I’ve ruined another person. Forgive me.

We are constantly receiving requests from young graduates in oenology who would like to apprentice or intern here in the winery with us. I have always refused, with the excuse of my lack of time

In reality, however, there has always been a second reason as well.

Continue reading “I’ve ruined another person. Forgive me.”

Doctor or Carabinieri

I listened as long as I could… but when it touches you, you must go into battle with ignorance.

He wanted us all to be doctors or police, so we wouldn’t have lives filled with uncertainty, always praying for a good harvest. So we wouldn’t suffer bone-chilling cold or scorching heat, skin burnt and hands already sarthriticat 40

A new tractor and some workers mean less exposure to cold and heat, and technologically-advanced gloves and electric pruning shears help ward off arthritis.  

But not in the cellar there you have to plunge your hands deep into the pomace, judge its consistency, fill your nose with its fragrance, taste the tannins between your teeth.

Because wine is like a child and you have to know its life from the inside.

I wanted to change the world, as his generation did, but I only managed to change my own life for the better.

The great contribution of wine over the last 20 years, of the wine of the true winegrower, is not to make us any longer embarrassed about our rough, stained, ugly hands.

Bla bla … natural wine … bla bla.

I feel the need to address what follows to those who love wine, write about wine, teach it, live it…

As some of you know, I have never liked to define our efforts as “organic” or “biodynamic.” If asked, I can only express the truth, that our farm does have official organic and biodynamic certification. But I do this only when specifically, and insistently asked. 

I always prefer to speak simply about agriculture, about what we do, about terroir, about the artisanal approach.

If I do talk about organic or biodynamic, I am always referring to agricultural practices and not to wine. Wine is wine. A good wine is a good wine, no matter the process that is used to produce it. Only afterwards will I decide to buy a good wine, basing my choice on the moral and ethical considerations I have learned about it.  

Ever more frequently, I find myself in fairly embarrassing situations. I have found, both in informal tasting but in formal tastings as well, the latter involving winemakers, sommeliers, restaurateurs, wine-shop owners, and wine writers, that biodynamic has been confused with organic, and, worse still, that wineries that are neither are identified as organic or biodynamic.

So, how is it that we professionals (producers and all of you) are making this mistake? 

I have friends and colleagues that for years have been seriously and efficiently practicing biodynamic or organic agriculture, yet without wanting to go through the official certification process. Yet they do not present themselves as organic or biodynamic producers, nor do they define themselves as natural producers.    

When a producer identifies himself as biodynamic or organic (and to be natural, the absolute minimum is organic), that means that, in addition to being proud of that fact and wanting to communicate it, he wants to obtain the fully-deserved marketing advantages that the title enjoys.  

And if that producer does not, in fact, possess those certifications?

And what if that producer possessing neither certification, practices neither organic nor biodynamic agriculture?

And, further, what if that producer, possessing neither certification, and not presenting himself as either organic or biodynamic, is in fact presented by his sales representatives as biodynamic?

I have actually heard producers define themselves as biodynamic simply because they use green manuring in the vineyard. Just that practice.

And what if a wine professional, be he a sommelier, restaurateur, wine-shop owner, or wine writer, presents, promotes and sells the wines of that producer who proclaims himself organic or biodynamic without possessing those certifications and without even practicing in any way organic or biodynamic agriculture?

I repeat: Ever more frequently, I find myself in fairly embarrassing situations. I have found, both in informal tasting but in formal tastings as well, the latter involving winemakers, sommeliers, restaurateurs, wine-shop owners, and journalists, that biodynamic has been confused with organic, and, worse still, that wineries that are neither are identified as organic or biodynamic.

So, how can we professionals, producers and all of you, resolve these embarrassing situations?

The responsibility the wine producer—but of a wine-writer as well, and of a restaurateur, a sommelier, and of all of us professionally involved in wine—is very heavy with respect to those who, in purchasing wine, are placing their trust in us, their passion, their time, and above all the possibility of doing what we are doing.    

We decided to apply for certification somewhat late, even though we had already been practicing organic and biodynamic agriculture for a number of years, because we believed, and still do, that a third party should not be necessary to lend credence to my words, nor to guarantee my work through forms and account books to fill out, a third party, finally, that certifies you on paper without ever having practiced agriculture and in many cases without even having an adequate understanding of standard agricultural practices.   

In a world, though, where craftiness all too often embraces the most mediocre dishonesty, we farmers who exert every effort possible to practice organic or biodynamic agriculture, making it in many cases our entire way of life, must therefore assume the responsibility of offering the consumer at least a minimum practical guarantee.  

All things considered, then, this responsibility is more important for us producers than the ethical and moral decision to decline certification. 

It is sufficiently clear that the certification process does not fully ensure that the organic and biodynamic tenets are applied with quality, honesty, and thoroughness. Not yet, at any rate. Here, and now, there should be a frank and practical discussion about guarantees, about guaranteeing that organic and biodynamic practices are being actually performed.   

Many, perhaps too many, criticise the certification regimes, but criticism from outsiders has very little weight, whereas criticism from inside, from those already certified, becomes truly constructive and can actually improve the certification regimes, procedures, and quality, and consequently the quality of the certified farming operations.  

I have close friends who are producers, whom I would describe as free spirits, anarchists, yet, through respect for this fantastic world and for those who live in it, they have accepted the need to obtain certification for their farms and thus their work. 

I would hope, then, that more of my colleagues will agree to certification, and that more wine communicators, after ascertaining what is true and just, will learn to call things by their real names.

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Alessandro Dettori

P.S. The lists of operations that are certified organic and biodynamic are public and are on the web.

It makes no sense.

No, it makes no sense.

A farm with a full 50 years of life behind it, now immobile. Yes, nature goes forward, but without the guiding hand of man. Four years have passed since his last step. I struggle to make out the vines, swallowed up as they are by borage, thistles, yarrow, wild grain, and patches of scrub.     

This can’t be true. I walk around, but it’s not enough: I have to struggle to climb the slope, since I’ll surely find something up there. What my eyes fall upon are 20 hectares of desolation. Vine-support poles are there, so I can re-create the logic of their planter, but that’s all I can see. That vivid, luminous green so characteristic of the vine’s leaves in this period is muted and inexpressive. The same fate has touched the walnut and fruit groves.   

Resigned to the fact that I have, in fact, seen everything, I confront the cellar. The door protests on opening, no longer recognising its own key. Cool draughts of wine, dust, and acidity overwhelm my sense of smell. So many vats standing alone, some filled with wine, others with what is no longer wine. Wrenches, hammers lie on the floor, in position for the following day to fix the leak in that vat that just never wanted to stop. And it leaks still, the only sign of life, alone. An old man’s wine glass, half-full, still stands there, on the stool.

I leave. Oh, yes, they told me about the olive trees as well. They at least stand still tall, with so many flowers and loaded with olives, all for an abundant harvest that no one will enjoy.

I have to go home, since I can no longer stand to stay here. I pass by a storage shed, tight in the embrace of scrub and cherry trees. Peering in the window, I make out thousands of books. “It was his library, and he would sit in that chair by the carob tree and write….” I ask “How long ago?”  “Just last month he passed, but it’s been four years since he’d been able to come here.” “But don’t you have children, grandchildren, someone that might help you?” “No, just me, and the 80 years upon me.”

What sense does it make? An entire life. No sense whatever.

Natural wine is dead, long live natural winegrower

We never wrote or stated that our wines are natural. As a matter of fact, we have never liked the word “natural,” a term that became widespread following the first “Terra e Libertà/Critical Wine” initiative in April 2003 in Verona and the second in December of the same year at the Leoncavallo centre in Milan.   

Continue reading “Natural wine is dead, long live natural winegrower”