How To Not Get Things Done in Italy by @TerraUomoCielo (@Intravino)

Today’s post is devoted to my translation of an article written and published today by my good friend Giovanni Arcari on the Italian wine blog Intravino. It was edited by Alessandro Morichetti, one of Italy’s leading wine bloggers.

umberto d

Above: Umberto D.

“How To Not Get Things Done in Italy”

A case study in vineyard registration in Alta Langa.

Premise: A love for classic method wines and for the Langhe Hills inspired me to partner with a Monforte d’Alba producer who wanted to produce Alta Langa [sparkling wines]. Unfortunately, nothing is ever as easy as it seems and the story that follows is as simple as it is demoralizing. There are appellation regulations to be observed and we followed them to the letter. The producer acquired land; he planted the right grapes (7,500 Pinot Nero and Chardonnay vines in Serravalle Langhe); and then he applied for the authorization to label the vineyard “Alta Langa.” From that point forward, the process was disastrous.

A week later, a message arrived in the form of a cold shower: “registration of vineyards for the production of Alta Langa is closed,” wrote the Classic Method Alta Langa Producers Association.

We asked for an explanation and resigned ourselves to our fate.

But then, by chance, we came across this brilliant declaration on September 5 of this year: “… the association is working to expand the planted surface area intended for the production [of Alta Langa]. This process will be carried out through a ‘targeted’ authorization of new vineyards in the growing zone. Its scope is that of favoring those projects where grape production already has a specific destination that will not inflate the grape market. The goal is to have more bottles on the market that make an even greater difference.”

Well, you might call this good news, especially in the light of the fact that we were asking for authorization for a sole hectare. We already have a project and the “destination” for our roughly 100 quintals of grapes is very clear: a fine, artisanal classic method sparkling wine. Case closed.

Nothing doing! We hear nothing from the producers association but on October 24, we discover that it has been taking applications when we read an announcement on the Coldiretti website. [Coldiretti is Italy’s national growers confederation.] Coldiretti isn’t exactly known for its lightening speed: the application process was opened on August 2 and today [November 30] is the last day.

But that’s not the real problem here.

Do you want to know the criteria by which surface area planted to vine will be expanded? In short, if you sell your grapes to commercial bottlers, you’ll be fine. But if you by land, plant it and sow the seeds of your dreams there, you’re screwed.

Authorization is granted on a points-based model. And it’s not entirely clear how you obtain “points, rights, and priority.” To have the maximum number of points, seven, you need to be a “professional agricultural entrepreneur who already produces and/or sells classic method sparkling wine or owner partner in a cooperative winery that already produces classic method sparkling wine.”

To obtain five points, you need to be a “professional agricultural company or entrepreneur that already owns vineyards with agricultural-environmental characteristics in conformity with the Alta Langa DOCG appellation regulations (but that are not suited for authorization) and that has an at least five-year contract for the transformation [vinification] of the fruit into Alta Langa DOCG that guarantees the total application of the grapes.”

Three points are award to a “professional agricultural company or entrepreneur who has obtained [land] rights, plants new vineyards intended for the production of Alta Langa DOCG, and who possesses an at least five-year contract for the transformation [vinification] of the fruit into Alta Langa DOCG that guarantees the total application of the grapes.”
And for a “professional agricultural company or entrepreneur different from the points above,” the association grants only one miserable point.

It sends a chill down your spine, doesn’t it?

Obviously, we were given only one point. Translation? A new winery CANNOT produce Alta Langa.

Why isn’t the grape market regulated so as to encourage the entry of new players who could enrich the appellation? Why is there such interest in Alta Langa to purchase grapes and not to have anyone else get in your way? Who profits from this?

This system stinks.

—Giovanni Arcari (via Intravino)

Giovanni Arcari

Above: Alessandro (left), Giovanni (right), and I had breakfast in Alta Langa on Sunday morning.

Ezio Rivella: “Tradition is a ball and chain.”

Above: Remember this image? Scanned from a 1982 edition of Wine Spectator (via Alfonso). I posted about it here.

On Monday, Ezio Rivella — Brunello’s deus ex machina and futurist of Italian wine, creator of the Brunello brand and propagator of the California dream — spoke before a group of Langa’s top winemakers in Piedmont. He had been invited their by the government-funded body Strada del Barolo (Barolo Wine Roads) to speak about the current crisis in Italian wine (the five-part series is entitled — and I’m not kidding here — “Feel Sorry for Yourself or React to the Crisis?”).

According to wine blogger Alessandro Morichetti, who attended the seminar, nearly the entire arc of Barolo was there: Maria Teresa Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Angelo Gaja, Enzo and Oreste Brezza, Cristina Oddero, Federico Scarzello, Lorenzo Tablino, Eleonora Barale, Davide Rosso, Enrico Scavino, and Michele Chiarlo, among others.

I’ve translated the following quotes from Alessandro’s report on the talk…

“Tradition is a ball and chain. At best, it serves as historical anchor.”

“The market fluctuations following Brunellogate? Rants by masturbating journalists.”

“Quality is what people like. Those who sell [their products] are right. There is nothing to learn from people who[se products] don’t sell.”

“Blogs are [a form of] self-flattery. The people behind them are incompetent.”

And all this time, I thought that Rivella didn’t read blogs! Go figure!

Reacting to Alessandro’s account of the event, Italy’s top wine blogger Franco Ziliani wrote: “Rivella chooses the path of insults…”

If you don’t know the backstory, here’s the thread of my posts devoted to Rivella and his self-appointed mission to refashion authentic Italian wines as expressions of Californian winemaking for the U.S. market.

As a manager and winemaker at Banfi from the 1960s through the 1990s, he credited Robert Mondavi as one of the inspirations for the behemoth Brunello brand that he created with the backing of the Mariani family, the Long Island-based importers who decided nearly 50 years ago that they would make Montalcino a household name in the U.S. (initially by producing sparkling white wine, btw).

Since returning to Montalcino to gerrymander his second coming as Brunello growers association president in 2010, he has patently conceded that “80% of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese” (an egregious transgression of appellation regulations and Italian law). And in doing so, he tacitly expressed his support for using “improvement” grapes like Merlot in traditional Italian wines made historically with indigenous varieties. He has repeatedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to lobby for the passage new appellation regulations that would allow for the blending of international grape varieties in Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. Twice he has called votes and both times the body governed by him has remained unswayed by his industrial Brunello complex.

My friends who live and work in Montalcino tell me that he doesn’t even reside there. He lives full time in Rome, governing from afar, uninterested in the workaday lives of the homegrown montalcinesi.

He is also the author of Brunello, Montalcino and I: The Prince of Wines’ True Story (2010).

What will come of the legacy of the self-proclaimed Prince of Brunello?

Perhaps he should take the advice of a Tuscan, Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote (chapter 3, “On Mixed Principalities”): “It is quite natural and ordinary for a Prince to want to expand his rule, and when [Princes] do, if they can, they are praised and not blamed. But when they are unsuccessful, but still want to do it, here lies the error and the fault.”

Numbers point to Cinelli Colombini, while pundits stump for Bindocci in Montalcino president race

Above: Art historian and Siena native, Brunello producer Donatella Cinelli Colombini is one of Italy’s leading women winemakers and she has been endorsed by a number of high-profile producers in her bid to become Brunello consortium president. She also received the greatest number of votes in the general election for the body’s advisory council (which we reported today at VinoWire). Photo courtesy Susanna Cenni.

Why am I so obsessed with the election of the Brunello producers association’s new president? The answer is simple: the Brunello appellation has become the front line for the battle of traditionalist champions of indigenous Italian grapes vs. progressive proponents of “modern trends” and international grape varieties. What has happened over the last two years in Montalcino and what will happen in the wake of tomorrow’s election will surely inform the direction, objectives, and ideals of Italian winemaking in the next decade.

Many have considered technocrat winemaker, architect of Brunello giant Banfi, Ezio Rivella, to be a shoe-in. But at least one high-profile actor on the ground told me this morning that Donatella Cinelli Colombini (above) is the leading candidate, and, in fact, she received the greatest number of votes in the body’s general assembly (while Rivella fell near the bottom of the list of top-vote-getting advisory council members).

Above: Winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci of Tenuta Il Poggione, a homegrown candidate from Sant’Angelo in Colle (and my friend), student of Brunello legend Piero Talenti and teacher to his own son Alessandro Bindocci, who will ultimately take his place when he retires. Photo courtesy Montalcino Report.

I’m not the only one to be watching the election so closely: today, Italian wine blogger Alessandro Morichetti, contributor to the popular site Intravino, launched an appeal: “We want Fabrizio Bindocci [above] to be president of something, right away!” My partner in VinoWire, Mr. Franco Ziliani, author of Italy’s top wine blog, Vino al Vino, quickly signed on to and reposted Morichetti’s endorsement (and Mr. Ziliani has often pointed to Bindocci as an excellent candidate).

Me? I’m just an extracomunitario, an extracommunitarian, an alien (to Italy) as it were. As such, I can, however, with good conscience observe that among the three most talked-about candidates, two are from Montalcino and one is from Asti, Piedmont (guess which one). Local trumps alien in my book when it comes to wines that speak of the place where they are made and the people that made them.