From Kevin McKenna:
I spent a day with Ernesto on my own, free of a "group" last November. I had not done that in a while. We travelled all over the area looking at the vines he was working, some new vines he'd taken on and talking about his plans for Costadilà. We went to a spot that Costadilà had just purchased, a beautiful plot, that would be planted this spring. It was neither an insignificant amount of land or an insignificant amount of work, but it seemed like a fait accompli when Ernesto spoke passionately about the steps he had already set in motion, the vision of what it would be like, and the complete joy the whole enterprise was bringing him. He was infectious. We said "See ya!" and I was excited for the future.
Of course, a lot of it was swagger. Ernesto was very, very clever with the swagger, almost mischievously so... like he was baiting you. You always felt a deep undercurrent of intelligence and confidence that drew you in, but sometimes it was, like, ...c' mon, man, seriously?! But the fact is, he always came through on his craft. I remember one time going to see him years ago in the spring around the time of Vinitaly; we had not been working together long then. The weather and temperatures that spring were more than a bit precocious and the plants had forced out their buds quite early. We went to the 280slm vineyard, I clearly recall, and it was a mess. The pruning not only had not been finished, it had not even been started. Not even the first pruning. I'd really never seen anything like it - long canes from last vintage already sprouting leaves. Ernesto was like "OOPS! I've got to get to this, but don't worry, don't worry, it's fine" Needless to say, I was quite preoccupied for those grapes and that wine for that vintage. But he was right, the wine was even a step up that year, not to say this was the reason, but certainly it did not affect the quality negatively.
This spring, I had been told that there were health issues. He did not make his annual appearance in Angers in February. Then we spoke, and he was on the mend. I called him in June and we talked - I started to worry because I hadn't heard from him. In November we had talked about significantly more quantity of wine for the US in 2018 and I needed to confirm that for my own piece of mind; he sounded great – positive and upbeat about the wines that were coming. We had gotten our first orders for the new wines finally packed and shipped (they arrive shortly). Last week I, frankly, had a little panic attack looking at the small amount of the first round, imagining it gone in a few weeks of its arrival. We've been in contact all last week and up through this weekend. And then I received an email from Martina telling me to call her at 11:00 PM last night. Because of the time difference, I did not want to call at 5AM in Italy so I waited, suspicious and worried. Of course, in our current media age, email and internet confirmed my worst fears this morning as soon as I woke.
"There is no word in Italian for privacy" is oft-cited apocrypha. It's true in the sense of the word: "Free from being observed or disturbed by other people; free from public attention." It strangely rings true in my experience of living and interacting with Italians for 15 years now. They tend to live openly and in close quarters, physically and emotionally. True, that is, except in one realm – health and matters of diagnosis. The Italians are reluctant and even circumspect in discussing their health. I am not talking about a cold or a sprained wrist or some physical anomaly that is temporary, about which they will actually kvetch endlessly. It's the grave diagnoses and uncertain prognoses that are rarely ever fully disclosed or discussed except to immediate family and a closed circle of friends. There is a hushed, omertá kind of privacy surrounding grave illness. It's considered a private matter.
No judgements from me, and in fact, I'm all for it. It's the last bastion of respectable privacy these days. However, it's a bit tough for folks like me, those who tend to blur the divide between business and friendship, commerce and professional encouragement…We visit, we share ideas, we break bread, and we enjoy each other's company and points of view. We advise; we argue; we collaborate. We get so involved in the day to day life, it's somewhat with a sense of helplessness to be left out of the bigger picture of L-I-F-E. I still am not sure of Ernesto's illness last year and this spring. I don't know what the cause of death was. I guess I will find out. Does it matter?
What I do know is that we do not get to share ideas, taste together, break bread, enjoy each other's company, argue, get infected by each other's visions, encourage each other... Dammit.
I saw this picture on the Internet (ed note: Kevin is referring to the photo above). I shamelessly grabbed it (so we may have to take it down at some point.) I love it, because it's Ernesto in one of the elements in which I will always remember him – Vini dei Vignaioli in Fornovo di Taro. He's there every year with a massive madness of bottles on his table and a crowd in front of him. His hands are in constant motion, always seemingly in the spooky blur captured in the photo…It's like a skilled Three-Card-Monty dealer at work.
My heavy heart goes out to Ernesto's wife and children, his associates and friends. Nothing's fair, I guess, but this is one for the records.
From Jules Dressner:
Waking up to the news of Ernesto's passing has made for a contemplative morning. I'd heard he was sick, but had no idea it had gotten to this point. His big, inviting smile makes me do the same as I pen these words. He had such a vibrant, can't-stop, won't-stop energy that I fully expected to see him again, having gotten better, bouncing around from person to person while pouring wines at his perpetually packed table.
My most vivid memory of Ernesto has us shuffling down the cold February streets of Boston during his only visit to the US. We'd just finished a big dinner at Peach Farm. Amongst huge lobsters and live eels brought to our table in slop buckets for approval, he discovered an American wine lover's tradition: bringing a dizzying array of bottles to a BYOB Chinese restaurant. Hopped up on good wine and MSG, he told me how grateful he was for us organizing his trip, and how much of a pleasure it had been meeting all of the incredible people at the Big Glou in NYC and the Boston tasting.
It's not a surprise customers were excited: Costadilà has a huge following. And while most will never have gotten the chance to meet Ernesto, they share intimate, personal connections with the wines. I have no doubt that the news of his passing will affect many of you who read this, much like a favorite musician. Know that the energy and the joie de vivre in every sip embodies its creator beautifully.
I write this from Oslo, where I am visiting my friends Hally and Rachel. A few years ago I'd set them up on a visit with Ernesto, where he showed them every vineyard and had dinner with them. It was such a great experience that they asked if he could make a custom label for their wedding, pictured below.
We'll be drinking a bottle of 450 tonight in your memory, Ernesto. Though we did not see each other often, I'm grateful that your visit in 2016 permitted us to get to know each other better. I almost missed that flight to Boston with you. I skipped the security line and sprinted to the gate, arriving a minute before the doors closed. Breathless but on board, my stress evaporated the second I spotted your big smile.