Wine Blog

Can The Future of Wine Excel Thanks to Multidisciplinary Contamination?

The future of wine, or at least the future of Italian wine, was discussed at an event organized by the Uva Sapiens Consultancy Group in Veneto some months ago. Uva Sapiens is a team of vine and wine consultants founded by Mattia Filippi, Umberto Marchiori, and Roberto Merlo 10 years ago. In December last year, they celebrated their 10th anniversary by organizing a panel discussion event where they invited key figures from different sectors to talk about the future of wine.

The speakers were:

  • Stefano Mancuso, Professor of Vegetal Neurobiology, General Arboriculture, and Tree Crops at the University of Florence
  • Master of Wine Andrea Lonardi
  • Professor Attilio Scienza, University of Milan
  • Anthropologist Paolo Scarpi, University of Padova
  • Mattia Binotto, Engineer, Ex-Team Principal at the Ferrari Stable
  • Danilo Gasparino, Food Historian at University of Padova
  • Moderator: Fabio Piccoli’, Wine Meridian

Uva Sapiens aimed to delve deeper into the future of wine in a multidisciplinary manner with their event. More precisely, they think of it as contaminations from different fields that in a sort of patchwork can come together and create a solution for the future. Before starting their project, the founders of Uva Sapiens observed how the many figures within wine consulting often operated isolated from each other, in a silo context, which led to fragmented results. They saw a multidisciplinary, i.e. a contaminated, approach as central right from the start.

Contaminated Thoughts at the Uva Sapiens Event

The “outside” contaminations came mainly from Professor Stefano Mancuso, Mattia Binotto, the Ex Team Principal at the Ferrari Stable, and Anthropologist Paolo Scarpi.

Mancuso pointed out how plants are the basis of life but also the possibility that life itself exists. He continued: “We animals, on the other hand, are an insignificant portion of the planet: 0.3% of the biomass while plants represent 85% of living organisms.”

Binotto gave more “structured” thoughts by underlining how research and development are not based on creativity but rather on “a process made up of programming, method, and rigorous approach.” Coherence and consistency are other important parts of reaching success. Binotto, of course, referred to his experience at Ferrari and Formula 1 where scrupolous methods and structure are central but also the acceptance of failure as a way to grow. He introduced terms such as setting objectives, consistency, and coherence to reach your objectives, etc. which are not always common in the Italian wine world yet.

Anthropologist Paolo Scarpi continued on the historical side by diving deep into the relationship between man and wine in the past, present, and future and the importance of having a classical, historical foundation to stand on.

Wine Thoughts in Search of Contamination

If we look at the speakers from “inside the wine sector”, let us start with Professor Scienza followed by MW Andrea Lonardi.

Professor Scienza’s Take on Vocation and Terroir

Professor Scienza went in-depth into the concept of “vocazione”, i.e. vocation or “suitability. He underlined that “vocation of a territory is the suitability it has to produce something.” Scienza also sees it linked to mankind and its capacity to inhabit and give value to a territory, because he stresses that nature without human interaction is something indefinite.

I found it very interesting when he talked about the values that terroir and appellations were based on in ancient Greece. Scienza stressed that in ancient times a wine was not well-known for being good, interesting, from a certain place, made with a certain grape variety, or similar. Rather, he continued, the appellations in ancient times were located along the roads, close to hamlets and villages, basically everywhere where it was possible to sell the wine. He calls this the “ambiguity” of terroir.

In this context, he referred also to how European agriculture developed along via Francigena in the past, as a way to give hospitality, wine, and food to people passing by. Areas such as Alsace, Burgundy, Oltrepó, Chianti, etc. were created thanks to via Francigena. It makes sense that central agricultural areas were created where the farmers managed to sell their products. This would mean that even if a certain territory could give a certain expression to a wine it was secondary to the commercial side of wine production.

A vineyard in Modigliana, expression of terroir?

If we return to talk about terroir, Scienza put authenticity in relation to terroir as a way to define its true inner life, that is the expression of the territory that we want to give to a wine. Our capacity to interpret a terroir becomes decisive for expressing the authenticity of a territory in a wine. This takes us back to the human interaction with nature.

Scienza further stressed the difference between innate and acquired quality. Innate quality, he says, refers to what is in the viticultural environment, the terroir, the pedoclimatic conditions, the grape variety, the human interaction, and so forth while acquired quality has to do with the transformation of the wine in the cellar. The quality of terroir has nothing to do with the quality you can create during the production process in the cellar. Scienza thinks that the concept of quality needs to be re-elaborated in Italy for the future.

Another interesting point that Scienza discussed, was his idea that “excellence” as an added dimension to quality can give a different kind of value to a product, i.e. make it stand out. He further sees the value of the person who produces wine and the value of the person who consumes/buys the wine as essential parameters of excellence. Scienza argues that these values or parameters are not considered much in the sales structure of today.

This fits with the current discussion going on about the drop in wine sales, and the incapacity of the wine industry to listen to or want to understand what the consumers want to buy. I do not think the issues discussed above are linked only to Italy today but rather to the entire wine industry. Italy indeed is a multifaceted wine country with a rich heritage of native grape varieties and many appellations that are often hard to grasp, but that is also what makes it fascinating and what defines the Italian way. Of course, the wine industry in general needs a transformation to redefine authenticity, value, and appeal to the consumers.

Still, I agree with Professor Scienza that the concepts of identity, terroir, quality, and value have to be re-elaborated. The number of wines each producer offers or that can be produced in each appellation probably also needs to be redimensioned to arrive at a more rational proportion of wine in general.

The other day, I read the article Time to Stop Wine’s Endless Divisions by W. Blake Gray in Wine Searcher which talks about Franciacorta’s recent zoning project that divides the area into 134 subzones. This could be related to Professor Scienza’s argument that the terroir in the past referred to one wine that represented the authenticity of the territory. In that sense, the subdivision of many subzones probably was superfluous also.

Gray continues to argue that a lot of appellations not only in Italy but all over the world, have divided their territories into subzones but that it is mainly the people within the wine industry themselves – “oenophiles” – that are living in a “happy bubble”, a so-called siloed mentality as I just argued in a LinkedIn post the other day. Blake stresses that to buy, drink, and enjoy wine as a consumer you do not need to take lots of sommelier courses, WSET courses, or study for MW, it is enough to buy and drink wine.

You don’t need to take a multi-week course to drink wine, or even to write about it, and it hurts wine’s image to give the impression that you need specialized knowledge to enjoy it.

says W. Blake Gray

Robert Joseph, wine thinker, wine consultant, and journalist, also wrote in a recent article in Meininger’s International about how “wine needs more seducers and fewer educators.” Joseph argues that wine is just one of many interests a person can have and it does not mean he or she needs to learn everything about wine to be able to buy and enjoy wine. According to Joseph:

We need to stop banging on about education and start to talk about fascination and seduction. Those of us who wish more people knew more about wine should focus our efforts on introducing as many as we can to vinous experiences that, to use a quaint old Victorian expression, ‘catch their fancy’. We need to remember that the best teachers some of us were lucky enough to have had were the ones who didn’t say “this is what you have to know to pass your exams” but said and did things that ignited flames that live on in the work we happily do, or the hobbies we happily pursue as adults.

Ryan Opaz expresses opinions along the same line in his article New Wine Drinkers on Medium, where he argues that the wine industry for a long time has relied on educating people/consumers about what wine they should drink and how.

Why can’t we just ask people to choose a glass of wine based on what they like, not what we think they should like? Or pick their next wine by finding a label they connect with? (…) Today, we don’t have an issue with people wanting to taste, drink, and explore. We have a problem with the industry letting go of what once worked well in marketing their bottles in place of a new style of communication for these bottles.

I think that education is important but I also think that it is vital to distinguish between when higher or further education is essential, for example for research and development or for wine professionals to carry out a certain job, and when education or detailed information is much less important. Consumers, in general, want to buy wine and enjoy it, I do not think they want to be told all the details behind a wine. I do think they like to be intrigued by a story about the wine, a story that enchants or seduces them.

I also believe that the division of an appellation into subzones such as has been done in Barolo, Chianti Classico, and recently Franciacorta (all right perhaps not 134 subzones!!) can make sense at some level but it does not mean that consumers or any of us for that matter should be required to know them. If someone wants to be able to memorize the subzones, kudos to that person, but that is not what wine education is about. It would be old school like when studying history in the past was all about memorizing dates, years, numbers, and events rather than analyzing the deeper structures and meanings.

In my opinion, the wine industry today, especially wine education, is not only a big money-making machine but it is also still in an “old-school” phase where memorizing a lot of information and drinking wine from the big, mainly French, appellations is what counts. To further apply the knowledge to something outside those parameters and see the “longue durée” so to speak is not always easy. Today, you get a very good wine education with a standard wine educational mindset that reigns, copying what most everyone else does. However, to stand out and be great you need to step away from the crowd and have an open and “innovative mindset” (Priscilla Hennekam wrote about this in a post on LinkedIn) with critical thinking.

I got a bit away from the topic here but you get the picture…

What’s in a Style, What’s in a Wine?

MW Andrea Lonardi presented his view on the concept of style in the wine world. He argued that style can function as a sort of elevator pitch for a wine that includes its typical characteristics and refers to its identity, values, territory, and more. Lonardi then talked about how the style should furthermore be connected to a stylistic model – such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa, Rhone, etc. – that wine should be modeled after to make it easier for the consumer, especially the fine wine buyer/investor, to decode a wine. But do we honestly want to model the whole wine industry on what a small group of fine wine people think is important? Should we not start to broaden our perspectives? Lonardi further considers style an Anglo-Saxon approach to wine.

Lonardi has been working with the rebranding of Bertani winery in Valpolicella in Veneto for the last ten years, doing a great job of refreshing the values and the image of the winery and its wines. Other than focusing on the concept of style, Lonardi also talked about the importance of values, history, and traditions and how they could be included in a style. His big critique was that Italy has not been able to create any grand styles of wine as in France.

If we look at Lonardi’s presentation it has been discussed by other Italian MW students such as Alessandro Torcoli in the past (2018 and 2019), for example in articles in Civiltá del bere. Torcoli argued that style can define a territory and its identity and lay the ground for an appellation. I don’t know who was first to launch the concept, perhaps Lonardi.

The presentation got me thinking a lot, there seemed to be something at the back of my mind that told me to research the meaning of style. Nevertheless, I like this fresh new hypothesis on how to define appellations and wine. However, style can mean many things, it is not as clear cut as Lonardi wants to make it seem in my opinion. Furthermore, I think style art a certain point is confused with branding here.

If we look at the definition of “style” etymologically it stems from the Latin word “stilus” meaning mainly “instrument of writing” which then developed to “mode of writing or of a particular writer” and in turn to “modes of expression in other activities”, then to a “distinctive manner of external presentation, and to any particular mode or form” (by the 18th century).

In the Oxford Dictionary of English, “style” has several different definitions. It can be

  • the particular way in which something is done – like a style of management, play, music, etc.
  • a particular design of something, especially clothes
  • the features of a book, painting, building, etc. that make it typical of a particular author, artist, historical period, etc.
  • the correct use of language

The particular way in which something is done and the features of a book, painting, building, etc. that make it typical of a particular author, artist, historical period, etc. are probably the two definitions that could work in this context. Still, I find it problematic to apply style as the main “denominator” of the identity of an appellation. I do agree though that style can refer back to territory and its identity. Lonardi mentioned that an appellation based on style can have many levels of quality but one style. I think the definition of an appellation’s identity and values, a sort of branding, does not necessarily mean it has only one style. This is because style can have many meanings and layers.

I did a poll on LinkedIn to ask people what “wine style” means to them. There were 65 replies of which

  • 17 understand style as related to the type of wine, for example sparkling, rosé, etc.
  • 8 think of style as a sort of elevator pitch about a wine
  • 23 see style as related to the identity of a territory
  • 17 replied to the category “Other”. When I asked for clarification from a couple of contacts they mentioned they chose this option because for them style is a mix of many factors.

Even if 35% of the votes had chosen “style” as referring to the identity of a territory, I still believe it is more complex than that. The comments on the post expressed opinions such as

  • that style refers to how a wine is made, oaked or unoaked, with what grape variety, leading to substyles such as round, full-bodied, etc.
  • that style refers mainly to the winemaker, the technique, aging in barrel, cement egg, thus non-traditional, or other.
  • that style mostly relates to whether it is white, red, rose, sparkling etc, but also to its body, how it is produced, and the characteristics.
  • that style first looks at whether the wine is still, sweet, or sparkling, then color, acidity, aromas, body, and many other factors such as grape variety, terroir, winemaker’s hand, etc.
  • one comment from a person not from the wine world said that style here first and foremost makes him think of branding.

I think there is confusion here between model, style, and what is branding, brand image, and the definition of the identity and parameters of an appellation. I also believe more in the reasoning of Professor Scienza regarding terroir, its expression, its relationship to vocation, and the definition of quality.

I liked the comment on my LinkedIn post from my contact who is not involved in wine at all who said it sounds like branding to him. I think this gives a hint that the wine industry needs to get out of its bubble and get input from the outside world.

Anyway, I am no expert on how a style is created, or the parameters for the emergence of an overarching style. I am not sure if an overarching style like say Baroque music, Rock and Roll, or Rococo style in architecture and art, Impressionism, Beat poets, etc. is the result of schools of thought, political and structural events in the world, generational changes or if you can just create it by defining the identity of, for example, a territory. I think natural wine is a sort of wine style that has emerged because of certain beliefs. ‘I think Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Etna, etc. are models based on identity, territory, pedoclimatic conditions, values, rules of production, and much more but I would not define them as overarching styles. But that is my opinion and I might be completely wrong. The beauty is that ideas like these create thought and contemplation, and help us to move forward.

Rowen and me at the Uva Sapiens event

Concluding Thoughts

The panel about the future of wine organized by Uva Sapiens was a great and thought-provoking event and I am very happy that I was invited. I think the idea about contaminations to look upon wine from different fields is very interesting and very much needed. I imagine that many thoughts that were presented at the event can become important for the development of the wine sector.

I believe the event had some inconsistencies that, just as Mattia Binotto argued, can be seen as things to do better the next time. Here, I am thinking of the total lack of a female speaker on the panel that to some extent gives a message that wine is still a male-dominated world. In my opinion, it should be natural by now in 2024 for there to be almost equal input from men and women. It should not be necessary to need to mention it.

Furthermore, I feel that dialogue is the only way to move forward in the wine world and there was a certain lack of dialogue at the event in Veneto. It was the delivery of 5 separate monologues from 5 men of which 2 probably in their 50s, and the others over 60 if not over 70. Followed by a fun performance where the historian Danilo Gasparini interviewed the historical figure Jules Guyot, played by an actor. All men. However, it is true, like my friend and historian Bruno Spaepen said, that to have a dialogue and broader discussion each presenter needs to be prepared to question and be questioned about his beliefs.

Well, I am in no way trying to be negative or overcritical but rather to comment and raise constructive questions. Also, to question myself, and my beliefs, and think about how to move forward. An event like the one by Uva Sapiens that manages to raise a lot of questions and room for improvement is, in my opinion, a successful event.

Katarina Andersson

Seen often at wine events streaming live, Katarina is a wine writer, wine educator, social media strategist, and translator. She is the founder of WinesOfItaly LiveStream. She has been a guest at The Cellar, hosted by Richard Glover, at Wine Two Five, a podcast hosted by Stephanie Davis and Valerie Caruso, and at the Twitter chat #WiningHourChat founded by Li Valentine.

3 thoughts on “Can The Future of Wine Excel Thanks to Multidisciplinary Contamination?”

  1. Hello dear Katarina, I read your excellent text where the expertise from a incredible team was put to create reflections.
    Amazing points off view like: “We animals, on the other hand, are an insignificant portion of the planet: 0.3% of the biomass while plants represent 85% of living organisms” from Professor Stefano Mancuso, and Professor Attilio Scienza and the “excellence” like a added dimension to a kind of wine.
    I will read and read other times to deep in catch the sense of a universe of our ancestral delight.
    There is not only one wine, there is not only one experience, there is not only one people but a infinite way of life, diverse. Each culture, each country, each purchasing power, and we have years and years to try understand what, the best wine is coming, and we have to put the real wine wiht a strongewst power deep in our hearts: wine is not only a product is history, cultures, is passion. To me the real focus to put excellence in the labels is put the real passion in the bottles.
    At the moment; the woke agenda, with the cultural values invertion, and the farmers situation around the world, threatened by her, show to us dependents of food (grapes are farmers product) the real trouble, the real enemy.
    Wine is diversity, is multicultural, and is not can be stolen from the humanity by false leaders.
    Best regards!

    Reply
    • Hi Nilson, thank you for your comment. Sorry, that the comment had disappeared for a while. There were indeed many interesting thoughts and point of views that were discussed at the conference in Veneto about the future of wine.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for this interesting article, Katarina! The discussion about terroir was particularly thought-provoking. I’m curious to learn more about Professor Scienza’s idea of “acquired quality” in the context of terroir.

    Reply

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