Vines and Territories

27 December 2015

Since ancient times, the origin of our agriculture has been a necessary and important value. Wine with its vineyards has perhaps best succeeded in keeping most of its historical ties with the environment in which it’s grown, managing to consistently increase its agro-economic values. Several European regions are the living example of this valuable crop and cultural achievement as they able to extract the maximum benefit by combining the historicity of their vines with know-how in the areas of cultivation. Italy has one of the oldest examples of grape growing, and the ‘denomination’ of growing areas such as Vinum Falernum is the most important demonstration of this: ““there is now no wine known that ranks higher than the Falernian; it is the only one, too, among all the wines that takes fire on the application of flame. There are three varieties of it—the rough, the sweet, and the thin. Some persons make the following distinctions: the Caucinum, they say, grows on the summit of this range of hills, the Faustianum on the middle slopes, and the Falernum at the foot (Plin., NH, XIV 6).””In the following centuries, we witnessed historic changes during which the Lords and the religious orders in particular managed to maintain and strengthen the relationship between grape varieties and their environments: just think of Tokaji (the world’s ‘first’ appellation) or Burgundy and Bordeaux, all fundamental references regarding the knowledge and the economy of wine.

In Italy, ancient history along with recent developments within the wine economy has helped create, over time, strong regionalisation with a wealth of vineyards and gradual variations that have built the appellations of the origins of wines.

But the most obvious and somewhat paradoxical aspect is our role in the introduction of vines that have made history in other regions, especially in France, and of which we are encouraged to cultivate almost everywhere. Instead of engaging with the hundreds of grape varieties that were grown locally in ancient times, we have decided to become ‘servants’ of other oenologies, other tastes, other cultures.

Convinced that this topic is important, I have no doubt in saying that cultivating non Italic vines is a serious loss of values and not just economic ones. A more established and mature France has demonstrated the strategic importance and absolute heritage of “French vines” that have, over time, colonised different world regions, with the not-to-be-forgotten result of a general uniformity of tastes offered on the market, something of which the consumer now wants to free himself. I think it’s time to re-evaluate our ampelographical platform to appreciate its variability, originality and potential. Many have already realised that the Italic vine is the true strength of our wine, our economy and that of our growing areas. Just think about the large populations of Aglianici, Barbera, Cannonau, Corvine, Garganeghe, Lambruschi, Malvasie, Montepulciani, Moscati, Nebbioli, Neri d’Avola, Refoschi, Sangiovesi, Trebbiani and Vermentini and the myriad of varieties that are ‘minor’ only by spread and certainly not for authenticity.

It’s a cultural heritage that perhaps only Italy can boast of thanks to its important and rooted regional history. It’s for this reason that we need to rethink the values that are historically close to us. In fact, Italy expresses an exceptional climatic and environmental variability that does not exist elsewhere in the world. We can go from Alpine places that are at the very limits of vine cultivation to southern and marine areas that allow for the cultivation of the most late producing and complex vines in the world. 

ineyards in Cinque Terre (Liguria coast, Italy)

Between these two extremes are different latitudes, hilly areas, variously flat areas and coastal views of different seas from the Adriatic to the Ionian Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea, as well unique island environments.

Picotender (a Nebbiolo variation) vineyards in Arnaz (Aosta Valley, northern Italy)

And yet despite all of this, the fact remains that part of our viticulture is still out of place. Examples of vines ripening “incorrectly”, excessive precocity coupled with other problems that don’t allow for the normal and regular ripeness that each grape variety requires. For example, the harvest of early varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon) that occurs while it is still summer, a fact often boasted about with inopportune communication. And then there are great grape varieties such as the Sangiovesi, which are grown a little everywhere, despite being well known to thrive primarily in hilly and poor environments. These small examples lead us to reflect on the need for challenging agronomic and especially plant pathological interventions precisely focused on the spatial location of inadequate vineyards. Moreover, they make interventions in the cellar necessary in order to correct, amend, supplement that which we have not been able to achieve in the vineyard.

I can’t help but refer to the work of molecular genetics that promises extraordinary results starting with the relationship with pathologies, pushing the naive to think about ‘biologies without disease’. The beauty of Creation, even in the vineyard, must force us to rethink everything we do with the goal of long-term value. Not in the least, we must note how many producers complain of possible climate change by ‘reading’ into the wine. I think it’s better to be more cautious and understand how to better interpret the territory and consider what we have done recently to change it, sometimes by a great deal.

I am convinced that our wine history will continue in its disorderly rush towards immediate profit, investment towards speculation and not valuing its assets, but I am also convinced that there are more and more consumers who are looking for authenticity, and the forward-thinking manufacturers who can meet them will write new pages of Italian wine and viticulture history with better solidity, originality, and ultimately, a better future.


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