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South of Somewhere by Robert Camuto

South of Somewhere

Wine, Food, and the Soul of Italy

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“Mr. Camuto succeeds in capturing southern Italy at just the right moment, when a younger generation, better educated and more worldly than their parents, is taking over. They want to improve farming, make wine with more precision and sell it for profits around the world rather than pennies locally, and they want to do it without compromising cultural traditions.

His underlying message is that wine is both cultural expression and self expression. With a culture as singular and personal as depicted by Mr. Camuto, it’s no accident the wines are just as beautiful and distinctive.

One more point: Food and wine are entwined in southern Italy. None of Mr. Camuto’s visits to producers proceeded, apparently, without great meals reflecting the power of the local cuisines. In his CNN series “Searching for Italy,” Stanley Tucci touched the surface of how Italian cuisine reflects its people. In “South of Somewhere,” Mr. Camuto gets to the heart of the matter.”

“I can’t do this book justice. It’s so vivid, so emotional, so beautiful and yet so powerfully instructive… if you want to understand the terroir of southern Italy, this book is where you start.”

South of Somewhere begins and ends in American writer Robert Camuto’s maternal ancestral town of Vico Equense, Italy — a tiny paradise south of Naples on the Sorrento Peninsula.

It was here in 1968, at ten years old, that the author first tasted Italian life, spending his own summer of love surrounded by relatives at the family’s seaside pizzeria and restaurant. He fell in love with a way of living and with the rhythms, flavors, and aromas of the Southern Mediterranean.

Fifty years later, Camuto returns to Vico, connecting with family members and a new generation.

A lot has changed: the old family restaurant has been razed, and the seaside developed with hotels and restaurants, including a famous two-Michelin-starred restaurant in a medieval tower now owned by a younger cousin. Though there are more foreign visitors now, the essentials of beauty, food, family bonds, and simplicity have not changed. And here Camuto finds hope that this way of life can continue.

Camuto’s fine-grained storytelling in this series of portraits takes us beyond the usual objective views of viniculture and into the elusive and magical world of Italian “southern-ness.” South of Somewhere takes the reader on  a journey through the terroirs of Southern Italy today: from the Calabrian toe of the Italian boot and Sicily’s still active Mount Etna to earthquake-shaken land of Abruzzo; from the remote lands of Campania and Puglia to Basilicata’s Mount Vulture; from the old papal territory of Umbria to Rome’s once great Lazio and back to the evocative cliffs of the Amalfi coast

While on one level an instructive narrative about Southern Italy’s twenty-first-century wine and cultural renaissance, Camuto’s unswerving eye juxtaposes the good and the bad — immeasurable beauty and persistent blight, corruption and anti-mafia forces, hope for the future and fatalism — in a land that remains an infinite source of fascination and sensory pleasure.

More reviews of South of Somewhere

“...Camuto’s prose immerses the reader in the sights, smells, flavors and personalities of the cultural tapestry that is southern Italy. He luxuriates in the details of every encounter: lunch with a Campanian winemaker includes sensual descriptions of buffalo mozzarella as well as a discourse on the distinctions among southern Italy’s principal crime syndicates—the Mafia, Camorra and ’Ndrangheta. Discussions of wine are more evocative than technical—“His Fianos come on like a hit of sea air in spring—robust, floral and expansive. His Greco wines are all zip and lemon spice”—adding to the rich texture of the stories. You may feel like traveling to southern Italy after reading this book, but you’ll also feel like you’ve already been there.”

“Camuto is an accomplished writer, who has the enviable skill of being able to depict three-dimensional people without passing editorial judgment on them….If you want an insider’s understanding of some of the most exciting wine revolutions going on in Italy, this is the book.”

“ You don’t have to be a wine expert to enjoy the descriptions of the vineyards or fall in love with the winemakers he drinks and eats with in order to gain appreciation of Italian culture… The range of Camuto’s grape and wine knowledge, along with his love of Italy, make 'South of Somewhere' a worthy work about southern Italian wines, food and soul.”

 Newcity Chicago 

An editor at the The New York Times recently called Camuto the “un–Stanley Tucci.” As much as we love Tucci, I’d take this as a compliment.” 

“The Best Wine Books of 2021: How do you write a wine book that appeals to the general reader? All the stuff about schist, clones and yields that make up a good part of wine writing gets very wearing over the course of a book, even for a self-confessed nerd like me.

The answer is to leaven the technical stuff with human stories; bring out the characters, the heroes and, ideally, some villains too. One author who does this marvelously is Robert Camuto. His previous book Palmento, about the wines of Sicily, contained an unforgettable chapter on the late Marco De Bartoli and the tensions within the De Bartoli family.

Happily, he has pulled it off again with his latest book, South of Somewhere: Wine, Food, and the Soul of Italy.

“Camuto has the true gift of a portrait writer. He tells the stories of these eight southern Italian wine regions through his encounters with winemakers in each region, sometimes just one, sometimes a family, sometimes several individuals. His often-hilarious descriptions and minute observations of people and situations not only brought the people to life, but vividly captured each region, its wine, food, culture, strengths and weaknesses. His writing is cinematic, pixelated….

I can’t do this book justice. It’s so vivid, so emotional, so beautiful and yet so powerfully instructive...So if you want to understand the terroir of southern Italy, this book is where you start.”

Best Wine books of 2021: [Camuto] gives us an engaging snapshot of a region chafing at its inferior stature compared with northern Italy. We meet ambitious younger generations clashing with their parents over values both cultural and viticultural. The winemakers and their families Camuto introduces us to are not unlike those Somerville and Ross met more than a century ago. And they’re not unlike us though they may eat better. Both books invite us to travel — one through time the other to a rugged land of spicy salumi down-to-earth folk and honest wines. Darn it — Where’s my passport?”

“A delicious, thirst-inspiring romp full of remarkable personalities, their wine-soaked cellars, and one delectable meal after another. Camuto does it tastefully!”

 Kermit Lynch, wineconoclast, author, and importer

“There’s an affable tone to this intelligently charming wine book, it's a serious account of winemaking in southern Italy, essays that can best be categorized as 'down to earth,' in every sense. . . . This is not the usual account of visits to grand chateaux, with splendid meals and wines we can't afford, it's the reality of wine, vividly and cheerfully conveyed—good stories, worth a listen. Take it from someone who never says no to a glass of Frappato in Sicily: Bravo!”

 Brian St. Pierre, The Wine Conversation

“Robert Camuto’s South of Somewhere is close to my heart. Each chapter is about experiencing the joy and perseverance of incredible iconic winemakers, from Italy’s Mezzogiorno, who have preserved lesser-known native grapes through heroic efforts. In this book, Robert brilliantly brings them to life. We are so fortunate to bear witness to this living history of Italian wine today.”

 Shelley Lindgren, owner and wine director of A16 restaurant

“Robert Camuto’s multifaceted take on Southern Italy’s many allures is unique and fascinating in that he engages not only the gustatory and oenological pleasures of the region but also its more elusive and near-magical ‘southern-ness’.”

 Matthew Gavin Frank, author of Flight of the Diamond Smugglers