Allegrini 2018

SOStain: there is no sustainability without community, clear messages, and measurable data

The multidisciplinary “sustainable interactions” at the center of the first symposium of Fondazione SOStain, Assovini and Doc Sicilia

A method of study and multidisciplinary work for a shared goal, that of sustainable development: starting from this awareness, the voices of many experts have alternated in the conference “Sustainable Interactions”, the International Symposium n. 1. 1 of the SOStain Foundation - born in 2020 by the will of Assovini Sicilia and Doc Sicilia - in Palermo the day before yesterday: more than twenty speakers, including representatives of wineries, professors from major Italian universities and representatives of civil society, led by RAI journalist Federico Quaranta, in a path that wanted to better define the concepts that are necessary to approach eco-compatible viticulture in an effective way and to demonstrate how pervasive, complex and stimulating the challenge of the new millennium is.
“The first Symposium could only start from the base, that is, the meaning of “sustainability”, which comes from “sustinere”, that is, to resist but also to protect and nourish, to cure. I think it is fundamental - began Alberto Tasca, president of the SOStain Foundation - to give meaning to the words we read, so that they do not become commonplace. SOStain is also the name of the piano pedal that serves to lengthen the sound, to make it last over time and this is also a concept that counts. We always think that being sustainable means saving nature, but nature saves itself. We have to save us. We have become many, voracious. We should cultivate a greater sense of responsibility towards the context that nourishes us, increasing our gaze from our own small horticulture - the wine, our vineyards and our wineries - to an overall vision, to understand and measure what is the general impact of our living, to choose the right directions and support them”. It is necessary to measure, in order to acquire awareness on the basis of objective data, and it is necessary to compare: to sit down together at a table to analyze problems, to try to solve them and, if necessary, to ask science and the academic world to find more sustainable solutions. “But why a Sicilian specification? Both because we are orphans of a national specification, but above all, all best practices must be contextualized to solve local problems, through solutions that often do not coincide with the solutions found in other territories and contexts. It’s not a matter of exclusivity - Alberto Tasca points out - but the answer of 24 years of cooperation within Assovini, the container of rebirth of Sicilian wine, created by Lucio Tasca d'Almerita, Giacomo Rallo and Diego Planeta, which has the ability to create aggregation, the real advantage that Sicily has today: to sit at the same table and reason about the common heritage starting from our work that has become our region, understood as a system. These characteristics and this fortunate experience allowed us to understand even more how important it is to be less “I” and much more “we”, enriching each other and becoming better people”.
The rhetoric of sustainability, however, is empty if it is not supported by data: it is, therefore, necessary to put together stories and experiences with rigorous data, the low culture - of the street, of the land and of the traditions handed down from generation to generation - with the high culture - of universities, libraries and scholars. Because in order to become truly real and feasible, sustainability must have the support of everyone, and therefore be simple and understandable. So here is the experience of Cantina Settesoli, a cooperative that - through a long training process - has managed to involve all its 2,000 members, collaborators and employees, protecting people and leaving the territory intact, thus avoiding two major problems of the Sicilian region: the abandonment of the land and wild cementification. Or that of Alessandro di Camporeale, which through SOStain has finally succeeded in rationalizing its impact, thinking deeply about wine tourism and the consequences it can have on the territory - by supporting local producers - and on people, who through live experiences remember in a much more lasting way the efforts made by the wineries, contributing to spread an ecological conscience. Finally, Donnafugata, which has been committed to sustainable practices for over 30 years, but for the first time, thanks to SOStain, has experienced a convinced adhesion from all departments of the winery: an enormous stimulus to be considered not only from a technical point of view but also from a value point of view, because it creates enthusiasm, unity and new energy, a guarantee of continuity in the program.
SOStain Foundation is now a complex soul that holds the set of rules of the specification, the brand and directs the research activity also intercepting funds. Composed of a Steering Council, which contains the cooperation and the big and small companies; a Scientific Technical Committee, where the research is confronted with the companies; an Operative Committee, where the technicians intercept the needs of the companies, the SOStain Foundation has overcome the problem of the conflict of interest by selecting with a public announcement both Sicilia Sostenibile, a company that deals with technical assistance and training to teach the wineries to measure themselves, and the verification body, which audits those who want to be part of the Foundation.
“Basically, Sicily has had a good idea about every 10 years - says Alessio Planeta, a member of the board of directors and head of Planeta, the family winery - 30 years ago the Institute that brought together companies, projects and works that were the region’s restart; 20 years ago Assovini; 10 years ago, the growth of the Consortia and today the SOStain Foundation, which contains within itself the continuous improvement and sense of responsibility we feel towards this extraordinary land. The Sicilian vineyard has important characteristics: we are the first organic vineyard in Italy, the second mountain vineyard, the first vineyard in the smaller islands, probably also the first vineyard in Italy for ancestral forms and we include an extraordinary wealth of varieties, surrounded by a geographical context which is in turn extraordinarily rich. The numbers of SOStain today were a dream for us at the beginning: 4,400 hectares, almost 20 million bottles: we are starting to have mass and visibility, a fundamental impact on the success of the project. As the Latin saying goes “una apis nulla apis” - a bee alone is not a bee - we are like the bees inside the hive: a bee alone does not survive, we winemakers alone would not survive without the attention to these issues”.
The guidelines have 10 simple requirements to comply with that are rooted in the concept of new ecological humanism, which relates technology and nature, with man acting as a bridge through knowledge, measurement, analysis and repeatability.
“Data that are largely already available in academia - explains Nicola Francesca, member of the Technical Scientific Committee - that the Foundation makes usable and transferable to its members, even implementing them. All 10 requirements have as their main and powerful objective the defense of biodiversity, which guarantees the quality of the finished product, giving a commercial and entrepreneurial sense to the project”.
Ettore Capri and Lucrezia Lamastra, professors at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and creators of the VIVA sustainability program, recall how 12 years ago no one was talking about sustainability. “Then the first international references began: a bible on sustainable best practices from California, where they were already experiencing the effects of climate change in terms of agricultural soil erosion. But at the time in Italy, no one believed in it, although Sicily was more perceptive. In 2011, VIVA was born, a national public program that created the first specifications. A voluntary program in which companies (pioneers also in Sicily) could join at their own expense and in which they committed to make a direct contribution to achieve a specification that would become a standard of sustainability absolutely Italian 360 degrees, including environmental, economic, social, cultural and ethical aspects through a system finally measurable”.
Over the years, many working tables are created, but one, in particular, is historic, when Ministers Galletti and Martina sign for the first time an inter-ministerial agreement between the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture: a working group on sustainability with the aim of making a synthesis, in which SOStain is also present. In 2020, in the Relaunch Decree, article 224b gives birth to sustainability as a norm, finally establishing the Single National Standard. The time is ripe for the Sustainability Certification System for the Wine Production Chain and Italy understands how important sustainability is. The System recognizes integrated production as the basis of sustainable cultivation and also recognizes the programs that existed up to that moment and that can act as an impetus to all those realities that have not yet reached certain levels of awareness: sustainability within everyone’s reach. “Certification is the starting point, the system of networking is the way to proceed with resilience and resistance. Sustainability is not a simple thing - Lucrezia Lamastra points out - that divides the good from the bad, it is not a black and white world and those who do it miss all the nuances. It’s a discipline, not a religion: we don't need acts of faith but a practice that we do day after day to become better people than we were yesterday”. Professor Attilio Scienza, from the University of Milan, is of the same opinion when he argues that the black mark that has been given to genetics and to the term “hybrid” in the last decades is an important limit: “because if we reject the progress that hybrids can give, we don't have much chance to make sustainability at all”.
In the vines, there are 400 non-expressed resistance genes that come from the phylogenetic relationship with the very first vines that populated the world but that have never been expressed because they never had any relationship with the vector parasite. There are varieties in the Caucasus that are resistant to downy mildew and powdery mildew, an extraordinary source of resistance. “We have over time neglected Rna to value DNA more and more. But the future lies there, just think of epigenetics, which brings together Darwin’s and Lamarck’s theories. And Covid has demonstrated it. Recently it was discovered that in the DNA of life there are susceptibility genes: a fungus will attack the host if that gene is there. With techniques of geno-editing we can remove that gene - concludes Science - or we can intervene in a less aggressive way and use an interfering RNA spraying it on the plant, which blocks the expression of those genes and prevents the fungus to recognize the plant and attack it. This is the frontier, which doesn’t hurt anybody. If today we waste time on appearances, on daily contingencies, we will never move forward. Genetics is not the solution, but it is certainly a sea that is in front of us: we cannot ignore the progress of science”.
Journalism, too, can play its part in helping to spread more environmentally sustainable attitudes. Having a voice means asking the question, as journalists, of what to do in the face of natural disasters that are also afflicting viticulture. The years 2020 and 2021 were dramatic: fires in California that destroyed many parts of Sonoma and Napa; 12 nights of frost in Burgundy and also in Tuscany; floods in Germany, where the equivalent of a month’s rain fell in 48 hours; drought in Australia; hailstorms in Piedmont, now practically annual when before they happened every 7 years; record heat in Sicily; anti-Covid protocols. “The whole editorial staff got together to think about the concept of “great wine” - says Monica Larner, the Italian editor of “Robert Parker The Wine Advocate” - great wine is a wine that improves over time and tells a great story about the territory and the family that produces it. A wine that stimulates not only from a sensorial point of view but also from an intellectual one. The theme of sustainability is part of this stimulus and starting from this awareness, we have decided since last year to signal the wines that fall within these characteristics by means of two symbols (and at the moment we are the only database that allows a search with a filter on sustainability): the “certified” symbol - that signals the wines officially certified in organic and biodynamic; and the “Robert Parker Green Emblem” - a subjective symbol and limited to very few companies that are not certified but are excellent in their sustainability paths (and that we re-verify every year)”.
From the soil to the water, right down to the bottle, sustainability can be measured in terms of a multiplicity of factors. Factors that are not always taken into consideration today, as explained by Francesco Sottile, professor at the University of Palermo: “soil is a place full of biodiversity that we do not consider because we cannot see it. It is a network of connections with different roles. Curiously, at European level there is a standard that defines the limits of chemical residues in water, for food but not for soil. In the New Biodiversity Position Paper published in 2020 by Slow Food, it appears that copper is the most common residue at the national level, but there are residues of insecticides, fungicides, even glyphosate (as in orange groves in Sicily) and even DDT, banned for over 40 years. We must reconsider the maximum limit allowed in soils along with the additive effect to other pesticides. Also remembering Barry Commoner’s 4 laws of ecology of 1971 “everything is connected to everything else; everything must end somewhere; nature is the only one to preserve the solution; everything has its own cost”, which should be the basis of our ecological conversion now mandatory to protect a very rich nature that has always contained all the information that we now enclose within the concept of sustainability”.
Again, we can intervene in the management of water resources or even in the sustainable production of closed-circuit glass for bottles (as demonstrated by the interesting project 100% Sicily of the U.S. multinational O-I Italy, which is based in Marsala), but we must above all be attentive to communication, to be able to involve people without whom we can not do what we want to do. “But if communication does not take place in a clear manner, the risk is that the company remains alone in its choices - explains Carlo Alberto Pratesi, professor at the University of Rome - and sustainability alone does not exist. Once the values have been defined and properly communicated, the phased process begins: involving - of the entire system that contributes to implementing the sustainable project - the most hostile interlocutors, those least like us, who are most conditioned by the result; and then defining the message, choosing whether to simplify complex concepts so that they are understandable (but risking falling into fake news or greenwashing), or to decide for greater scientificity, which may alienate our interlocutor. So how do you communicate sustainability? It is the construction of a structure that requires the collaboration of others, and to do this we must define the interlocutors, define the messages, but above all do it with a multidisciplinary approach, giving up pieces of our identity and learning to reason with those who are different from us.
The experience of Andrea Bartoli, founder of Farm Cultural Park in Favara, closes the conference, highlighting how important willpower is in achieving one’s goals: together with his wife, they have transformed Favara, which in 2010 was the city of the Mafia and squatting, into a welcoming town for its daughter and its citizens. “We try to improve ourselves by improving the places where we live. We live in a time when states, regions, municipalities, cities, banks, companies and entities are not sustainable, but sometimes things need to be done regardless of whether they are immediately sustainable, such as cultural activities. What is really needed is just a change in mindset. We often invest in projects that have no connection with the reality in which we live, like stock exchange companies, instead of dedicating ourselves to local spaces. Today the company has been formed with 70 partners. This project, if replicated, could really change a society, if only banks would start promoting citizens and active citizenship by helping them invest in the destiny of their communities”. Federico Quaranta concludes: “there are solutions, we just need to change our points of view. Italy is known worldwide as the land of culture and Sicily is its cradle: it’s nice that this impetus to sustainability comes from here, where the cultural stratification is the most impressive that has ever occurred in the world. Today we have sown a seed for a cultural revolution and the people who will be able to face it first will be the people who will trace the path for all other peoples: Sicily at the center of the world once again”.

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