An American in Pollenzo

Trump’s immigration ban and how it will affect Italian wine in the U.S.


Above: A section of the wall that separates the United States and Mexico along the Tijuana-San Diego border where I grew up (photo, “Art on the Tijuana Wall,” via Jonathan McIntosh’s Flickr Creative Commons).

Like many Americans today, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around President Trump’s new ban on immigration from seven “majority-Muslim” countries (in case you are not familiar with Executive Order 13769, check out the Wikipedia entry here; I’ll refrain from sharing my own thoughts and feelings on the ban).

Even in the short time that it has been in effect, the impact on the Italian wine trade in the U.S. has been worrisome.

The biggest issue is that there are many foreign-born individuals who work in the Italian wine business in America and many of them come from countries included in the ban.

In one case, a wine director and leading italo-centric sommelier I know has cancelled his plans to attend Vinitaly — the annual Italian wine trade fair held in Verona. He was born in one of the seven countries included in the President’s list. He has a green card and is here legally. And technically, he should be able to re-enter the country (initially, green-card holders were to be denied re-entry but the administration back-pedaled back on that point). Not only is he afraid that things could change unexpectedly and that his status could be threatened without notice (no one had any idea that President Trump was planning such a severe ban so soon in his presidency), but he is also fearful of the scrutiny to which he might be subjected: There are widespread reports that immigration officers are scanning social media posts by migrants entering the U.S. My colleague is a perfectly law-abiding citizen and he doesn’t post politically or ideologically charged media on his social media channels. But he is fearful nonetheless that he will be targeted because of his nationality, ethnicity, and the color of his skin. This would be the first time in his career that he has not attended the gathering.

The same problem is faced by an Iranian-born and Italian-focused importer I know. Like the sommelier, he is looking at cancelling his plans to attend the fair this year. And he won’t be making his yearly buying trip to Italy. He conducts so much of his business at the trade fairs each year (like the sommelier, he also attends the handful of satellite and alternative fairs that take place during Vinitaly week). That’s where he makes deals with his suppliers; tastes their new vintages; and sources new products and suppliers.

The two men I’m writing about live in two different states where Italian wine is immensely popular. They are two people I happen to know personally and to whom I speak regularly (thanks to our working relationships and our friendships). But I can’t imagine that there aren’t literally scores of other people in the Italian wine trade who are facing similar issues.

The Trump administration’s policies and how they will affect the Italian trade is one of the topics that I’ll continue to follow and write about here on the UniSG blog. I’ve already had a number of winemakers express their concerns that President Trump’s trade reforms and anti-free trade posturing will have a detrimental effect on wine sales. That’s another topic that we will deal with in coming weeks as the President’s new policies begin to emerge.

Jeremy Parzen
Do Bianchi

Click here to learn more about the Master’s in Wine Culture program at UniSG where I will be teaching three courses this year.