The most civilized thing

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

In winter vines are like this, bare and empty

These words of Hemingway were perfect to describe wine as a final product, with all the meanings that it carries. The idea of “greatest perfection” and “great range of enjoyment” is clear to everyone. The role wine had in the civilization of the world is big, and it is underlined in a book by Tom Standage, which I’m going to read soon [if you are too lazy, you can find a synthesis here].

But the idea of my blog was to stick to a specific territorial context, and it is in this context that, on the way, I discovered that it’s the result of processes that change from person to person, from country to country. As a friend told me today, “behind a simple glass of wine there are stories, visions of the world” and these lives intersect each other in systems, groups tied up by common projects (think of I Dolomitici) or just to harvest, that make possible that “greatest perfection”.

Another wintry sight of Piana Rotaliana

Especially in systems like Trentino region, where most production is led in a cooperative way, everything related to wine has important ripercussions on the society, which strongly depend from it. From here to a higher level is but a short step: cooperation is a reality in many fields, from banks to houses to fruit market…

Now it's small, but after a sunny summer it will become a red, full Teroldego bunch...

As for wine production, the growers who give their grapes to the wine cooperatives are about 8.000, with 8.100 hectars of vineyards, over the 90% of the whole Trentino’s production. This system is very good if you think that winegrowers are not left alone to face the market, but they can count on a strong structure, and during a crisis, like last year, that has meant that even if the cooperative didn’t sell enough, the winegrowers have received a noteworthy remuneration. On the other hand this huge, strict structure doesn’t consider a priority to change the wrong agricultural practices, even if they claim that they respect the environment and so on. While talking to private winegrowers has clearly emerged the need for an overall change, which is impossible as long as the 90% of winegrowers shield theirselves with the wine cooperatives…

Three weeks later the grapes are bigger and bigger

Another thing that aroused my curiosity was the relation between wine, a old, mature product -as an economics professor would say- and creativity. Winemaking  is often a process built with a high level of creativity (think for example of the varieties of vines, the different blend you can make then in the wine cellar and so on). But the way designer (from Eoos to Mendini) and artists (I’ve seen Chia’s example) conceive different ideas of approaching the world of wine is always different and interesting. And it is always amazing finding that something is changing also in this region, thanks to South Tyrol which is always a step ahead of Trentino!

Vineyards in the early summer, ready to hold growing bunches

Grape harvest

Just a few images to dive into the most cheerful, frantic and scented days of the year: the grape harvest! All relatives take part in this thing, especially children, who reach better and with less effort the bunches… Depending on the width of the vineyards the grape harvest can last up to a week. In the last years it has begun always later, quite in October. In a cooperative system, grapes are carried to the wine-cooperative, which determines its gradation; the higher it is, the most successful is the result.

(In)visible people

During my excursions in the world of wine I’ve talked with many people, some of them ended up in the articles of my blog, some of them have just given me some advice or infomation. I’ve concentrated myself on the production side, and in the production side I’ve talked about the leader figures (for example here and here) or about the organitations on the whole (for example here and here). But in the process of wine growing there are many other “invisible” people, whose contribute to the final result is necessary and precious.

How does the world of wine really work?  Three key figures, three different stories.

THE FARMER

There are people who own vineyards, but not always these people are the ones who cultivate it. Especially in other systems, where winegrowing is not the principal activity of a family: they delegate everything concerning the relationship with the vineyards. The farmers who look after every step of winegrowing are usually people without higher education, but they have an extremely deep know-how due to dedication and habit. These people deal with treatments, pruning and so on until the grape harvest.

THE CONSULTANT

In Trentino Region there’s an institution that highly influences and helps the life of wine growers: Istituto Agrario of San Michele.  Their consultants are in charge of divulging information, new techniques and so on to the wine growers, often by going personally to the vineyards. This service is essential because the farmers or the wine producers have not always the necessary skills.

THE OENOLOGIST

Every year grapes grow, at the end of September begins the harvest and then all the issue goes to the wine cellar: the process of  winemaking is really complex and for the time being  it’s hard for me to explain every step. But where there’s a complexity there’s always also a solution, in this case a specialized person who takes care and makes decisions in that field: the oenologist. He usually is a graduate chemist which is employed by wineries in order to “create the wine”. [Of course there’s a big polemic about who really makes the wine, whether the farmer or the oenologist…] The oenologist has to control the fermentation, chose the blends and to sum up he holds the crucial responsibility of the success of the wine.

Gruppo Mezzacorona

In the middle of Piana Rotaliana there’s a big building surrounded by hills and meadows which comes as a surprise in such an area: it is Cittadella del Vino, the head office and main winery of Mezzocorona Group, the biggest wine-group in Trentino and in Italy.

This group is formed by several other wineries, and now comprehends a lot of different brands, among which the most important are Mezzacorona, Rotari, Castel Firmian. The first association of producers goes back to 1904, and in over a hundred years the group has become bigger and bigger: it counts 1.500 members and its production comes from 2.600 hectars only in Trentino and South Tyrol. A big part of the production, nowadays, comes also from Sicily (Feudo Arancio – 1.000 hectars) and Tuscany (Castello di Querceto).

The horizon of this big group isn’t certainly local: 72% of the sales are abroad, in 50 different contries.

The success of this group has been awarded by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, which has proclaimed it as the “European Winery of the Year 2009”:

Mezzacorona is one of Italy’s biggest co-operative wineries, operating on a uniquely Italian model: pooling resources, fruit and farming to keep costs down and to provide stability in times of crisis. By combining tradition and state-of-the-art technologies, the group crafts modern value wines of immense popularity in the U.S., whose prices have stayed low, despite the economic crunch. For the group’s commitment to value, producing a long list of “Best Buys” in a wide range of quality products, Mezzacorona is Wine Enthusiast’s European Winery of the Year.

Gruppo Mezzacorona is the Italian leader in 5 varieties of wine: Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Teroldego, Lagrein and Gewürztraminer.

Quali cose siamo

Last week I went to Triennale Design Museum in Milan, and I visited the Third Interpretation by Alessandro Mendini: “Quali cose siamo”.  It is a collection of objects, apparently piled up in a chaotic way, full of quotes, hints and combinations that stimulate your curiosity… Among these objects there are ones related to the world of wine: I’ve chosen two of them that I really liked.

The first one is a special glass designed by Gumdesign in 2006: Swing glass, a sort of rocking glass. It is a usual wine glass with just a special detail: the basis of the glass is parabolic, that means that when you fill this glass it begins to swing, literally. This movement can be reproduced very easily during the dinner just by touching it softly. This device allows a perfect and continue oxygenation and decantation of the wine. But, as my professor suggested to me, it reproduces also the feeling you have when you have drunk too much! Game and function are well combined in this object.

[If you look in Gumdesing’s website you’ll find another wine object – which doesn’t find place in Triennale Exhibition – :

Calici Emozionali“, three different glasses with a hole at different levels, one for the abstemious person, one for the balanced one and one for the immoderate drinker; here too the element of game is predominant.]

The second object I noticed in Triennale is a wine produced by Sandro Chia. He is a very important artist of the second half of the last century and his works are exhibited in a lot of museums around the world. He landed in the world of wine by chance, when he bought an estate in Tuscany, Castello Romitorio. The wine exhibited in Triennale is called “Costanza“, and it is a blend of  Vermentino and Chardonnay. The peculiar thing of Chia’s wines is the fact that each label is different from the others and they are painted by the artist. That makes his wines loved by collectors.

It’s interesting to think that such a unique object (but not unique product, since, although the label, the wine is the same in every bottle) is exhibited in a Design Museum, where you would expect to find a praise to reproducibility and mass production…

One for all, all for one

It is true that physics is present in our daily life: that’s what Acquacalda design suggests with its “Applied physics” projects. One of them is related to the world of wine…

One for all, all for one is a wine dispenser thought for being put in the middle of the table. It uses the Pascal principle, for which “the pressure exerted on a fluid enclosed in a container is transmitted unchanged at any point of the fluid and at the walls of the container that contains it“. To sum up: every person who sit around the table will receive the same quantity of wine in his glass!

Self production

In Piana Rotaliana, as well in quite all Trentino region, most part of the grapes production is absorbed by the wine cooperatives, that turn it into wine. The role these cooperatives have is very important, because they give certainty and uniformity to the wine growers. In a certain sense, however, these wine cooperatives limit the wine growers’ freedom with rules and restrictions.

One of them is the prohibition of the self production, or, better said, the prohibition of selling self-producted wine.

The opinions are contrasting: from a certain point of view this thing is considered necessary because of the structure of the cooperative itself , but  from the point of view of the ones who would like to introduce new agricultural practices this prohibition implies the fact that the wine growers’ aim is to produce as much as possible for the wine cooperative, without care for the conditions of the soil (even though wine cooperatives impose some production codes).

The indipendency of the wine growers, which would imply a higher consciousness and responsability in wine production is in trade-off with the need for the social structure assured by the wine cooperatives.