The first impression of Verona under the weight of the VinItaly wine expo is not dissimilar to the scene in the original ‘Italian Job’ movie with cars gridlocked around a central square, one guy perched on the edge of his sunroof reading the paper with his foot pressed down on the horn. The city was pulsating with the influx.
On Sunday night Verona’s native Pasqua wines hosted an art installation event titled ‘House Of the Unconventional’ at the Palazzo Maffei on the Piazza Della Erbe. The company’s commitment to arts-related projects I discussed last year with CEO Riccardo Pasqua during the much smaller VinItaly Special Edition.
As it is with artwork, the viewer is at liberty to interpret a subjective reading of what is presented and in many ways, this epic display encapsulated my raison d’être for being in Verona. All guests at the event trooped outside onto the street and turned to see the site-specific film sequence created by the Fuse Works collective projected onto the front of the palazzo exterior.
Thus through my own eyes this portentous work was a striking amalgamation of climate change visions and storm modeling animations. It began with lightning striking hard against the elegant upper fascia of the building and water cascading in torrents down the walls with biblical force.
Back inside over dinner, the conversation ranged across many issues on our predominantly UK table, with more talk about the sustainable aspects of the world of wine. Prior to coming here, I have been thinking a lot about the need to communicate to consumers why choosing sustainable wines should be among the most important deciders alongside style/taste preferences.
Buy time at Walwyn Antique Clocks
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The next stage of the plan is to start the restoration of the biosphere and bring the atmospheric burden of greenhouse gasses down to around 350 parts per million (CO2 equivalent).
I’m not sure how easy it is to convey that to wine lovers at the point of sale but it was again hammered home to me a few weeks ago when I interviewed Sonoma born climate scientist and author Professor Kimberly Nicholas based at Lund University. Kimberly pulled no punches starkly saying:
“what research tells us right now is that we're headed for catastrophic climate change. With current policies, we're headed for about 2.7 degrees of warming, and that will happen within my lifetime. So in that kind of world, I think quality wine is going to be among the very least of our worries, because then it's really a question of food and water and basic needs for humanity.
So that is why it is so urgent that we actually seize this rapidly closing window that we still do have, where it's not too late, to make this fast and fair transition to a fossil free world. If we do that, it is still possible to have a world where everyone has a good life, where nature is thriving, and where we can enjoy beautiful wines that have a sense of place
I am increasingly aware that there are a growing number of wine industry communicators and other actors who are taking up the gambit of tackling climate challenges, sharing information and encouraging the changes we need wherever there is an opportunity.
Producers are coming onboard, sometimes at speed, at other times speculatively, some very slowly and others not interested at all. Canada and Scandinavia are both sending signals that sustainability credentials matter and the public are also asking questions about impact on the environment of everything they ingest and imbibe.
So the mission is to make this true sustainability, where efforts to reduce carbon are measured, where soils are respected and the general level of awareness about the need for regional resilience for what we cannot avoid, is increased and turned into action.
At VinItaly, I am highlighting a number of producers that I met and tasted with who are part of the zeitgeist and traveling towards where we need to be.
A selection of wines exuding their sustainable creds:
Mosnel, Franciacorta - a historic family business dating back to 1832 producing organic wines with a lot of attention and care being given to the environment in which they are produced. They have been working hard to reintroduce an ancient grape called Erbamat, with attention focussed on acidity and late-ripening properties that are part of the adaptation plans to a warmer climate. The Franciacorta DOCG Brut is a brut nature blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, with excellent balance and youthfulness.
Famiglia Pasqua - Try Cascina San Vincenzo, Valpolicella Ripasso DOC 2019, and the Cascina San Vincenzo, Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG 2017, both are Organic. Pasqua are enrolled in the Equalitas certification programme in Italy. Their work on social and arts projects is also impressive, making a substantial contribution to supporting young emerging creative talents. https://www.pasqua.it/it/vini-e-vigneti/
Contra Soarda - Still up in the north of Italy, in Bassano del Grappa in the northern Veneto, Contra Soarda caught my attention with the ‘carbon negative’ signage. They have been working with Carbon Jacked to stimulate their soils and draw down carbon. The Musso edition of 3 wines, Terra, Veneto Rosso IGT, Mosto 2018, Organic Limited Edition, and Musso, Serafino Riserva 2008, embody the principles of stewardship with the land. They have also partnered with a local animal welfare group that specialises in donkeys which is incorporated into the labeling. The range started off with ripe juicy accessibility and graduates towards complexity and aging potential wines. Loved the project story and the wines. https://www.contrasoarda.it/?lang=en
Bellenda Traditional Method Prosecco - fascinating to speak and taste with Umberto Cosmo who has been working regeneratively on his land. The region has seen a 1.2Cº temperature rise in 30 years. That is about on track with the global mean average. In a region that has suffered a pretty poor record in environmental protection, Umberto is taking his time, working the land, restoring nature and seeing what he can do away from the Charmat method. Try his Metode Rurale, made in the “old way” with skin maceration for 20 days, unfiltered, dry cloudy citrus, pure and crystalline fresh. At only 10% alcohol I could drink all day. For more complexity try the Bellenda Sergio Cosmo 1932, disgorged in Sept. 2021 after 14 months on lees. Golden hues with cut white apple and white flower aromas, lovely pure freshness.
Poderi Cellario, these guys are literally wild. An amalgamated group of farmers and wine lovers, music makers and philosophers, they have 20 hectares in Farigliano and Dogliani in Piedmont. Were the trumpets and loudness a distraction from the wines? Certified with an Eco-friendly cultivation stamp, there is a large range to choose from, aged in oak, amphora, natural, or just organic. Barbera Sabinot 2020 was beautiful with violets, ripe red berry fruit, a robust structure. Also look out for the Galli, Langhe DOC, 2020, with a quality perfume of Nebbiolo that draws you in. Structured, balanced, and very young. Play the trumpets! http://www.podericellario.it/
La Caplana Gavi in Anfora DOCG 2020 - a deliciously unusual Gavi with the Cortese grapes vinified in amphora that have a style that could be mistaken for a young Riesling. The iron-dry imprint from the terracotta is unmistakable, making this fresh, tasty and unusual. https://www.lacaplana.it/it/
Salcheto, Tuscany - Salcheto is a leading winery in Italy when it comes to sustainability. Owner, Michele Manelli is the Vice President of Equalitas, Italy’s main sustainability certification programme. Modern presentation and great style. I was very seduced by the Salco Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G 2016, old vines with violets, dark fruit, leather and gorgeously fresh juicy tannins. Check out the Obvius range of wines aimed at a new wave of adventurous tasters. A really enjoyable tasting and I’ll be publishing the interview with Michele soon too. https://salcheto.it/#ivini
La Ricolla, Liguria - located close to Genoa, this small biodynamic winery is using terracotta ageing to produce a range of uniquely interesting and beguiling wines. Try the Orcio Piú Grenaccia for ripe fruit and floral aromas, fresh and long with finely integrated tannin. Charming. https://www.laricolla.com/gallery-la-ricolla/i-vini/
Donnafugata, Pietradolce and Santa Tresa - three excellent producers from Sicily who have a strong connection with the land, working on projects that promote biodiversity, land stewardship and social engagement. I tasted new vintages and quizzed Donnafugata about their social activities, which include working with the University of Pisa supporting archeological digs in Sicily, to sponsoring a young tennis talent with a disability who is playing at the national level. The Tancredi 2018, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Nero D’Avola and Tanat, is elegantly packaged with the collaboration with Dolce & Gabanna providing a distinctly Sicilian design. Complex and rich, a meditative wine. https://www.donnafugata.it/en/wines/tancredi/
Last year I visited Radicepura Garden Festival on Etna that Pietradolce sponsors which is the Mediterranean equivalent of Kew Gardens. 130-year-old vine Contrada Santo Spirito 2017, Nerello Masacalese grapes grown on the northern slopes of Etna, is, in turn, subtle and bold but very beautiful. Pietradolce only works with native grapes and farms organically. They have also built a low-energy winery setting out to harmonise with the wild natural beat of Etna and respect for the natural environment.
Here at VinItaly, I tasted the new vintages of Stefano Girelli’s Santa Teresa and Cortese wines. All organic and with a great deal of effort going into rediscovering what indigenous varieties can help define a modern style of Sicily going forward.
By Nick Breeze