Slow Wine 2024
Allegrini 2024
WINE AND TERRITORY

100% organic (even in specifications) and “vineyard”: the future of Valdarno di Sopra Doc

Reflections from producers, winemakers and international critics yesterday at Valdarno di Sopra Day at Ferragamo’s Il Borro estate

The wine of Valdarno di Sopra Doc has ancient history, enshrined in the very famous “Bando sopra la Dichiarazione dé Confini delle quattro Regioni Chianti, Pomino, Carmignano e Val d’Arno di Sopra” of 1716, and yet it is “contemporary”, as Monica Larner, Italian editor of “The Wine Advocate” defined it. Two characters of an appellation that is all in all young, and small (250,000 bottles produced to date, but the number is destined to grow) that links Arezzo and Florence, passing through the Ponte a Buriano that serves as the backdrop for Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, but that has a clear and sharp vision of its future, where 100% of the producers produce organically, which the Consortium, led by Luca Sanjust, has been trying for years, with the unanimous consent of all producers, to put into specifications-a choice also emphasized by the birth of the association “Produttori Vigne Bio Valdarno”-and that rather than on sub-areas and geographical mentions, it has chosen to focus on “single vineyards” wines, to emphasize even more the choice of being a “denomination of territory”, rather than of grape variety, although Sangiovese, which dominates and expresses itself at increasingly high levels, and different from the other great red appellations of Tuscany, although accompanied by Ciliegiolo, Canaiolo, Pugnitello, Malvasia Bianca and Malvasia Nera, to which are added with the recent changes requested to the specification, Trebbiano and Orpicchio, Foglia tonda, Gratena and the allochthonous Pinot Noir, which thus joins the already present Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and, among the white grape varieties, also Chardonnay. A vision that necessarily focuses on quality, by vocation and by the size of the appellation, on organic “not for marketing but as a qualitative choice”, stressed the director of the Consortium, Ettore Ciancico, but one that will also pay off in the marketplace because “that’s what consumers are looking for, who are increasingly attentive to sustainability, as shown by the growth of organic wine, which 10 years ago was consumed by 1 in 50 people, and today by 1 in 2”, said Maria Grazia Mammuccini, Federbio president and wine producer with the Mannucci Droandi winery, and the choices of Europe, which is aiming for 25% organic farming by 2050, but also of the Tuscany Region, which is already at 35%, as mentioned by the Tuscany Region’s Agriculture Councillor and vice president, Stefania Saccardi. Messages arrived in the “Valdarno di Sopra Day”, staged yesterday at the Ferragamo family’s Borro, where wine displaces art, an estate that, together with Tenuta Sette Ponti of the Moretti family, and Luca Sanjust’s Petrolo, gave luster to a denomination “that needs to be strong, united, because it is a wonderful Doc”, said Ferruccio Ferragamo, one of Italy’s most important entrepreneurs, in fashion and wine, “with a long history. We have a great chance, to make a Doc that will be the only truly organic one, and I believe in it so much, because Valdarno di Sopra has all the chances to be a unique appellation, thanks to so many fantastic producers”.
An “underestimated territory, and it is good that today, after the success of some individual wineries, we are starting to talk about it as a territory”, said Carlo Ferrini, one of Italy’s most successful winemakers and consulting winemakers, with leading wineries from Trentino to Sicily, who recalled how a territory that in the past was known mainly for whites, historically is considered the birthplace of “Sangiovese Piccolo, different from Sangiovese Grosso, which characterizes, for example, Chianti Classico and Montalcino”. A territory in which, emphasized oenologist and producer Maurizio Alongi, “Sangiovese should be valued above all, which here has always given grapes that are not excessively concentrated, with a balanced ph, both for the simpler wines and for the more important ones, and can compete with the great Sangioveses of Tuscany, without detracting from the “minor” native varieties or the international ones”. A territory, Valdarno di Sopra, that is getting noticed as Monica Larner, Italian editor of The Wine Advocate, tells us. “When I started covering Italy for Robert Parker ten years ago, the tastings were divided between North, Center and South, and we went out six times a year. Tuscany was in one container, but that didn’t work for me. So we divided by territory, Chianti Classico and Montalcino in the lead, of course, but immediately I saw this small territory, Valdarno, and I thought it deserved a separate article. It’s a territory that needs to be told, and so I’ve been publishing Valdarno wines separately for seven years now. And this allows you to talk about your desire to change, as well as respond to consumers who want to look more and more at the detail, more and more at small territories. A contemporary soul emerges in these wines, they are wines that the consumer wants, they are different, and I like to talk about territory more than grape variety, it means talking about a more fluid territory, able to evolve and adapt to the times”. And also to climate change, which is in the news today, “because it is happening at a much faster pace than in the past because of industry, because in terms of Co2 emissions we have done in 100 years what used to happen in 10,000, and we need to take action now because turning back takes time”, warned, via remote connection, “La7” meteorologist Paolo Sottocorona. And, then again, the only constant is change, as Allen J.Grieco, professor of history for the Florence branch of the prestigious “The Harvad University”, reminded. “In the fourteenth/fourteenth century, quality wines were low in alcohol, low in color. Then in the eighteenth century the English taste imposed itself, and things changed. But in the nineteenth century, a myth that is still such today, Chateau Lafite, had 7-8% alcohol content. This is to say that evolution over time is like adapting to changing conditions and tastes, not thinking that there is an “optimum” to be reached”. And, all in all, climate change, as also confirmed by winemakers Ferrini, Alongi and Chioccioli is “only” a variable to be managed, “through science, as we have done in the last 20 years, in which we have produced wines as good as ever, through a different management of the vineyard, the plant and beyond”, recalled the president of Italian and world oenologists, Riccardo Cotarella.

Science, however, needs experimentation, not only in the laboratory, but also in the open field. And on this came the appeal of Gabriella De Lorenzis, a researcher at the University of Milan who is part of Professor Attilio Scienza’s team. “To manage climate change we need medium- and short-term tools. In the first case we work on genetic improvement, rootstocks and new varieties. But, in the short term, we can work with natural molecules that we can synthesize in the laboratory, Dsrna molecules, or double-stranded Rna, which are natural, because the plant already produces them, and which inhibit, turn off certain functions that the plant has during its life cycle, functions that would otherwise prevent it from being resilient or going beyond the stresses it may experience. In Milan, and together with other universities, we are working on products that can be applied like we used to do with pesticides, but they are natural molecules. We now experiment in greenhouses, vegetable gardens or small ampelographic collections, but because these molecules do not yet have regulations we cannot experiment in the field. In Australia and New Zealand they have recently been able to be used, and hopefully the policy will take this to heart because we would not want to be late in this field as well”.

But as mentioned, net of experimentation, which is an issue that concerns all Italian wine, another road that many appellations are pursuing is that of introducing sub-appellations, in the form of Additional Geographical Mentions or Units (the so-called Mega or Uga) or other. Valdarno di Sopra, on the other hand, has chosen the “Vineyard” way. A road that they approve of Stefano Chioccioli, a long-time consulting winemaker and the signature of many critically awarded wines, according to whom “it is the right way, which comes from a path that, for some, began as early as 1990, and which allows a winery to say which are its best vineyards, and therefore its best grapes and wines, by studying characteristics such as microclimate, exposure and so on”. And it is a road that also approves Jeff Porter, an old acquaintance of Italian wine, formerly responsible for wine and beverage for Joe Bastianich’s American restaurants (and protagonist of “Sip Trip”, a TV format telling the story of a journey through the Italy of wine, made, in the past years, in partnership with Vinepair, Iem and Colangelo & Partners, ed.), and today responsible for the U.S. magazine “Wine Enthusiast” for tastings from Piedmont, Veneto, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Marche, Umbria and the entire North, from East to West (while the rest is covered by her colleague Danielle Callegari, ed.).

“The wine consumer”, said Jeff Porter, “is changing, and it’s different from the U.S. to Asia, for example. But specificity, the desire to know what vineyard that bottle comes from, especially for more evolved consumers who are looking for high-value wines, is becoming more and more important, and the idea of focusing on single vineyards is smart because it responds to this demand for specificity”. Organic and vineyard, then, are the two tracks on which Valdarno di Sopra is moving, an area that is also in tune with Slow Food’s thinking, as pointed out by Slow Food Italy president Barbara Nappini, who shares Slow Food’s “fight against the trivialization of food and wine, in the name of sustainability and the link with the territory, under the banner of “Good, Clean and Fair”. And wine, which is ahead of all other sectors in the narration of certain values, is fundamental to telling and drawing a better agricultural future, which is necessary”.

A future that, as mentioned, for the Consorzio del Valdarno di Sopra also passes through the inclusion of organic in specifications. A complex path, however, because if there is already a precedent in Europe, namely Do Cava, in Spain, which managed to include organic in the specification as mandatory, but only for the highest (and minority, in quantity), of its production, as explained by the “Cava Ambassador” Nicoletta Dicova, at the regulatory level it will not be easy to conclude. “Not because it is not a virtuous idea, which in fact we share, but because while that of the Denomination of Origin is a product certification, that of organic is a method certification, and putting both as mandatory conditions normatively is not simple”, explained Roberta Cafiero (Ministry of Agriculture) in connection, who left, however, an open door for discussion on the issue.

In the meantime, however, Valdarno di Sopra is not abandoning the idea; on the contrary, it is relaunching, creating the association “Produttori Vigne Bio Valdarno”: “it is an association of producers who produce from vineyards that are already organic. It is not an afterthought, or an alternative”, said Luca Sanjust, “but a tool that wants to strengthen our message and our intentions, and that we are convinced will help us to include organic as mandatory in specifications, because that is what all producers in the area want”.

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