Russia. Ukraine. Refugees. Italy.
Each of these four words evokes various amounts of emotion or, more recently, angst or despair. The relationship among them — and what it has to do with wine — can be challenging to grasp. Partly that’s because, though each word resonates loudly on the global stage, none of them are monolithic or static, and none can be easily defined or categorized.
Still, it’s an effort worth pursuing. By talking with members of the Italian wine community in the past two weeks, I’ve tried to discern some recognizable patterns to the threads that weave those four words and constructs together. Those threads ventilate, in a way, four constructs that otherwise can loom large, heavily and monolithically.
Here were the four questions I asked different members of the Italian wine community who either host refugees or have active visibility and engagement in the situation:
- How did you become involved in hosting refugees from Ukraine?
- Why did you decide to host?
- How would you describe the reality of the day-to-day lives in Italy for families of Ukrainian refugees?
- And do you have any sense of their future presence in Italy?
This post and its companion piece tries to unpack the responses.
Let me start with comments from each interviewee that struck me as indicative both of the challenge, and the subtler nuance, of the situation:
“These last few days they are struggling to say a few words in Italian, and I am trying to answer in Ukrainian. (Thank you, technology!) But I have seen that the thing they love most is comparing our traditions, like food. They gave me some slices of a typical cake from their country, it was delicious, and I reciprocated with some pan brioche that I had just made.” Elisabetta Tosi, wine journalist and media consultant (Valpolicella, Veneto)
“In the conversations with our friends we have noticed that besides donations and accommodation, people are happy if they ‘just’ have a job and can earn some money. So the idea came up that we want to hire an Ukrainian artist for this year’s Brancaia Collection. Of course, Good Wine helped us with the research.” Barbara Widmer, CEO at Brancaia (Tuscany) Note: Good Wine is an importer of Italian wines into Ukraine and has been actively working to place employees and their families in safe accommodations outside of the country. More on their story in the companion piece to this one.
“Although we come from different cultures we don’t have any difficulties in relating to each other, neither among us adults nor our children among themselves. We talk to each other in English or use online translators. However, the girls often understand each other without having to speak… the power of children! We are learning Ukrainian and they are learning Italian. Together we have a lot of fun, the humour is the same and the desire is common to laugh and lighten a situation that is in itself dramatic.” Federica Zeni, Cantina Zeni (Bardolino, Veneto)
From the more pleasurable moments of day to day life, such as food traditions and children playing or laughing, to more concerning matters like safety, employment and education, are all palpable and top of mind.
In the companion piece to this post, we’ll explore responses from these three interviewees to the questions above, from how they became involved to the current realities ti what they anticipate in the future. Please read on.