Sometime early in 2005, a young Italian winemaker--Marina Mariani-- with a talented palate and fragile bones, with an important career in front of her, whom I barely knew but was extremely fond of, killed herself.
I find myself wanting to know all of the details. I have none of the fine points of why and how. But I want to know. And I want to know why suicide had to be such a powerful reflex. Wouldn't a gesture have sufficed?
I first heard of Marina from Stefano Bellotti, one of Italy's first (actually probably the first) biodynamic winemakers who produces wine in Gavi. Already a solid winemaker, she was learning biodynamics from him.
A few days later, I met Marina at a booth in VinItaly with a wine she had finished. She was looking forward to making truly biodynamic brunello from grape to bottle. She had baby vines growing somewhere in Tuscany.
She had been a student and assistant of Riccardo Cotarella's. A renegade student at that. Though they were still in touch he was sure she was chasing a dog's tail with this natural wine making/biodynamic stuff. She maintained respect for what he did even though his methods were very modern and technical and she was headed towards wine Ludditism. I tried to get Food & Wine to do a story on her. She was definitely one of the rising stars of Italy. I was positive. She was going to save wine in Tuscany where technology has taken such firm hold. She had a destiny. We stayed in touch.
My friend Melissa Clark and I visited Marina in Montalcino this past November. The hour before we hooked up with her, Melissa and I walked through the cemetery just outside of the town. Melissa's skin prickled with ill feeling walking through the crypt. The view from the cemetery was gorgeous but we both wanted to get out of there.
The sweet smell of burning grape vines filled the air with an incense of well-being. Marina picked us up in her rusty old wagon. She told us a poisonous snake had fallen off the doorpost to her house, onto her hand during harvest. She was still terrified every time she entered her house. She took us to Gianni Brunelli of Le Chiuse di Sotto, a client. There we played with scruffy new puppies.
I fell in complete and utter puppy love.
We tasted Brunelli's new olive oil at first straight from the vat and then with Gianni himself--a burly, bushy-eyebrowed fellow with a little bit of Albert Finney in him. His oil with sea salt on good Tuscan bread cured my temporary nausea. We tasted the new rosso and new brunello. Marina hid her depression quite well. Too well.
It was getting late. We took our leave of her in the night outside the walled town of Montalcino where our friend Lars was waiting to spirit us away to some swell little meal cooked over an open fire.
In the car, Lars told us of the many men in town who had crushes on her. He didn't know her, but had heard some things, all good. I told him if Castello Banfi—the winery Lars works for-- hired her to oversee winemaking it would be revolutionary.
I had a foreboding when she didn't answer my emails. I don't know when she ended her life. A failed love had something to do with it.
There are many loves in one's life. The ones that shake your soul have the ability to rip out all of the pins, all of the seams. I would like to tell her that sometimes the scars make it possible for a sounder love. If she could just make it through all of the pain from damned character building, she would love life again. She would have laughed at the thought. I'm sure it would have seemed unimaginable to her, to have gone on to a sounder love. Then I would have said, "Well, forget love. You have a destiny."
"It's only wine," she might have said.
And like anyone in deep pain, a destiny--even if it is ‘only wine-- would have seemed diminished.