By Jennifer Delaloca
What the #VIA Program is bringing to the World of Wine and what it should mean to the Native Italian Wine Market in Copenhagen
Few years ago Stevie Kim & Ian D’Agata decided to join forces and launch a new educational initiative: The Vinitaly International Academy Program. First edition took place in 2015.
The main purpose with the course is to pamper, nurse, protect, clean up, push, hail, praise and let people (re) discover the Italian legacy of native grapes together with the compelling range of different wines these grapes foster in the hands of now numerous talented wine producers throughout Italy.
Traditional and international grapes such as Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc & Cabernet Sauvignon have for decades been the most obvious, secure choices to grow in many commercially important parts of Italy with families to bread -Chardonnay, Cab S & F + Merlot all being well recognised among consumers, thus easier to sell.
But while consumers are getting ever more wise on wine, hence more critical to what they drink, an eagerness to extent the vinous horizon (finally) seems to have taken place. And this is where the decade long exhaustive work of people like Ian D’Agata (VIA Scientific Director) and the late Luigi Veronelli (founder of the Italian Veronelli Guide) comes into right, having dedicated significant parts of their lives to preserve and protect the authenticity of Italian agriculture.
Ian D’Agata, a man in his best age, is –besides from all the almost geek-terrifying wine stuff he stores mentally- also a trained medical doctor specialized in pediatric gastroenterology (management of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and liver) and pediatric liver transplants (!) (the exclamation point would be me unable to get over my impression) and has, among others, studied in important universities like Harvard, has won grants in cellular and molecular biology research and has taken the expertise gained from these medicine and research studies and ‘donated’ all of it to his continuing and tireless studies of The Native Grapes of Italy in all their biological essence. A path he’s now been on for +30 years.
The challenge of mistakenly identified grape varietals and the much needed clean up
Due to lack of other measures (like DNA-testing and biochemical methods) grapes used to be examined ampelographically (morphological visualisation of a bunch of grapes and determination of it’s organs performed only by the instrument of the human eye and the expertise belonging to who possessed that eye) until the beginning of this century. You might imagine how difficult and challenging this task has been. How do you recognize one bunch from another? They all look fairly the same, don’t they? Right, there are specific differences in between them, but I’m sure anyone who has visited a vineyard now and then -as well as plenty of times- will get my point; it can not have been easy to identify whether one certain bunch of grapes might have been Pelaverga, Vespolina or Nebbiolo. Or Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. Or Merlot (even though Merlot should be easier to recognise in the spring, it has a sort of white shoot tip that makes it different from Cabernet S & F with which it is often confused (D’Agata; 2014)).
Nevertheless the study of ampelography (in short; ‘manual’ identification of grape varietals) was and is a very precise one, being of course taking very seriously, where every detail from the bunches’ shoot tips in spring to the colours of veins are minutely examined. Nonetheless, many mistakes have been made. And a lot of work has had to be done to ‘clean up’ all the wrongly identified grapes throughout times. Unfortunately the cleaning up is definitely not over yet.
One of the biggest problems with the situation of wrongly identified grapes today occurs when a grape thought to be X (for instance, fostering one style of wine) is examined in comparison to grape Y (for instance, fostering a completely different style of wine) to figure out whether grape X and Y might or might not be the same. Scientists are capable of declaring X and Y to be in fact the same. Even though they might foster completely different wines. Appearance, aroma and flavour wise. Why could that be? Might you say, could be obvious if the grapes were cultivated in two completely different environments? You’re right. It could be. But they could also be cultivated in the same environment and still foster different wines. And scientists who have ‘proven’ them identical to each other will (most likely) remain with their conclusions. But the reason why X and Y produce completely different wines, side by side or in different environments, might well also due to an ampelographers work from back then. Who could (quite easily) have mistaken the ground material, in this example, for instance of grape X. If X wasn’t X in the first place, but an ampelographer from back then concluded it was, then scientists of today will stick to the conclusion of X being ‘X’, even though it isn’t. What are their options? Go and do all the examination of all the grapes once again. That’s one h… of task.
Let’s think of Peino Noia (Pinot Noir), like Ian says, and take one of Ian’s examples too; Peino Noia, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco all look very different to everyone (one is blue, one is pink and one is white) and foster different wines. But their genetic material is the same. Or so it seems. But anyone in his right mind will argue that they can’t possibly be. They’re different! But they aren’t, say scientists…
(Of course there’s an explanation, but it’s long and concerns (in short) how DNA testing is and can be provided. If you wish to dig deeper I suggest you buy Ian D’Agatha’s book “Native Grapes of Italy” from 2014).
All this actually also opens up another question. If so many grapes have been ampelographically mistaken in the past, how can we be sure that we’re really drinking what we think we are, when we’re having let’s say, a Barolo? Or a Barbaresco?… Well, that’s too big a question for now so I’ll let it rest.
This is all very confusing, amusing and at the same time absolutely lovely. It’s why we should be happy in Copenhagen. Because challenges like these are why Ian D’Agata has dedicated his life to Italian Native Grapes and their biological essence, stressed innumerable wine makers not to give up their sacred native vines and by all means make them native wines with all their fine material, grapes like Fenile, Picolit, Vermentino, Schioppettino and, of course, Tazzelenghe… Plus many others.
In Copenhagen we should be happy and thank ampelographers from the last century, indeed did they pave the way for today’s hungry Millennium world wine lovers, ready to look up from our main stream vanilla and chocolate flavoured glasses of wine and take our wine knowledge, passion and experience to the next level.
We should be happy in Copenhagen, because due to ampelographical challenges Ian and Stevie Kim made the VIA program possible, managing to involve wine professionals from all over the world to become completely hooked and so willingly entangled in this complicated affair of passing on the ‘new’ knowledge and understanding of these ‘new’ wines with deeper philosophies. Of nativeness.
Authenticity and deeper Philosophies of Wine
We know for a fact that consumers are looking for deeper purposes and interesting philosophies to attach to the wines they enjoy. Organic growth, biodynamic farming and natural wine making is for one a direction wine lovers around the world are keen on taking. Sustainability seems to be the most important value in this category, thus the reason to the rise of sales (Denmark has seen a strong growth of sales of organic wines and Fair-trade over the past years (source: Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nov 2016). In the extremely technologized, digital and increasingly robotized world we are all now living in, it makes perfect sense that core, fundamental values like how to take care of our planet, stands stronger than ever. ‘Nativeness’ is in this same league, together with the concept and usage of 0-km agriculture, both philosophies about keeping agriculture authentic. And sustainable. Authenticity is what we want, together with Sustainability + 0-km. It all goes hand in hand with Nativeness. These are the key words summing up the categories of wine and agriculture you and I and our times consumers are looking for.
It is know up to restaurateurs, hotels, wine shops, wine journalists and other good people from around the Globe to push the Italian Authentic Native Wine legacy to reach the recognition it deserves. Just like we’ve done with 0-km agriculture, sustainable natural, biodynamic and organic growth.
And it is my humble and honoured job as Scandinavia’s 1st Vinitaly International Academy Italian Wine Ambassador in the World, to pass on the knowledge I have in the field of Italian Native Grapes and the wines they foster by staying hungry and keep learning with the purity and excitement of a 5-year old, writing and teaching about what I now know and what I learn, continuing to import wines to Denmark, exposing them to the private market, to Horeca and certainly offering them to our guests at our restaurant (lenoteca.dk) on a frequent basis. And it’s my privileged job to invite all interested to follow me and the VIA Community on this journey, and become part in the manner that suits one the best.
The Journey has started
The journey has started and I don’t know where it’ll take us besides from right here, now and the third weekend of May 2017 (Friday 19 and Saturday 20) where I will be hosting a Franciacorta and Northern Italian White wines Dinner, to taste, discuss, enlighten our selves, and most likely meet some new lovely people too.Tickets can be purchased by going to madbillet.dk