Allegrini 2018

The “Rebel Queen” Vernaccia di San Gimignano: from Dante to the future, between wine, health, and sustainability

Reflections by academics and doctors on a current topic like never before, in the “party” that celebrated the white wine queen of Tuscany

There are many interpretations of the Divine Comedy, and even for an absolute historical figure like Dante, there are a thousand legends, but only a few certainties. One of these is that the politician man Dante knew San Gimignano and that, not surprisingly, in the current “Sala Dante”, among those towers that today attract millions of tourists in the “Manhattan of the Middle Ages”, he pronounced a prayer to invoke the favour towards Florence in the war against Siena. And the “Dante” wine par excellence is Vernaccia di San Gimignano, the only wine mentioned in the “Divine Comedy”, and the link between the poet and the territory is still inseparable today. The Consortium of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, led by Irina Guicciardini Strozzi, took its cue from that famous verse, “Guarda il calor del sol che si fa vino, giunto a l’omor che della vite cola”, in the twentieth canto of Purgatory, to organize a talk “L’Amor che de la vite cola - Health, sustainability and the territory between the culture of the vineyard and drinking well”, to explore in detail a very current topic such as health and its relationship with wine. On the other hand, for a “White Queen” with an ancient lineage like Vernaccia di San Gimignano, it is important to fight some cultural battles to unhinge certain “fake news” that hinder the diffusion of wine knowledge and risk becoming a deterrent to consumption, obviously not only for Vernaccia but for all wine producers around the world. So, at the heart of the conference, there was a debunking of a categorical and exaggerated assumption: wine is a carcinogen and is bad for your health; a parterre of high-profile speakers has been called to refute and try to overturn this extreme thesis, which has an ever-increasing centrality in the debate in venues where important decisions are made, such as the European Parliament in Brussels. The experts such as the Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and Biology at the University of Padua Fulvio Ursini, Professor Giovanni Di Gaetano, president of the Neuromed Institute and Professor Fulvio Mattivi of the Fondazione Mach San Michele all’Adige. Instead, Michele Manelli, at the helm of the Salcheto winery and vice president of Equalitas, and Giovanni Bigot, agronomist and creator of the Bigot method of evaluating the vineyard, spoke to talk about environmental issues and issues related to the health of the vineyard.
The debate that opened the “Rebel Queen Vernaccia di San Gimignano Wine Fest” aims to strengthen the bond between the territory, the wine, the passionate wine lovers, and the tourists that San Gimignano welcomes every day (there are 3 million a year, ed).
Irina Guicciardini Strozzi, the president of the Consortium, emphasized the importance of the communication campaign “Unique White Queen in the Land of Red Kings”, which launched an international path of brand positioning through a creative idea that identifies a sophisticated and feminine personification of Tuscany’s only appellation with white traction. And if Vernaccia is the Queen, the producers are “its” champions in defence of the territory and it is precisely from their hands that the future of this wine and of its entire territory passes: “through the community, we want to spread a message - said Irina Guicciardini Strozzi, president of the Vernaccia Consortium - you have to drink well and with respect for what wine represents. Wine has many facets and is a true food that has always been a part of our country’s culture. This is our message, of a wine that, from Dante’s verses to the present day, represents an entire territory and a way of life”. On stage, the medical-scientific conference speakers unanimously issued a heartfelt plea: “to understand the effects of wine on the body and on health, you need calm and a human and scientific approach at the same time”.
“We no longer have famines, we always eat, and we become overweight - begins Fulvio Ursini, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and Biology at the University of Padua - in terms of food, so we now know that what is good is also bad. It depends on the doses of intake of food. Although alcohol is scientifically proven to be a harmful substance to our bodies, there is a certain range of wine consumption that is beneficial to health. The first publication that made this concept explicit, namely that a small amount of a potentially harmful element like alcohol helps to strengthen the immune system, was in 2002. However, even today, particularly in the United States, public relations campaigns are directed against wine, which is accused of being carcinogenic. Man has been managing alcohol for a million years, and some natural enzymes responsible for managing it have improved over time: specifically, the ability to convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is one of the reasons why the human species has evolved. In an absolute sense, pleasure is an important aspect, as it is one of the mechanisms by which the human species advances, alongside nutrition, sex, and victory over the enemy. Ethanol and cancer. The issue is that epidemiologists employ what is known as a deterministic, statistical approach. Biological phenomena advance by stochastic method, with a set of unpredictable but connected variables. The primary cause of cancer is the overproduction of stem cells and is directly linked to environmental stimuli that can modify the cell genome. A link between cancer and nutrition can be found in a plate of spaghetti rather than a glass of wine. Obviously, one should not overdo either the pasta or the wine, and in general, for a proper diet, the rule is not too much of what is considered good (for example, pasta and bread) and not too little of what is considered bad (a little wine)”.
The association between the consumption of wine and that of cigarette tobacco, a parallel that science shows is not possible, is at the heart of the global health debate involving the WHO and which, in some policies of some EU member states, sees wine penalised precisely as a carcinogenic food. Professor Giovanni Di Gaetano, president of the Neuromed Institute, gave a trace of this: “there is a clear relationship between smoking an increasing number of cigarettes and the mortality rate: it grows exponentially with the number of cigarettes smoked. Instead, with alcohol, the increase in consumption does not necessarily hurt in the same way”. Wine, unlike cigarettes, has thus been included in the Mediterranean diet for many centuries and, according to Professor Giovanni Di Gaetano, is an integral and irreplaceable part of the overall diet: “the risk of dying decreases by following a combination of the Mediterranean diet, with olive oil, fish, fruit, vegetables and the right amount of carbohydrates. By removing alcohol drunk in moderation we lose the effect of the Mediterranean diet by about 20%. Wine is an integral part of this diet, it’s not a kit. The type of alcohol consumption is very important, the same amount drunk diluted over the 7 days of the week is different from the intake of the same in a single weekend. An adult can benefit from the protective effects of alcohol by drinking 0.11 to 1.87 glasses of wine per day. Up to 1.7 glasses of wine are the same level of risk as a teetotaler. Ultimately, those who follow the Mediterranean diet run less risk of getting sick”.
Another important testimony comes from Professor Fulvio Mattivi of the Fondazione Mach San Michele All’adige who relates health and the way wine is consumed: “the biomarkers of moderate wine consumption are important. And this index testifies that the quantity of wine consumed is not important, but the method. Consumption of meals improves intake by the body by joining and promoting digestion, for example. There is no need to generalize about alcohol advice, in fact when tests, examinations and research are carried out there are many variables on the subjects taken into analysis, and often only take into consideration data and statistics that only take into account the quantity of wine consumed lead to misleading results. It is important to carry out the tests and research taking into account all the factors that revolve around the glass and the intake of it, from the biomarkers present in the vineyard to the data closely related to the subject in question linked to the drinking context.
From human health to environmental health, the discussion continued with Michele Mannelli, president of Equalitas, the company that owns the standard originating from a project for sustainability certification in the wine sector launched in 2015, who spoke about the general state of environmental health: “in two centuries we have come to be 8 billion on earth. The population has grown exponentially in the last 150 years, from industrialization to today. Since 2000 we have produced more economic value than we have done in 2000 years. A situation that appears to be out of control, as even the United Nations has noted. The time has come to consider resource management in order to protect the planet and put man at the centre. As envisioned in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is shared by European governments, and the 17 scientific community-developed objectives. 56% of emissions are connected to consumer goods and now with the new EU obligations (by resolution of the European Parliament of 10 November 2022, ed) of transparency for multinationals from 1 January, the maxi companies will be obliged to disseminate data and information about the impacts of its activities. When we talk about sustainability, we must consider more than just the environmental, social, and overall integration”. The conference was then closed by Giovanni Bigot, a globetrotter agronomist and popularizer who knows well the San Gimignano area: “with the Bigot method, it is possible to clearly establish an index of the healthiness of a vineyard. Nine fundamental parameters are taken into consideration: production, exposed leaf surface (Sfe), the ratio between square meters of leaves and quantity of grapes per vine, the health of the grapes, type of bunch, water status of the plant, vegetative vigour, biodiversity and microorganisms, age of the vineyard. Precisely on the basis of my analysis I was able to observe that the territory of San Gimignano has an excellent health index thanks to its conformation from the soil to the exposure to the water supply which allows, together with biodiversity, to preserve the grapes and vineyards from damage by the climate change”.
From the same room from which the Supreme Dante Alighieri launched a heartfelt appeal to the powerful lords of San Gimignano, therefore, the Vernaccia Consortium launches a heartfelt appeal for reflection and caution, for moderate and quality consumption of wine that is not harmful to health and favours, in a certain sense, the evolution of the species; a “White Queen” who takes charge of the voice of all the “Kings” of wine, to say that wine is not evil, but on the contrary. Dante Alighieri knew it and we can know it even today, in the present times. Even Heaven, after all, is a matter of moderation.

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