“If there is a homeland of the natives, this is Italy”. He has no doubts Daniele Cernilli – aka Doctor Wine – president of the Autochtona jury, an event dedicated to the “biodiversity of the Italian Vineyard” to be held in Bolzano the 18 and 19 and October 2021. But what exactly does indigenous grape mean? “Simply, born in a certain place – he explains -. There are two ways of defining indigenous people: one ‘strong’ and one ‘weak’, paraphrasing the strong and weak thinking of the philosopher Gianni Vattimo. According to strong thinking, there are genetic reasons to believe that a particular grape was born in a place. In this sense, there are not so many truly indigenous vines in Italy. According to weak thinking, however, the term autochthonous is synonymous with traditional. And it is in this sense that we must orient ourselves ”. Regardless of the number of years in which a vine is present in a place, therefore, it’s the tradition that counts and an example is Sangiovese which “although not native to Tuscany in the strong sense, has existed in this region and also in Romagna since the end of the sixteenth century. Leaving aside the fact that there are about forty sub-varieties of Sangiovese, as identified in 2000 by Attilio Science. But this is true for every traditional grape such as Aglianico, Montepulciano and Cannonau, just to name a few. The French vines have been more selected and there is less biodiversity within the name, so if there is a homeland within the tradition and biodiversity of indigenous people in a weak sense, it is Italy. Georgia is a little bit too, but it is not as well known and produces infinitely less ”.
There is no doubt that, for at least a decade, the autochthonous one has been transformed into a real phenomenon more or less encouraged by winemakers from all over Italy and by skilful marketing actions, but apparently it is the discovery of hot water. “In Italy there are very few non-native vines – Cernilli resumes -, more than 90% of the production in our country concerns indigenous vines in a weak sense. We shouldn’t think that Chardonnay and Merlot are so widespread, but let’s consider that Merlot has been around for 120 years in Friuli.
So the trend of native – or traditional – vines has always existed ”. Indeed, in Italy the wines historically at the top of consumption were Frascati, Chianti, Barolo, Barbera “and Valpolicella, basically Corvina, but only in some areas of the northeast and for historical reasons. They were under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and it was decided to replant grapes of French origin already grafted on an American foot. And coincidentally, phylloxera arrived first in France. Apart from that, the natives in Italy have always been the masters. Thinking of wine-growing Sicily without Catarratto, Insolia, Nero d’Avola and Perricone or of Puglia without Bombino bianco, Negramaro and Primitivo would not be possible. The native landscape is rampant, there have been small phenomena related to non-native realities such as Bolgheri and something in the north-east, but if we have to list the most cultivated vines in Italy they are Trebbiani, Montepulciano, Barbera and Sangiovese, fundamental for Italian viticulture. , all of them autochthonous. On the other hand, the production data tell us that the share of international vines grown in Italy is completely laughable. Ours is the country of the natives, like Wilson Pickett’s Land of a Thousand Dances ”.
Numerous studies and analyzes by public and private bodies demonstrate that the autochthonous phenomenon is particularly paid attention to. From the 607 varieties produced in Italy over the80% are indigenous, the texts that illustrate the list and history are countless and of particular interest is the very recent “Atlas of the kinship of Italian vines” by Crea (Council for Research in Agriculture and Analysis of Agricultural Economics). A study focused on the importance of the relationships between vines and the identification of ancestral ones, the progenitors to be clear, to identify the DNA of the grapes grown in Italy. The result is that the traditional Italian germplasm derives from a few primary grape varieties, some widespread in specific areas, others that have become “viral” throughout the national territory.
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This would be Ariadne’s long thread which, unraveling from north to south, would explain the reason for the presence of some varieties in specific areas. “In regions such as Campania – explains Daniele Cernilli – no one grows Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, there will be at most some small producers who reserve a thousand bottles for a wine blended with Cabernet. In Sicily the percentage of international vines produced is minimal and if there are exceptions such as Chardonnay and Riesling, they represent a niche with respect to the overall production of a company. Small percentages that perhaps serve as a business card for international markets. An excellent example comes from Piedmont and is brought to us by Angelo Gaja, who has chosen to produce a Cabernet Sauvignon simply to make himself known abroad ”.
Of the hundreds of native varieties that exist, the minor ones seem to attract new generations of winemakers. Young people with good – sometimes excellent – academic training, attentive to the environment and determined to live their future work in contact with the earth. “You have to put yourself in their shoes – explains Cernilli -. There are people who have returned to the countryside after the leap of a generation or two. Do they go there and what do they do? They rediscover the roots and try to recover them.
This is an important and understandable thing because it is exactly the reason that drives them to return. As for the minor natives – he specifies – they are nothing more than local varieties, Italy is an incredible country for this too, each area has one or more reference vines such as Pecorino, originally from Arquata del Tronto which has spread to the provinces of Ascoli and Teramo. Once this was the border between the Kingdom of the two Sicilies and the Papal State. We are talking about two different worlds, in Teramo they were basically Neapolitan while in Ascoli they were papal. Again, the Timorasso it is an example of the recovery of a local vine ‘reinvented’ by a group of producers such as Walter Massa, La Colombera and others because it had almost disappeared. They literally reselected him and put him back on the field. The same Fiano has a similar history: at the end of the Second World War it was Antonio Mastroberardino to recover what he thought was the old Fiano and put him back on track. These are cultural operations in a high sense, not simply something that is done to produce a good wine that appeals to young people ”.
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Among the indigenous people not too well known, some seem destined for a rosy future. If in Puglia the focus is on Susumaniello, in Lazio the Bellone it is becoming increasingly popular, but the list is long. “My prediction sees a good placement for the Pignolo in Friuli, practically unknown, but also for the Famoso, produced between Romagna and Pesarese, a vine similar to Sauvignon. Then the Greco di bianco from which very important sweet wines and tiny varieties are born such as Pugnitello, one of the accessory vines of Chianti Classico and even Brunello di Montalcino before the Docg, when it was not yet obtained from pure Sangiovese. On the other hand – concludes Daniele Cernilli – the purity of the vine is a modern thing – until the law of 1980 there was everything in the vineyards – just as Pinot noir is not pure in Burgundy, it is only the ‘cépage dominant’. It is we Italians who are obsessed “.