Allegrini 2024

Ezio Rivella, the protagonist of change in Italian wine, in the memories of those who knew him

Elizabeth Koenig (Banfi), Riccardo Cotarella, Luigi Moio, Attilio Scienza, Alberto Mattiacci and WineNews (Alessandro Regoli and Irene Chiari)
Ezio Rivella, the great protagonist of change in Italian wine

For a long time considered a “madman” for his ideas, perhaps too far ahead of his time, as recounted many times by himself, then taken as a model by many, among the first wine enologists to have set up a large winery project, Banfi, in Montalcino, called by John Mariani, with complete control of the supply chain, from vineyard to bottle. An innovator and a pioneer, Cavaliere del Lavoro Ezio Rivella, who, starting from his native Castagnole Lanze, where he was born in 1933, in an Asti area (and in a wine world) quite different from that of now, much poorer, economically, but with a future all to build, he has conquered the world, in the marketplace, but also at the institutional level, holding the highest offices of wine representations at the Italian level, innovating and experimenting, thanks to an extraordinary oenological culture and technical knowledge, combined with an uncommon capacity for vision. A man and a professional, Ezio Rivella, from whose history, and from the memories of men and wine representatives who knew him and collaborated with him, whose ability to be a pioneer, and to have played a fundamental role in the transition from quantity to quality, of Italian wine, of the change from a more “chemical” type of interventionism to a more physical and mechanical one in production, and of having understood before others the value of communication, but also that of people for the destiny of wine companies and territories, emerges above all.
“It’s hard to sum up so many years of relationship. It was not just a collaboration, he really raised us. He chose people in whom he saw qualities, but none of us, including Rudy Buratti and Pablo Härri who are unfortunately no longer with us, had any idea of the adventure in which he would involve us. He was always the Alpine officer ready to recruit trustworthy people to climb the mountain and always complete a task. Credit and honor must be given to Rivella. On his own he could not have done these great things, but we, without his guidance, would not be the professionals and entrepreneurs we are now”, recalls Elizabeth Koenig, Banfi vice president. “He was the “deus ex machina” not only of Banfi but also of Montalcino, which I remember well in the early 1980s when he used to drive around it in the open military jeep. It was an adventure; he laid the path that led to where we are today. He had the vision, but while others stop at the first difficulties, he did not. He told me that life was like a stage, that you had to get on it and give a performance to the best of your ability. He had lost a daughter, and perhaps that was why he wanted young people by his side. To fill a strong pain, but one that he never showed. She probably also tried to fulfill herself through us”, stresses Koenig, who began working at Banfi precisely as Rivella’s secretary, “he made me take dictation for hours, both in Italian and in French, a language he knew very well. I would like to be remembered as his right hand”.
“Rivella’s has been a life spent on vitiviniculture, lived at 360 degrees, dealing with both the more technical as well as the managerial aspects”, writes Assoenologi, of which Ezio Rivella was president from 1975 to 1986, one of the many prestigious positions he held, given that he was president for 9 years of the Union International des Oenologues, and official Italian delegate to the OIV, where for 6 years he also served as vice-president. In the early 1990s he had also been appointed president of the National Committee for the Denomination of Origin of Wines, a coordinating job, his, that had led to the application of Law 164 on DOCs, and also president of Unione Italiana Vini (UIV), in the early 2000s, as well as president of the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino, for two years, between 2010 and 2012. “Ezio Rivella was the president par excellence of Assoenologi. He was one of the absolute protagonists of Italian enology, particularly in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, when our industry was still searching for an identity and a position. If modern and evolved oenology, the main reason for the renaissance of Italian wines, exists, we owe it in large part to Ezio Rivella, a true pioneer of the wine world. Able to interpret the profession with managerial and entrepreneurial skills. Just as if today Assoenologi is the association we all know, we also owe it to his ultra-decade-long commitment to the leadership of Italian oenologists and wine technicians, which took place at the turn of the mid-1970s and 1980s. A great professional, a friend and above all a great man leaves us”, comments Assoenologi president Riccardo Cotarella.
“I joined Assoenologi when I was 19 years old, in the National Council, right under his presidency, for me he was a sort of putative father”, says Luigi Moio, now president of the International Organization of Vine and Wine, in which Rivella himself “was very active, working for the dissemination of wine culture. It filled me with pride when after the release of my book “The Breath of Wine” he wrote me a long letter, as he often did, to tell me that the volume should be among the great international classics of oenology. For years I took agricultural students to visit Banfi, a model winery he had built and where he personally welcomed us. He experienced firsthand the change of vision in which we moved from an enology in which we began to intervene more from a physical and mechanical point of view than with chemistry. He worked and experimented a lot with filtration techniques, with refrigeration of grapes, but also, for example, on carbonic maceration for making new wine, work on natural refermentation in what he calls “pots”. He was very dedicated to this aspect and to the machinery, he also had a winemaking equipment company, and his work on the proper management of these aspects was very important”.
But of Ezio Rivella there are those who remember his pioneering thinking about wine communication, such as Alberto Mattiacci, professor at La Sapienza University in Rome, and editor of the book “Io e Brunello - Come portai Montalcino nel mondo” by Rivella himself (published in 2008 by Baldini Castoldi Dalai, ed.). “I had two great experiences with him, when as president of the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino he commissioned me to do a study on the market balance between Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcin, and this association in editing his book. Transversal to these two experiences I am left with the idea of a man who started from great technical expertise to arrive at a 360-degree vision of wine, including all aspects of communication, which is not a “more”, but is the transfer of the intrinsic value of the product to the people. It has always been an obsession of his: Ezio Rivella knew that making a good wine is half the work, because if you couldn't make people understand its value, its history, the experience that drinking it could give you, there was a piece missing. In writing his memoir, the thing that struck me was that he was making these arguments back in the 1970s. When we presented the study on Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino, which had Ezio Rivella as its inspiring soul, which also wanted to make it clear how these two wines were different products with different dignities, and we were talking about marketing and communication, people, even some producers, took me to task, some thought this stuff was “alternative” to the quality and purity of the product. Instead he was already beyond that, he had the ability to see horizons that others do not see. This the professional Ezio Rivella. Of the man, whom I knew, and from whom I take a lot of inspiration”, Professor Alberto Mattiacci continues, “I remember that he used to study you, but if he recognized a value in you, he would immediately put you on a par with him, he would look for people’s value and put them in a position to express it. This is something that many wine entrepreneurs today, and many of those who lead the Consortia, should learn. Montalcino should name at least one street after him: without Rivella Montalcino would not have been what it later became”.
Working with Ezio Rivella in Montalcino, among the Banfi vineyards and beyond, in the early years, was a young Attilio Scienza, who today, among other things, is currently president of the National Wine Committee, as was Ezio Rivella himself. “Ezio Rivella was the protagonist of the change of the figure of the winemaker to winemaker, he believed in the university training of the winemaker to transform him into a winemaker at the Italian and European level, and with his work we arrived at the 1992 law that led to the recognition of the figure of the winemaker after the university course. He was a leading figure in Italian wine. “At the beginning of his career as an oenologist”, says Attilio Scienza, “Rivella also changed the quality of the wines of the Castelli Romani, introduced the cold stabilization of white wines, which was previously done with a “hot” sterilization, and made the profile of the wines of that territory and those that produced table wines more generally change a lot. This brought him fame and got him called by the Mariani to build Banfi, of which he was the deus ex machina, and to which Banfi owes its fortunes. In this great adventure, Ezio Rivella called me to Banfi, we worked together for 10 years to build the vineyards, he had great esteem for me, and we also made many trips together, with Ice, to tell about Italian wines in the world. I was very young at the time, and I also needed a kind of “tutor” to enter the important circles of wine, even at the institutional level. And for me in this he was a father, strict but fair, he helped me a lot, I have great memories of him, he always supported me, and there was always a relationship of friendship and great mutual esteem”.
Just at the time when Banfi, under the leadership of Ezio Rivella, was exploding, in the early 1990s, Alessandro Regoli, former journalist, and Irene Chiari, business communicator, and then founders of WineNews (in 2000), worked for a long time together with Rivella himself, for the communication of Italian wine, as Rivella himself recalls in his book: “you will always remain in our hearts, because we will always be grateful to you - is the sincere and moved thought of the founders of WineNews, Alessandro Regoli and Irene Chiari - with infinite esteem and timeless affection: oenologist, manager, and the two things together in a term coined for her, but also a true master of communication, the one that sees thoughts, ideas and content combined with fast action and well conveyed to the media and that proved to be fundamental for the growth of the image of Italian wine in the world, hand in hand with her great work, really difficult to summarize in the technical and entrepreneurial aspects, but that you made us live firsthand alongside you. A growth that, a fortiori, applies to the territory where you brought planning, innovation, technology, professionalism, development, imagination, employment, image, turning utopia and the dream of the “ideal company” into reality. Cavaliere, you have truly been a pillar of modern Italian enology”.

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