessimus vinum. Mitch has invested in Tuscan vineyards, around Borgo la Casaccia.

Vinous Tuscany resembles Burgundy, in that the arts and crafts of viticulture have been practised there for millennia. Ancient churches are often numinous, as if the stones were infused with centuries of prayer. Ancient vineyards have a similar quality, as if the earth and the vines are also infused, with the graces of long civilisation.

Tuscan hill villages share in all that. There is a delicious sense that the pace of life has accommodated itself to the seasons of the grape. You go into one, intending to transact some business with the avvocato. He is not in his office, so you decide to call on the dottore. He is not there either, so suspicion turns into certainty. There they both are, sitting in the shade outside Beppe’s, on to their second glass of Toscano Bianco, a modest little wine, made locally for family and fun, in corners of vineyards principally devoted to the grandeurs of Sangiovese. There can often be a problem with these local wines. They will taste delicious under a trellis of vine leaves, overlooking the swimming pool. They will not work so well on a wet Monday in a London November. But a Toscano Bianco will travel, and taste a lot better than many a Sauvignon Blanc. The difficulty lies in persuading the locals to part with it.

The avvocato and the dottore assure you that there is nothing wrong with your finances or your health. This is not the time for further and better particulars. There is certainly nothing wrong with the wine, and the hints from the kitchen are beginning to entice. It smells as if Beppe will be on form today, and your professional advisers concur: there is an urgent need to see how the 2009 reds are doing.

The wines of La Casaccia are only just beginning to reach the UK. Just below Sloane Square, there is a restaurant called Como Lario. Years ago, it used to be the sort of Italian where the ‘Chianti’ bottles wore straw jackets and the waiters pranced around with four-foot pepper dispensers. It was then transformed by a group of investors including Adrian Ziani de Ferranti, a descendant of the Ziani doges who held office around the end of the first millennium, and whose bodies are buried under the pavement of the crypt of San Zaccaria. Today, Como Lario serves serious scoff. A dish of linguini with spring truffles was unsurpassable, and La Casaccia’s 2008 Brunello was the perfect accompaniment. Even without truffles, the wines are excellent. They will become more available in the UK and are worth a search.

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