Anyone who’s ever spent a significant time around the legendary grape grower and winemaker Aleš Cristančič (above) knows that he loves to talk about sex and sexuality. (I’ll never forget the time my band played a crazy wild gig at his winery, Movia, below. But that’s another story for another time.)
To some who know him only peripherally, it may seem like a cliché, not uncommon among European and American men of a certain age. But over the years of our interactions, it’s become clear to me that his obsession with sexuality is not just an expression of attenuated or hyperactive masculinity. No, Aleš has plenty of manliness and sexual confidence to go around, even beyond his sensual discourse.
When we spoke a few weeks ago, we discussed his reflections on polyculture vs. monoculture and how he is working to bolster and foster polyculture on his family’s estate in innovative and immensely thoughtful ways.
On my last trip to Italy before the lockdowns in January 2020, my visit and tasting at Movia prompted a powerfully compelling discussion of how the rise in monoculture has begun to homogenize winemaking, even at the highest levels of production.
It’s a conversation that was presaged not so many years ago in an article by Slow Food founder and essayist Carlo Petrini where he bemoaned Piedmontese growers who are grubbing up less lucrative, lesser known grape varieties and replanting their vineyards entirely to more bankable Nebbiolo.
Although they haven’t yet published on the topic, Melissa Muller, a chef turned winemaker, and her husband Fabio Sireci, a legacy grower at Feudo Montoni in Sicily, shared with me a study on their successful experimentations with polyculture, conducted over many years. It’s a work in fieri they explained. But gauging from their preliminary survey, it’s not hard to imagine that many winemakers will read it eagerly.
I recently caught up with Aleš by phone and asked him to expand on some of the observations he shared with me in 2020. That call resulted in a wonderful, if somewhat chaotic, interview published last week by my client Ethica Wines, his U.S. importer.
In our chat, he makes a really profound point about clonal selections. Nurseries may provide you with a genetically perfect clone. But where, he asks, did that clone come from originally? It’s not the result of massal selection in his vineyards, he explains. And so it’s lacking some of the local genetic information that vines acquire through massal selection and decades of growing in the same place. This means that grape farmers around the world are increasingly using the same clones and as a result they are promoting homogeneity and monoculture with adverse effects on the wines’ quality.
He also talks at length about what he calls “passion” in the vineyards. He’s referring to pollination and how the vines and other plants compete for sexual fulfillment. That tension, he believes, especially when well managed through polyculture, is key to creating wines that speak of place, of terroir to borrow a cliché. When stronger clones are introduced to a vineyard with old vines, they tend to hoard the pollen and as a result pollination isn’t equally distributed, as it were. That results in uneven ripening and diminished quality, he contends.
There are some real gems in this wild and crazy piece and I highly recommend it to you. Thanks for checking it out.
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