Italy’s Young Women Winemakers

07 Nov 2012

Globally over the past decade there as been a marked resurgence of the revival of several traditional winemaking methods and embodied within this movement a renewed dedication to preserving terroir has become apparent. Interestingly a growing number of young producers have taken the lead in revaluating the importance of the connection between the vine and the soil and have sought to find the best way to express this through their wine

Cascina Tavijn in Piedmont, the Tuscan vineyard Campi di Forterenza and the Sicilian wines from Occhipinti have become well established in the world of natural wine – celebrated for their non-interventionalist approach and overall commitment to planting grapes appropriate to their specific vineyards. Despite their diverse styles, which hail from vineyards in different corners of Italy, they have all earned a solid reputation for taking bold leaps in combining certain traditional practices with unconventional edges. At a Terra Madre conference on Sunday October 28, Francesca Padovani, Nadia Verrua and Arianna Occhipinti spoke about their vineyards and what influenced them to tackle the challenging world of natural wine production.

The term ‘natural winemaking’ has become one of the most divisive topics within the world of wine. Aficionados worship this approach for maintaining purity, individuality and a sense of place. However there has also been strident criticism of the movement. It seems to appear that there is widespread confusion as to what the term actually means as many consumers seem to view the concept as something synonymous with terms such as biodynamic and organic – this can be misleading as it is more than just a label or certification. Quite simply those who call themselves natural winemakers purport to be wholly committed to minimal intervention in order to preserve place and fruit. “If you go natural there is no room for shortcuts because you need the best fruit and it is essential that you are there day in and day out,” says Padovani.

The other speakers shared these sentiments and echoed the fact that they feel that this style of production is the best way to allow the land and fruit to speak for itself. They emphasized that this was a choice that was more arduous and risky than many industrial methods, as without commercial yeasts or an increased use of sulphites it is near impossible to create homogenous wines year in and year out, predictability is something that many consumers have become accustomed to. Conversely it is this volatility that endears many people to the natural wine movement as it allows room for greater expression and uniqueness. “Of course there are people who look for perfection but in truth I do not think that it exists in regards to wine. It is more important that they are true to life and embody a sense of harmony rather than being technically flawless,” Verrua says.

Maintaining good communication between different growers was something that everyone seemed to cite as important, regardless of their different methods and values. “I would like everyone in Sicily to go organic but obviously I cannot force this. I would however like to work with other vineyards and learn from them because even if our ideas may differ I am sure they all have something to teach me,” says Occhipinti. Verrua readily agreed with this point when she expressed that small wineries can and should learn from larger ones, even if certain schools of winemaking tend to streamline the way people work. “We all interpret things in different ways but maintaining a dialogue and sharing these interpretations is very important,” she explained.

When asked about the biggest challenges of working as young female winemakers and trying to introduce innovation in areas with long traditions Verrua stressed that it was important to respect established practices while not being scared of trying something that was perceived as risky just because it defied certain conventions. “I believe it is vital that we do not get overly concerned on focusing too much on viewing all traditions as gospel because although it is wonderful to see so many young winemakers reviving older practices we don’t want to oppress those who want to try something new,” she said. The others agreed but Occhipinti was quick to stress that the gender aspect should not be over played: “We often get asked how different it is making wine as women and I really hate this question!”

Photo: Charming Italy

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