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Ezio Rivella and the “well-rounded winemaker” told in an unpublished memoir entrusted to WineNews

Pages we invite you to read for their topicality, between the dream of the “ideal winery”, winemaking inventions, open mind and bet on young people

The 1970s, 80s and 90s of the twentieth century, “when the world of Italian wine was searching for an identity”, in the transition “from an agricultural product to the more evolved product of (luxury) food for the consumer”, and a position on the foreign market: these are the years marked by the presence of one of the most representative protagonists of our enology, and among the most prominent figures on the Italian and international wine market. Reviewing a fundamental era for Italian wine, marked by its qualitative “renaissance” and arrival on the tables of the world, Cavalier Ezio Rivella, who has left us today, tells what it means to be “An all-round winemaker” in an unpublished memoir entrusted to WineNews.
An authoritative narrative, rich in details - including autobiographical ones and about the many public and private positions he held, demonstrating how they had the same value for Rivella (as evidenced also by the memories we have collected of some of the most important personalities in the sector after his death) - and, despite the necessary technicalities, clear and forthright, fully reflecting the first oenologist-manager in the history of Italian wine who was also a great communicator, especially toward the many young professionals he wanted by his side to pass on his legacy across the board (he was the first to also introduce communication into the company's activities, with specially dedicated specialized staff, making use of the contribution of professionals such as Alfredo Ferruzza, Franco Piccinelli, Stefano Milioni, Alessandro Regoli, who at the time was taking his first steps in the world of communication and is now WineNews director, and Pino Khail, founder of the magazine “Civiltà del Bere”, with whom he collaborated and with whom he participated in the first wine presentations in world markets). Pages that we invite you to read for their topicality (browse the gallery), whether you are an expert or curious.
The realization of the “ideal winery” with the creation of Banfi in Montalcino qualified the work of Ezio Rivella, a member of the Academy of Vine and Wine, the Academie International du Vin and the Academie Amorin, who was named “Cavaliere al Merito del Lavoro” in 1985 by then-President of the Republic Sandro Pertini, overshadowing his other merits. But, then again, that “monstrous” investment has characteristics “out of the ordinary, never conceived in Italy”, where at the time companies did not own vineyards (“or at most a few farms”): the concept that wine is made in the vineyard, that it holds the Appellation and often the Trademark, was born in France and has developed around the world, with new producer countries, from California-where Rivella went to see with his own eyes how winery visits took place, what state-of-the-art wineries looked like thanks to modern technology, and having a clear understanding of the importance of hospitality facilities, direct sales and marketing, and then making all this from Banfi a model in Italy - to Chile, from Australia to South Africa, “who were the first to understand the importance of this, launching the “vertical winery”, of economic size to fit the market”.
A formula whose potential for the future of wine Rivella sensed, “without underestimating its organization and the huge capital it required”, but “enlightened”, and “enlightening” the Mariani brothers, of the fact that, in Montalcino, there was a territory - “all rocks and brambles, but with land in quantity at derisory prices, and, what’s more, with the prospect of producing good quality wine” - for a long-term investment (“it takes 10 years from when you program a bottle of Brunello to when you put it on the market”) that started from the market to get to the vineyard. And despite the fact that in the same territory his dream was considered more “crazy”, and those were the worst years for Italy’s image in the world, for its economy and the state, with the Moro kidnapping and the Brigate Rosse. But what has come down to us is the organization of a farm-because after all it was and is agriculture that represents the history and soul of our country and the Brunello territory of which Banfi has been the “locomotive”, with production going from 1 million to 10 million bottles in just a few years - that has set the standard, for efficiency, advanced methods of cultivation not only of the vine, pushed mechanization, deployment of machinery and irrigation of the vines, as well as, of course, for the figures involved, without losing sight of the first objective: “quality”.
From here on, “Il Cavaliere” became for everyone the “oenologist-manager.”. Yet, born in 1933 to a family of small producers of “particularly fine” Barbera, in a “small winery” between the Langhe and Monferrato, after the High School of Viticulture and Oenology in Alba, as a young technician, at the end of the 1950s, he had already faced difficulties far beyond his experience, and between his research and oenological inventions, at the head of the Cantina Sociale di Marino di Ciampino winery in the Castelli Romani, he had installed the first hot bottling plant in the absence of oxygen and devised a “flash pasteurization” system to solve the endemic problem of yeast and “Casse ossidasica” in their white wines, so they could ship them all over the world. And while his methods of biological stabilization with thermal inactivation were being adopted “by great young wine producers” in central and southern Italy, and Enoconsult, the international consulting firm he pioneered (with a team of winemakers as well as architects, engineers and cellar technicians) began designing hundreds of wineries, as early as the 1960s, foreign trade journals were calling Rivella among the best winemakers in Italy and the world.
To be a huge success, it was the Lambrusco-like wine created with Cantine Riunite of Reggio Emilia for the U.S. market (where they accounted for 50% of the wine sold), at the request of John Mariani, the founder of Banfi, who wanted a wine to be consumed in moments of relaxation reminiscent of today’s growing demand for low-alcohol wines: started in 1968, by 1970 it had already sold 1 million cases of bottles (with screw cap! ), which would become 13 in 1985, while at the World Exhibition in Bordeaux the great French oenologist and researcher Emile Peynaud invited Rivella to give a lecture on this wine. And at the same time that, on the one hand, he devoted himself to the rediscovery of Moscadello, the historic wine of Montalcino in the goblets of poets and men of letters long before Brunello, and on the other hand he created the single-serving wine in 100 cc bottles (another topical trend), the Nano of the beverage giant San Pellegrino.
Peynaud, but also Helmuth Müller Spaeth, Pierre Bedot, Jacques Puisais, Michel Rolland, Maria Isabel Mijares, Concha Llaguno, Jean Crettnand and Pascal Riberau-Gayon, former director of the Faculty of Enology in Bordeaux - “one of the highest authorities in the science of oenology” who “periodically came to Montalcino for tastings, comparisons, advice” - and, again, Giovanni Dalmasso, Clemente Tarantola, Italo Eynard, Tullio De Rosa, Weiner Salati, Attilio Scienza, Luciano Usseglio-Tommaset, Cesare Intrieri, Giulio Margheri, Aureliano Amati and Arturo Zamorani, are among the leading scholars and researchers in the field, both Italian and foreign, with whom, Rivella says, he has maintained constant contact and relations.
Difficult to summarize - without his suggestions! - but between the pages, Ezio Rivella also tells how in the long years he coordinated the international expert group of the OIV-International Vine and Wine Organization, of which he was appointed vice-president in 1998, he dealt with the social aspects of wine consumption, developing the concept that a glass of wine a day helps you live better and longer.

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