Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tasting Terroir in Verona at Vinitaly

Vinitaly is one of the biggest wine fairs in the world and welcomes thousands of producers from Italy and abroad. It takes place in the city of Verona every year.

Verona is a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its unique urban architecture and structure, characterized by well-preserved monuments from different periods (e.g. Roman, Medieval, Renaissance). One of the most famous tourist attractions is the Arena di Verona (photo 1), the third largest Roman amphitheater in existence. Here, concerts and opera performances take place quite often during the summer.


Photo 1: Arena di Verona


During the month of April, Verona becomes very crowded as wine experts and enthusiasts from around the world gather in the city to participate in Vinitaly. One of the most popular stands at the fair is called “VIVIT”, which stands for “Vigne, Vignaioli and Terroir”, meaning vineyards, winegrowers and terroir

In this stand, I found producers from 4 countries: Italy (the most represented), Georgia, France and Slovenia (represented by Cotar and Movia, photos 2 & 3). Giuseppe Ferrua (photo 4), owner of the company "Fabbrica di San Martino" and president of the association VI.TE (Vignaioli e Territori), said that all the producers at VIVIT have been practicing organic agriculture for at least three years. Also, he noted that at the VIVIT stand one finds almost exclusively the winegrowers showing and describing their products, whereas in other stands there are often marketing and sales representatives.

Furthermore, at VIVIT there are only small-scale wine producers that strongly believe in the importance of making wine sustainably using traditional winemaking techniques.  The winegrowers of VIVIT do not use systemic chemicals on the vine, but mostly copper and sulphur. Also, the winegrowers practice spontaneous fermentation and try to emphasize the local terroir.

photo 2: Vasja Cotar



photo 3: Movia's Stand



photo 4: Giuseppe Ferrua (on the right)



Terroir is a French term that refers to the unique relationship between humans, the environment, the vineyards, the climate, the soil, and local traditions. All these factors make possible to produce wines that reflect the territory where they are made and do not heavily depend upon controlling techniques of the winemaker.

At the VIVIT stand I met Sandi Skerk (photo 5), winegrower from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. The terroir of Skerk’s estate is characterized by little red earth, very rich of minerals and iron, and lots of limestone rock. The presence of little earth leads to a slow growth of the grapes and thus small production of wine. This area, known as Carso, is also influenced by a dry climate, the presence of strong winds such as the Bora and the nearby sea and mountains. According to Skerk, the organic and biodynamic certifications are important but are not enough to produce wine in a sustainable way. In fact, it is crucial to follow the tecniques of previous generations of winegrowers, who always did fermentation with the skins of the grape and made only use of copper, instead of systemic chemicals, in the vineyards.

Photo 5: Sandi Skerk


At VIVIT I also met a French producer named Jean Luc Hubert (photo 6), proprietor of two estates: Château Peybonhomme Les Tours, close to the river Gironde and the city of Bordeaux, and Château La Grolet. These two estates give rise to two completely different wines. The former is very fruity, whereas the latter is very mineral and spicy.

In 1999, Jean Luc realized that his wines lacked originality and the production process was not sustainable, so in 2000 he introduced biodynamic principles to his vineyards, also to accentuate the effect of the terroir in the wine.

His wines are certified both organic and biodynamic (Demeter certification). This year is the third time that he participates in Vinitaly and he appreciates the spirit of the winegrowers of VIVIT.

Photo 6: French winegrower Jean Luc Hubert (on the left)


At VIVIT there was also a Georgian producer named Ramaz Nikolazde (photo 7). I already met him in Romagna during a study trip that I did in September with my university (i.e. University of Gastronomic Sciences). During the event “An So Miga Fora”, a collaboration project involving Italian and Georgian winegrowers, Ramaz showed the ancient tradition of making wine using the Kvevri, an underground clay jar, which is used for fermentation (photo 8). This tradition dates back to 8.000 years  ago and was adopted also by the Romans. The wine is fermented for up to 6 months and is often drunk to celebrate religious and secular events and rituals. In December 2013, this winemaking technique has also been included in UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity since it is a tradition that been passed down from generation to generation and represents an important part of Georgian identity and culture. The wine made by Ramaz is organic but is not certified. In fact, he believes that his customers trust him, so there is no need of certification, which would lead to higher costs of production.

Photo 7: Georgian winegrower Ramaz Nikoladze (on the right)



Photo 8: Ramaz in Romagna pouring the grapes in the kvevri


Visiting the VIVIT stand is a great opportunity to learn more about the world of organic and biodynamic wines, which still represents a niche market but is slowly expanding as more people become interested in tasting wines produced with traditional techniques and fully respecting the environment. The wines that one finds at VIVIT are always different as they are the pure expression of the area of production.
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Location: Verona VR, Italia