Allegrini 2024

Slow Wine: “an alternative is possible, for wine. But independent scientific research is needed”

The message from producers and agronomists, such as Lydia and Claude Bourguignon, from the “Slow Wine Fair 2024” at BolognaFiere

A good wine is like a concert: the terroir is the score, the vineyard and vines are the instrument, and the winemaker is the performer. All three are necessary to make a great wine. A concept at the same time often “poetic” and concrete, repeatedly expressed in the past also at the microphones of WineNews, by Lydia and Claude Bourguignon, two of the most celebrated agronomic consultants of France and the world, and reiterated to the audience of producers and enthusiasts present at the “Slow Wine Fair 2024”, at BolognaFiere, directed by Slow Wine, which closes today. And where, from the producers themselves, it emerged “that an alternative model is possible”, provided they invest “in independent scientific research to help those who want to do sustainable agriculture”.
“The soil”, microbiologists Lydia and Claude Bourguignon point out, “is the first tool of the winemaker, who must first understand its suitability and not be guided by marketing when choosing the varieties to grow. One must listen to the soil, respect its laws, its balance, its impressive biological richness, its capacity to regenerate. A single gram of living soil contains billions of bacteria, fungi, microbes. It is the greatest energy that on a chemical level can be found on the planet”. Summary of the vision of the more than 1,000 producers present at kermesse No. 3, orchestrated by the Slow Wine Coalition, whose main goal is “to change the approach to agriculture, starting from a crucial front, that is viticulture, and putting soil fertility at the center”.
The industrialization of agriculture, Slow Wine explains, has compromised the health of soils through excessive use of synthetic chemicals and deep tillage. This is compounded by overbuilding, which is proceeding relentlessly. Every 5 seconds we lose a portion of fertile soil, equivalent to a soccer field. Continuing at this rate, it is estimated that 90% of the world’s soils will be at risk by 2050. But without fertile soil there is no agriculture and without agriculture, there is no food. Land is also critical to mitigating the climate crisis: it constitutes the planet’s largest natural carbon sink, and its storage capacity is directly proportional to its fertility. “There are many farmers who have chosen the path of working with and not against nature,”, emphasizes Barbara Nappini, president of Slow Food Italy, “adopting respectful practices and demonstrating that another agriculture is possible as well as urgent. Fifty percent of the wineries present at Slow Wine Fair are certified organic and biodynamic or in conversion and this shows that environmental, economic and social sustainability are compatible and that is the model for us. Their work benefits ecosystems and citizens, with the prospect of conserving biodiversity and soil fertility for the future of all of us and the next generations”. Wine, thanks to its territorial rootedness, history and presence in many nations, can be an important testimonial of this new agriculture, and the growth data of hectares planted with organic vines prove it.
In Italy, certified organic has reached 19% of the area devoted to viticulture, and in the last 10 years, the area of vines planted to organic has increased by more than 145%. But despite this positive figure, too many synthetic chemicals are still used in agriculture, Slow Wine adds. Italy is among the largest consumers of pesticides at the European level: the latest report by the European Environment Agency (Eea, 2020) shows that in the EU, the consumption of synthetic chemicals in agriculture totals 340,000 tons, equal to an average of 1.57 kg per hectare, while in Italy the average consumption stands at 5.2 kg per hectare. The use of pesticides pollutes groundwater, reduces soil fertility, threatens pollinating insects, compromises natural plant growth and reproduction, and endangers our health.
In contrast, the winemakers present at Slow Wine Fair show that an alternative model is possible and that there are those who work the soil with respect, following its natural vocation. “These winemakers have long made a precise choice”, says Giancarlo Gariglio, coordinator of the Slow Wine Coalition and editor of the Slow Wine guide, “which goes in the direction of drastically reducing or completely eliminating synthetic chemicals. Moreover, they use environmental resources in a conscious and sustainable way, they mirror the terroir of origin, whose biodiversity they preserve, and they are engines of social growth of their respective communities”.
But, from Slow Wine Fair, also comes another precise request: to invest in independent scientific research that helps those who want to do sustainable agriculture: “These days”, adds Francesco Sottile, professor at the University of Palermo and Slow Food biodiversity scientific referee, “talking about sustainability and pesticide reduction is as complex as ever, in a general framework polluted by an instrumentalization that has placed agriculture and the environment in opposition. This is the wrong path because if environmental protection and agricultural production do not become allies, we cannot trigger the ecological conversion that is imperative today. If we really want to recognize and support the fragility of our winemakers, we must give them the tools to get on the right side, countering the climate crisis with models of true agroecology”.

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