It is almost universally recognized that features such as typicity and tradition are of huge importance for our food and wine sector. The success of our products has created excellent business opportunities, but it has also paved the way for some deplorable developments. We are witnessing a proliferation of efforts—sometimes absurd, sometimes out of place—to reproduce techniques and traditional knowhow and then apply them outside their traditional geographic context, using technological innovations that distort traditional values and significance.
The wine sector is most at risk from these trends: new terroirs are being set up, there is an increasingly frenzied flow of ideas and new technologies and, what is more, the commercial success achieved by using old wine-making methods risks destroying the importance and value of traditional practices maintained in well-defined areas, which are by definition not exportable. This is the situation facing the wines Amarone della Valpolicella and Sforzato della Valtellina, and was the focus of an international meeting held in Verona on FridayFebruary 21 2003.
The meeting, organized by the two producer associations and attended by the Italian Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Giovanni Alemanno, usefully highlighted some crucial points. It seems inevitable that there will be attempts to imitate a production method (the result of natural, delicate drying of the grapes) which has proved extremely effective in yielding full-bodied wines with market appeal but also concealing some defects of the grapes. Yet, it is completely unacceptable for makers outside the two traditional areas to appropriate the name. It must remain a unique expression of the history and culture of these two specific terroirs The producers of Amarone and Sforzato can be justifiably proud of the success achieved by their wines and must not allow ‘Amarone method’ wines to be produced in Australia. This is exactly what the French did years ago when they rightly stopped us from using the description ‘Champenoise method’ for our spumante wines. And there is no need for the producers in these two areas to think they have to rush and take advantage of the technological innovations which enabled their traditional techniques to be exported; that is not the proper way to claim their rights. As with so many winemaking techniques which promise to solve every problem, a reasonable compromise should be adopted, allowing this precious asset to be maintained in a healthy, thriving condition.
This is an enological asset that must be defended even when it entails sacrifices and difficult choices, like the decision not to produce significant wines in poor years. My friend Alexandre de Lur Saluces of Château d’Yquem—also present at Verona —did not release the wine in 1974, and this strategy helped to further boost the mystique of Yquem. If we adopt this kind of responsible attitude to our work and passion for our local area, there will never be an Australian Amarone or Chilean Sforzato threatening to tarnish our image.
First published in La Stampa on March 1 2003
Translation by Ronnie Richards