|Tuscan agrarian landscape in the Middle-Ages|
In the Middle Ages, wine was recovered thanks to the religious men living in abbeys and monasteries, the signs of “tractoria” (wagons for transporting grapes), the “palmentum” (zones for pressing grapes), the “cellarium”… tinelli (cum vessels fidctili et ligneis, 1036). All this history is crucial to us understanding the deep roots from which we come. Pier Dè Crescenzi, 1233-1320, discovered the characteristic differences between grapevine varieties (leaves, clusters, tastes, attitudes to aging). The Venetian Republic, a master of commerce and gateway to the East, offered us priceless fonts about wine and its origin. Perhaps the most compelling example is that of Malvasia. And then there was Catherine de’ Medici, married in 1533, who introduced France to the refinements: the use of the fork, a perchance for flavour and the aromas of wine and art.
To be even clearer, I will use only one example. It’s an almost daily occurrence, often in the most unexpected circumstances, to hear the term “terroir”. The most ‘naive’ winemakers, the older ones, more experienced ones and those who want to communicate their status all use it. But it’s also been picked up by many others. We organise conferences with the headline Terroirs, inviting expert professors from strictly beyond the Alps to tell us news about Bordeaux and Cabernet and Merlot wines... (I recall the ‘thoughts’ of Professor UsseglioTomasset!), to tell us how to use ‘wood’ to add aroma to wine, how to use the chips of different woods... and how the addition of this new ‘ingredient’... creates an aromatic delight... always in the scope of the “terroir” as the speaker will constantly reminds us, pronouncing the name with a slowed and forced French accent.
I have spent a lot of time with French expert colleagues, both for scientific and cultural exchanges and as a representative at the OIV in Paris and I am grateful for this fruitful past. I above all applaud my colleagues of the INRA-Angers (Christian Asselin team) who, in difficult times, succeeded in bringing to light a complex topic that the Romans already knew well and identified as “territorium”. I applaud these friends and researchers of Anger, who after gradually receiving no more funding for their project, managed to sell the ‘brand’ that has conquered many important spaces.
Back to viticulture, I remember when the French wine world chose ‘non culture’ as a national strategy, that is, absolute weeding with dangerous residual herbicides in the vineyards, also looking to export this technique... fortunately with limited success with us despite the support of some luminaries. Then there were the urban rich residues and the all sorts of rubbish they used in the Champagne vineyards. We didn’t waste time in Italy either... and introduced new systemic fungicides, insecticides, miticides... It was a time (the late ‘70s) when I, on-the-other-hand, discovered the research and teachings of Ivancich Gambaro in Padua and entered in contact with Baggiolini, Baillod and Schmidt at the Federal de Changins Station (Switzerland), which was extraordinarily avant garde in proposing a viticulture more in harmony with the territorium… and with a deep awareness of the need for healthier food and environments. I collected and sent predatory mites (to biologically counter spider mites) to my colleague Serge Kreiter, ENSAM, at the acarology laboratory of Montpellier and they were… just starting and we... were so far ahead!
Going back to my brief remarks, praise goes to the economy of French wine, which is structured, compact, divided into disciplines and highly professional. We must observe it well to learn and then, with our own slightly ‘artistic’ ability, always do even better. Slavishly copying is only detrimental. The extraordinary and varied regionalisation of our wine heritage is waiting for us to discover unique values elsewhere and, perhaps, we no longer realise how close they are. I therefore believe that we have certain strengths that are economically original and on which we must work quickly:
- the many germplasm of grapevine varieties and their strong regionalisation;
- the landscapes of Grapevine and Wine, a mosaic of refined energy enriched by history and culture;
- the professionalism of the Italian medium-and-large-enterprise sector, but also in its intelligent and prepared artisans;
- the production and communication of increasingly healthier wines and territories and the harbingers of other economies of total and Italian wellbeing.
|Zibibbo vine variety in Pantelleria island, Unesco heritage|