Rassegna Stampa

8 Febbraio 2016

Decanter

Natural heroes 

Major companies in Italy are joining boutique producers as they embrace sustainability, with myriad ways of being kinder to Mother Earth. Monty Waldin finds a rapidly evolving scene and introduces some of Italy’s “natural wines” stars. 

Italy is among the global leaders for organic wine growing. More than 10% of its national vineyard us certified organic o biodynamic – a similar level to its European rivals France, Spain, Germany and Austria.

Sicily and Calabria in the deep south lead the way for organic cultivation, since the hot climate makes such growing schemes relatively easy; followed by Tuscany where a plethora of middle-aged couple who are making a second career out of lifestyle wine production have chosen the organic path.

Biodynamic is less well advances in Italy than in France, however, and few blue-chip estates have taken the plunge, one exception being Elisabetta Foradori. Arguably this is due to a lack of experienced consultants to soothe the producers ‘nerves during ghee potentially tricky, several year-long conversion phase, during which yields can drop while diseases and weeds increase.

This is Avignonesi’s recent conversion of its sizeable vineyard in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to biodynamics is potentially so significant. 

Back to nature

Meanwhile, Italy’s ‘natural wine’ movement is as dynamic as its French counterpart. Groups such as ViniVeri and Angiolino Maule’s VinNatur create a buzz by hosting regular tastings for the general public, and grow by hosting seminars so that winemakers can share knowledge.

Avignonesi apart, while vinous greenery in Italy has historically tended to be the preserve of smaller, under-the-radar producers, this situation is changing dramatically.

The Zonin family, Italy’s largest privately owns wine company, is converting its Castello d’Albola estate in Chianti Classico to organics. Fashion? ‘No’, says vineyard manager Alessandro Gallo, ‘We spent several years retraining our vineyard staff and investing in giving them the right tools. Everyone has brought into it. Organics is more than just ticking a box. It is a mindset, with living soil as the foundation. This is what gives you wine quality and consistency’.

In Montalcino, three of the four biggest estates are already organic – Frescobladi’s Castelgiacondo, the Cinzano family’s Col d’Orcia anche the Ghezzi family’s Camigliano, while Castello di Banfi is cautiously optimistic about its organic trials.

Montalcino’s organic growers – of wine, honey and olive oil – are hoping to create ‘green corridors’ and eventually to turn the whole town into a biodistretto, a loose translation for which would be ‘enrironmental zone’. Panzano and Greve-in-Chianti in Chianti Classico already have biodistretto status, and San Gimignano of Vernaccia while wine fame is also hopeful about achieving this (www.biodistretto.net).

In 1929, Stefano Grandi’s Canneta winery was the first in San Gimignano to be organic. He says: ’The idea of the biodistretto is that wine growers no longer look at things in isolation, at just vine growing (on its own). San Gimignano receives three million tourists a year. They leave with lots of our wine in their luggage, but they leave us a lot of hotel towels to wash, and drinks bottles and cans to try to recycle too. So preserving our local environment is key to both our visitors’ enjoyment and our long-term sustainability’.

Italy has several other sustainability projects to help growers use resources more effectively, the most exciting of which is SOStain. Launched in 2010 by Sicily’s Tasca d’Almerita, this includes some of Italy’s biggest players as members: Fratelli Gancia & Co., Masi Agricola, Marchesi Antinori, Mastrobernardino, Micheele Chiarlo and Planeta. 

Patrizia Toth, winemaker at Planeta’s Etna and Milazzo wineries says: ‘In one way being on an island gives us a natural barrier against peats and diseases, but on the other hand it costs us off logistically. Via SOStain, local wineries can work together, for example, by ensuring the cardboard boxes we need to package our wines in are made locally rather than on the other side of the water. This is better both for Sicily’s economy and its environment’.

As they say in Italy “Pensare globalmente, agire localmente”. Or ‘Think global, act local’. 

Elisabetta Foradori, Trentino

Elisabetta Foradori’s father died when she was 11, she could have gone off the trails, but she didn’t. ‘I come from a family attached to the land. This gives you stability, inner depth. I am a rebel inside, but I control this’, she says.

For Foradori, taking over the family vineyard meant more time studying at a winemaking school in which nature had no place: ‘six years of study based on chemicals, then a decade of framing my land that way. Although I never used weedkillers, I felt utterly disconnected, like I’ve been castrated’. 

She soon rejected the Trentino orthodoxy of making huge quantities of flavourless plonk on overwrought soils, leading the way in regenerating local vineyards with lower yielding heritage of traditional Alto Adige vines – notably Teroldego for reds and Nosiola for whites. She adopted organic and then biodynamic methods, encouraged by the French wineries she had visited and by the German eco-writer Rainer Zierock, whom she married. Sadly, his premature death in 2009 left Elisabetta with three not-yet-adult children: Emilio, Theo, Myrtha,

‘My biggest regret is the lack of courage that Italy’s top estates show about going natural or biodynamic. Changing how they farm 100% with their heart, not just for fashion. Maybe they don’t believe they can do it. Yes, it’s hard to change 100%.... and it’s especially hard for the famous estates. But France’s greatest estates have managed it, so why not Italy’s too?’

Once Elisabetta’s children take over from her, will she let them farm as they wish? ‘no, I have left a foundation stone in place here. My children agree we must build on it. Biodynamic is a way of feeling, of living, not just a list of things to do or copy without inner reflection. Nurturing this sensibility deep within you is the best way of healing the soil. And ultimately yourself’.

 

One to try

Foradori, Teroldego, Vigneti delle Dolomiti

Trentino Alto Adige 2013

Les Caves de Pyrene, Vinni italiani

A lively red in every sense, with sparkling bright red cherry fruit flavours, zippy tannins that leave your mouth refreshed, a touch of vanilla spice throw in for good measure, and a winningly savoury aftertaste.

Drink: 2016.2023

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