You Make a Living from What You Get - But You Make a Life from What You Give

martedì 5 aprile 2011


A breeze is all that's needed to bend the resistance of a vine leaf, or dry it up all together.   Untidy rows of vines, bunches of grapes tormented by hot or cold winds: the Italian vine lives this fascinating variation from North to South.  Federico Curtaz, agronomist-oenologist and a close observer of climate changes from the vegetative period through to the winter slumber, is convinced of this.  "The answer is blowing in the wind...." sings Bob Dylan and who amongst us has not stopped for a second to look at the whirling paintings of van Gogh or read the verses of Cesare Pavese?

"A decisive variant for any winemaker", says the Sicilian oenologist, Vincenzo Bambina, taken by surprise in the vinyards of the Contessa Entellina one summer's evening controlling the health of the vines after the summer heat.   Leaves that scrunch up like paper spread out anew and breathe thanks to a fresh wind.  And should the hot scirocco arrive from the Sahara at a temperature above 45 degrees centigrade, the Marsala grapes on the plains of Trapani will be guaranteed the right levels of maturation and dryness.  Which is also the case on Pantelleria, an island ideal for making Passito, one of which is the "Ben Reyé" Arabic for "son of the wind", which is produced by the Rallo family of Donnafugata.  Curtaz:  "In fact, it is a ventilator which dries the dew, which is why, if it is excessive it creates problems of drought.  It is basically a big thermic regulator which transports cold or hot air."

Curtaz, along with Silvia Maestrelli, produces a red wine in the vineyards of Castiglione di Sicilia that is redolent of the foot hills of Etna.  The volcanic wine, made of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes, absorbs the evening winds which bounce off the mountainside and calm the air that comes down from an altitude of 3000 meters to the vineyards sitting at 300 meters.  As the agronomist, who originally comes from Brusson, explains "It is basically a great lash.  This thermic jump favors the development of aromas, the night accumulation of sugars allows for the best evolution of tannins, up to the point that they become silky."  Each seasons it blows in a different way.  In autumn, just before the harvest, its role is fundamental.  "It wedges itself in, alternating with the rain, which means there is not space for mildew or mould, it dries and frees the plant from the damp" says the agronomist.  Just a handful of hours are needed in direct contrast to the North, where for example, in the afternoon between the towns of Gargnano and Brenzone the 'hour' takes shape.   A type of slalom which blows hot air thanks to the solar irradiation on the lake's surface and the mountains.  

The meeting of cold fronts generates a "radiator effect".  A thermic wind which threads towards the valleys of Trentino and the Alto Adige.  "Here it favors the growth of the Chardonnay and Muller grapes - explains Curtaz - guaranteeing a constant breeze which in autumn, for example in the case of the Nosiola grape, helps the drying process and the making of the Trentino Vin Santo.  The oenologist, who in the past worked for Angelo Gaja, in Barbaresco, would never plant Nebbiolo grapes on the extreme ridges of the great Sorì where Barolo originates from in Le Langhe.  In the past this patch of ground was used for Barbera vines because they were more resistant:  "We were shown the way by the older generation.  Normally the Marin, which arrives from the Ligurian Gulf, is mild but when it is cold and it hits the grapes the damage can not be undone.  In the past country dwellers were terrified that it would wet the freshly cut hay".  He who loves the wind often dreams that it is kind.  "When it is, it means that the wine will be better, the health of the vines good, and that the danger of late blight more remote" clarifies Curtaz.  In the Maremma the attacks of the Tirreno often herald bad weather and the real fight begins with the Maestrale.

An encounter with which, however, is favorable for the Morellino di Scansano.  If instead the currents bring about a meeting between the Maestrale and Tramontana in Sardegna, where they make the Vermentino di Gallura, "Its like being flung about in a boat in between the lines of vines".  Federico, who is 50, and who has seen more than a few harvests, smiles when he talks about Emilia and the Sangiovese grape.  The tricks played by the Libeccio, between May and June, are well known.  Now and then the vines cultivated in the espalier manner are literally wrecked.  A curse for winemakers who have nicknamed it Corinna, the name of the feminine sound.  None of them, on the borders with Romagna have forgotten the song "And yet it blows - Eppure Soffia" by Pierangelo Bertoli, who explained the effect between the trellises "the wind caresses the sides of the mountains and ruffles a womans hair....".

Mauro Remondino
First printed in Corriere della Sera - 5.04.11
Translation and photographs Susannah Bosanquet

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