Above: the Natisone river runs through Frliulian wine country.
They actually knew it was coming.
More than a year before the media-dubbed “Sauvignon connection” scandal appeared in the local press, Friulian producers of Sauvignon Blanc were aware that authorities were scrutinizing their production.
According to the agricultural superintendent for Friuli at the time, Vannia Gava (a vocal member of the separatist Northern League political party), winemakers from her region were doctoring their wines to give them aromas that didn’t align with the classic profile of Sauvignon Blanc grown there.
“It seems,” said Gava in an interview published by the Messaggero Veneto in May 2014, “that certain well-known Friulian wineries are using additives, preservatives, and chemical perfumes, some of which are carcinogenic. They are added during bottling, especially when it comes to Sauvignon [Blanc].”
More than a year later, in September 2015, the Friulian mainstream media reported that authorities had raided a number of high-profile Friulian wineries and confiscated wines and winemaking materials. According to the report, officials accused the winemakers of using unauthorized additives that would enhance the wines’ aromas.
Above: Cristian Specogna, one of Friuli’s leading and most respected producers of Sauvingon Blanc. Investigators’ lab results found that he uses native yeasts to ferment his wines.
Today, more nine months after anti-adulteration agents’ raids, no charges have been filed against any of the alleged wrongdoers.
And the lab results show that no unauthorized enzymes or cultured yeasts were found in the wines seized and tested by authorities.
I’ve seen the report myself.
When I visited Friuli in early May, I had the opportunity to meet and discuss the ongoing episode with three winemakers there — two who were not implicated in the controversy and one who was.
All three told me that they are confident that no charges will be filed. And all concurred that winemakers implicated in the inquiry are now stuck in a bureaucratic limbo: there is no word as to when officials will clear their names.
It’s not my place to speculate as to what prompted authorities to launch the investigation. But I know for a fact that they acted aggressively, descending on the accused winemakers’ facilities in great numbers and with a significant show of force. And prior to the raids, officials had tapped the winemakers’ phones.
In at least one case, a Sauvignon Blanc producer was forced to appear at his son’s school in the custody of Carabinieri (the Italian paramilitary police). As for all of the producers implicated in the investigation, wines by that winemaker were shown not to contain any unauthorized additives.
One of the winemakers I met with in May pointed out to me that there exists no list of unauthorized yeasts for the production of Friulian Sauvignon Blanc. In other words, even if authorities had discovered that selected yeasts were being used to give the wines aromas that didn’t align with sanctioned varietal expressiveness, there would be no legal basis to charge the winemakers accused of wrongdoing.
In the end, it was all much ado about nothing. Yet neither authorities nor local media have moved to share investigators’ findings.
What to make of all of this?
In the short-term, the authorities’ aggressive and misguided attitude and media’s blood thirst for clicks have gravely damaged the Friulian “wine brand.” When in Venice last month, a prominent sommelier told me that he “prefers the reds” of one the winemakers implicated in the inquiry.
In the long-term, I know that the industrious and earnest winemakers of Friuli will recover from the blow. It will take time but I believe the excellent wines they make there deserve our attention and our respect.
And I encourage you to seek them out.
Thanks for reading…