Sauvignon scandal: leading Friulian agronomist Giovanni Bigot speaks out

On Sunday, Italian wine writer Carlo Macchi, editor of, published the following interview with Giovanni Bigot, an agronomist and winery consultant who has been working in Friuli since 1998 (translation mine). In 2004, he began working on experimental techniques for the cultivation of Sauvignon Blanc in Friuli. He’s widely considered by his peers to be one of the foremost experts on Sauvignon Blanc grown there.

The interview comes in the wake of a scandal that exploded in Friuli on Friday of last week after Italian anti-adulteration officials raided seventeen wineries and the laboratory of Ramon Persello, a consultant who is accused of using prohibited additives in the vinification of Friulian Sauvignon Blanc.

FULL DISCLOSURE: in 2011 and 2012 I led two separate Colli Orientali del Friuli Consortium-sponsored blogger trips to the appellation. Giovanni spoke to our groups both years as a representative of the consortium and as an expert on Friulian Sauvignon Blanc.

rosazzo abbeyAbove: a view from Rosazzo Abbey in the heart of Friulian wine country.

WineSurf: You work with some of the wineries that have been visited in recent day by [Italian] anti-adulteration authorities. Before we talk about the accusations, what exactly happened?

Giovanni Bigot: Someone motivated by envy pressed for the raids. Maybe because those wineries have Sauvignon [Blanc] that’s particularly interesting.

WS: It seems, in any case, that Ramon Persello is the focus of the whole affair. Do you know him?

GB: Yes, I know him.

WS: Have you worked together?

GB: Yes, we have. He’s an expert in bioclimatic design. My interaction with him was almost always related to bioclimatic design and climatology problems.

WS: Even though he works in climatology, there’s talk instead of Merlin the wizard’s magic potions.

GB: Yes, I’ve read that.

WS: In the light of this, do you think that it’s possible that Mr. X was selling substances to wineries A, B, and C to aromatize their wines?

GB: You see, I work and will continue to work with many different wineries to offer services aimed at the cultivation of Sauvignon [Blanc] but not just Sauvignon. Ultimately, the idea is to achieve different and distinct aromas from the wineries’ different vineyards. Distinct aromas that will create aromatic complexity in the final blend.

I said not just Sauvignon because at those very same wineries, different farming techniques have been created to obtain diversity and aromatic complexity. This diversity is found in the cellar and in the wines.

I couldn’t say how many analyses I’ve made of aroma precursors that correspond to those that we found in the grapes. But at the same time, what can I say? I’m the one who’s probably the most affected by the media attention. I’m the one who risks seeing his work wiped away because of these “potions.”

WS: If it’s true that “magic aromatic potions” are sold and bought, how to we determine if they are in the wines? Let me be more precise: If we know that thiol Y imparts the aroma of passion fruit, how do I figure out if it comes from the work in the vineyards or through particular legitimate vinification techniques or if it comes from the little bottle that I poured into the wine?

GB: From an analytic point of view, I really couldn’t tell you precisely how it’s done. But I’d like to clarify something regarding the sensorial point of view: In wine, there isn’t just one aroma but rather a set of aromas. The aromatic character of a wine is never defined by a single aroma. That’s why you’ll never have just passion fruit but rather pineapple, pink grapefruit, and other aromas side-by-side with passion fruit, for example. The aromas by themselves can only be perceived in hydroalcoholic solutions that you find in a laboratory.

WS: From what you’ve been able to learn, what did they find in Persello’s laboratory? Hydroalcoholic solutions?

GB: I really don’t know. I only know what I read in the newspaper.

WS: I know that you were at one of the wineries when the officials arrived. What were they looking for?

GB: [They were looking for] yeasts that had been used, additives, and in general, anything that you use in vinification and aging. They looked in the warehouse where the winemaking products are stored — the normal products you find at a winery. It’s possible that they found yeasts for Sauvignon. [A strain known as] X5, in particular, is one that is commonly used — and is allowed by law — because it’s more capable than most in translating thiols from [aroma] precursors to perceptible fraction.

WS: After the media dust settles and when and if guilty verdicts are handed down, who will suffer the greatest consequences?

GB: Consumer perceptions of the quality of Sauvignon from Friuli. People will forget that great efforts have been made for years in the vineyards. Small steps that fortunately will not be erased. It’s possible that when people taste their first Sauvignon with beautiful and well defined [aromatic] notes, they’ll say that this it’s “thanks to the potions.” In my view, this is simply not true. You need to take into account the great diversity of Sauvignon in Friuli.

WS: On the subject of diversity, since there are so many different types of Sauvignon in Friuli and since the wineries under investigation produce Sauvignon with such a wide range of character among them, is it possible that instead of one potion there are hundreds?

GB: I agree that there is so much diversity in Friulian Sauvignon that I can’t help but think that there is something that has helped to make them so similar. We’re not in New Zealand where, more or less, all the wines are marked by a note of asparagus. In Friuli, they produce Sauvignon that’s never marked by one single aroma.

WS: What will be the worst outcome if wineries are found to be guilty?

GB: If it turns out that some wineries are guilty, we will definitely lose some of our market share. Let me say one thing: Although I don’t know for certain, I believe and hope that there won’t be any guilty sentences. For example, I’m certain that among the fifteen [Friulian] wineries [named in the investigation], there are some that Persello has never even visited. [Translator’s note: of the seventeen wineries implicated, fifteen are Friulian; the remaining two are not.]

WS: Have they accused you of anything?

GB: No, they haven’t (editor’s note: he begins to laugh). I’m the one that should accuse someone of something since my work as a vineyard manager is being misconstrued by the media. I’m not concerned, in any case. The work I’ve done is still there.

2 thoughts on “Sauvignon scandal: leading Friulian agronomist Giovanni Bigot speaks out

  1. How is this a good interview? “WS: In the light of this, do you think that it’s possible that Mr. X was selling substances to wineries A, B, and C to aromatize their wines?

    GB: You see, I work and will continue to work…” and never answers this key question.

  2. Jack, I wish that he would have been more forthcoming as well. But I’m glad to see that people in Friuli are reacting and speaking out instead of remaining silent. Giovanni’s a great guy and I was glad to give voice to his views here.

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