I consider this award, in accordance with my long, we can say, scientific, academic, education activity in the past but also a stimulus to transfer the values of this award to our group, to our organization of Vinitaly International Academy.
Welcome to this special episode of “On The Road With Stevie Kim” . Today Stevie meets Professor Attilio Scienza at a special location to talk about the Masi Prize. Professor Attilio Scienza has received the Masi Civiltà del Vino award this year, moreover, the duo will also talk about his new role as chairman of the Comitato Nazionale Vini. Watch the video interview on our youtube channel Mama Jumbo Shrimp and, if you don’t happen to speak Italian, there are subtitles, or you can also read about it in English translation below!
Stevie: Okay, hi Attilioooo, how are you?
Scienza: Well Stevie, very well thank you!
Stevie: How come we’re so out of touch like this? How come we’re here?
Scienza: There is an important event today. Today is the awarding of the Masi prize.
Stevie: Okay. And you were, like, awarded in the Wine Civilization category.
Stevie: What does that mean? “International Masi Civiltà del Vino Prize”. You know it was great on Etna but we came down for this important moment of your life but also ours as a group. It’s very important to us.
Scienza: Certainly, I really want Vinitaly Internationl Academy to be involved, and this award gives this group of people greater authority because in education field where we are involved in, the education field needs spokespeople, it needs people who in a certain sense have the courage to belong. The topics that are often dealt with, are difficult topics, they are topics that are not always so well received by people. In this case, authority is an essential element to ensure that what a person says or what an organization like ours says is accepted. So, I consider this award, in accordance with my long, we can say, scientific, academic, education activity in the past but also a stimulus to transfer the values of this award to our group, to our organization of Vinitaly International Academy.
Stevie: We were in Sicily with about 20 people, we did a tour of the wineries, on Mount Etna which was a beautiful thing because it’s been a long time since anyone has actually gone there. And from all of them I say congratulations.
Scienza: Thank you.
Stevie: It’s people who have come from all over the world.
Scienza: Now we’ll see each other in Sardinia too.
Stevie: Not the same people, however with others. And this very idea of going to visit wineries, they stayed….
Scienza: It’s essential.
Stevie: Yeah. Because then…you can read about it in books, or even on the internet, you have all the pictures, videos, however, going there in person…Even the…there’s kind of an eruption today also. We had left from the airport, we came directly from the airport. Anyway, listen to me, this Masi International Prize, Masi Award, this year the theme…they always have a theme, and this year for the 40th award it is “Vision and Courage”. What does “Vision and Courage” mean to you these days?
Scienza: But I think that, these are two fundamental characteristics of those who are involved in many activities, research activities, artistic activities, those who make music, those who write, that is, I think that vision is a stimulating element, it is something that creates innovation, that creates, I would say, something new, a road to follow. And then it takes courage, because it is not only necessary to state these things, it is not only necessary to explain what happens, but also to be on this road. It also takes courage to defend your ideas in a certain sense. In this moment in which there are opposing sides, ideological, between those who believe in something and those who fight against it, those who want something and those who do not. It is very difficult, at this time, I would almost say to take a position, people prefer a conformist attitude, so not pretending whatsoever. Instead, I think that at this moment spokespeople are necessary in order to be able to take a position, I think that spokespeople are currently burdened with a responsibility, to give with their ideas, with their thoughts, with what they do, a testimony of which road to take. Here then, is just that, the vision and courage, they are a beautiful motto in this historical moment, is something that helps people who are uncertain, who are doubtful, who do not know where to stand, to make a decision. I think it’s the correct decision.
Stevie: But what are let’s say the…the advice rather, you have for Italian producers right now? First of all, how do you think they’ve lived through this pandemic? That I don’t, I don’t think it is over yet.
Scienza: But Italian winemakers, they are winemakers who live in the countryside, who live in contact with their vines, who live through the seasons, and basically, they didn’t have the worries of those who lived in closed environments, of those who had jobs in factories or offices. So, in a way, let’s say, they lived well. What was missing, I think, was the relationship with the outside world, the relationship with the world, above all with those who buy, those who communicate, and we are back to the winemaking of the ’60s and ’70s when there wasn’t great communication, when one produced wine and then waited for someone to come and take it from their cellar, not going around the world telling them what his wine was and asking them to come and buy it. That’s what I think was… Another thing I noticed, though, was a greater trust in science. The vaccine was a colossal amplifier of what science can do, the vaccine is something that frees us from the nightmare of disease, the vaccine is the result of research, the result of extraordinary efforts made by people who put their skills on the line, to produce something to help others. Here, winemakers have embraced this and transferred it to their vineyards. They understood that genetic improvement with resistant varieties, drought tolerant rootstocks, the use of digital technology in vineyards and therefore, precision viticulture, the use of satellites, are the future. These are the ways to make viticulture truly sustainable. Sustainability is this, it is to use less resources, it is to use the tools of science well, so here are on one hand the varieties that should not be treated, the rootstocks that are more efficient, the way to fertilize differently, the way to… interpret the needs of the plant. And that in my opinion has opened up great new perspectives. Winemakers have realized that this is the way they need to go.
Stevie: Listen, I have a question since we’re at Masi’s. The Masi award consists of…basically you get a little bit of wine, right? A barrel of Masi Amarone, tonight, and the contents will be divided between awardees and packaged with custom labels. I’m hoping to get at least one. That’s exactly…do you know how many bottles? 120 bottles per awardee, which is a lot actually.
Scienza: Too much.
Stevie: Yes, in front of this barrel you are one of the first scientists to discover the “Oseleta” grape variety, right? How does that change the taste of Amarone? That’s a question that comes from students. And how important is that in the blend of Valpolicella?
Scienza: Well, Oseleta was the subject of a book I wrote for Masi about twenty years ago. We used the Oseleta as an excuse to tell the story of many ancient Veronese varieties. In fact four or five are used, but there are dozens of varieties.
Stevie: There’s a little animal on the…the other side, the other side!
Scienza: Whatever keeps me company
Stevie: Okay (laughs)
Scienza: I was saying, there are so many varieties but Oseleta was a curious element because the name…the name comes from these grapes “Useline”…
Stevie: Birds? No?
Scienza: Birds because they had very small grapes, and they are vines that have a very strong genetic relationship with wild vines. Because wild vines are the object of interest by birds, it is the birds that eat the wild grapes. The “useline” then by analogy, all wild grapes are called “Useline” because they are loved by birds but because they make very small berries, being wild. Why is “Oseleta” interesting? First of all, it does not make many grapes, so the reason why it was abandoned over time is because it made few grapes, while Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara were much more productive. But it gives a very strong color, and it is a variety that wilts very well. Like all wild grapes it has this ability to wither, without getting mold, without getting, let’s say, affected by fungi. Therefore, this is a very interesting characteristic. At that time grapes could not be cultivated, thanks to Masi’s action, these grapes are included among the authorized varieties, recommended for the production of Valpolicella and Amarone, therefore now they can be used. It is not only Masi that uses it but also others use it, in small proportions, 10-15% not more, because after all the heart of this wine is made of Corvina, a grape very different from all the others. While other grapes lose water when they wither, Corvina changes its metabolism when it withers, activating certain genes within the berry’s tissues that convert substances into others, and thus gives the wine something special. If I put a Cabernet, for example, to whiter, it loses water but basically nothing changes, its aromatic structure remains the same as it was when it was on the plant. Corvina, on the other hand, is not, it is the only vine, researchers at the University of Verona have discovered, that during the drying process expresses some particular genes which are at the basis of a metabolism of the formation of some aromatic substances.
Stevie: So, I’d like to ask you a question that’s not related to the Masi award today. Now you have this new role also…I don’t see you as happy (laughs) No, but it’s an honor to be President, President right?
Scienza: Chairman of the DOC Wines Committee.
Stevie: …of DOC Wines. What does that mean exactly? What is this organization in the first place? Explain a little bit to our students especially.
Scienza: It is a fundamental organization established at the Ministry of Agriculture, which has the task of… in a certain sense, protecting, promoting wines’ appellations of origin. Italy is a country rich in appellations of origin, both DOC and IGT, altogether they are almost more than 400, therefore a very high number. But, of these, maybe a hundred are important, a hundred have a strong economic value, there are many almost unknown appellations that have very few hectares, very few producers, very few bottles but are however, as they say, a garrison, they are something that tends to a small viticulture because without this designation very often even a marginal territory would be abandoned, would not be defended. I think we cannot defend only Prosecco, or I don’t know, Barolo, or Brunello, I think we have to defend many southern territories, many small Sicilian denominations, many small Calabrian denominations, many small Abruzzese denominations. Because without the denomination, there is no pride of belonging of the vine-grower, even if he does not use it, even if he does not make a commercial use of it, but he knows that he is bound to that territory, to that soil, to that vine by something that protects him, something that covers him. The denominations of origin are this, then, what does the committee do? The Committee receives a series of proposals from the bodies in the territories, which are the Region, the Consortia, which are proposals to change the specifications. The disciplinary is not a rigid dogma, there are many things that must change over time, for example, I do not know, the sugar level, I do not know, the extract and then the territory that must be reduced or enlarged, the types of wine that must be more suitable for a world market, and so on. So, these proposals are submitted to the Committee, the Committee is made of two commissions, a normative commission and a technical commission, they evaluate the proposals to modify the disciplinary, they give their opinion, the disciplinary is modified and the Committee ratifies this modification. After that, the new, the new wording of the disciplinary goes to the Official Gazette and becomes after operative in the next vintage. This is a pretty hard work, especially if one thinks it should not be just a way to keep tradition…
Stevie: But listen, though, the job requires …it’s a maintenance type job….
Scienza: No, even just modification
Stevie: and how…one of the students in Enna asked me just that: how are they, let’s say, processed when requests are made by the Consortia, right? I assume.
Scienza: So, the Consortium makes a request but it has to present a request with documentation, that is it has to have done a research, to say that the things that I ask you to modify are supported by these researches. So, I don’t know, the introduction of a new variety, the modification of the sugar level, the modification of the extract, the modification of the type of wine, some types don’t go with specification anymore, they made new ones, you know? All these things must be motivated by a technical profile and an economic-commercial one. So, I have to introduce these changes if they make sense, if they have a concrete impact on the territory. Because before arriving there, the Consortium makes a series of meetings with the associates of that Consortium, asks them what to modify. This is an act of great democracy. Because it is not the Consortium in the Board of Directors that decides but to do this… Because I want the minutes, the Committee asks the Consortium for the minutes of the meetings, it wants to know what happened, it must not be a choice of a few, it must be a choice of all or of the majority at least. After that I, I look at that yes, they have had five meetings, these are the criticisms they have brought, these are the proposals they have made, now it can be done.
Stevie: But listen, on this committee, how many of you are there, and who are they?
Scienza: There are three people who are appointed by the Minister, the President and two experts, the one in oenology and the one in viticulture. All the others are appointed by the categories.
Stevie: What do you mean?
Scienza: The categories are the trade unions, the producers’ associations, then, I don’t know, the Italian Wine Union, then Federdoc… that is, all the categories propose a representative and all these people defend sectoral interests that are not only for the category but for the whole sector. There is a common good to defend.
Stevie: But instead the so called disciplinary, right?
Scienza: The specification is what gets modified.
Stevie: …that the one though that gets changed by the Committee?
Stevie: So, the whole specification…how does that work?
Scienza: No some elements of the specification are changed. The specification has its own structure that is the result of a long journey.
Stevie: But is the specification dependent on the mipaaf, Ministry…?
Scienza: Yes, the specification was built, it was put in the Official Gazette. The Official Gazette lists the specification in the year the DOC was made. For example, the DOCs are from the 1960s, in 1965 law 930 was established for the…then there was the amendment of 994 later. In these fifty years, sixty years more or less or seventy also depends on the DOC, all the specifications were built. Each area, has delimited its territory, has indicated the grape varieties, has indicated the wine, all these things have been accepted, they have then compared the categories with the Consortia and have then published. This publication remains a fixed document, to which to refer, do you understand? It is what gives the reference. It is clear that over time you cannot have a specification made fifty years ago, many things have happened. The specification is then modified in some points, some areas are restricted, others are enlarged, if it is deemed necessary to increase the surface area. I don’t know, the varieties are modified, some varieties are removed, others are added. The extract is increased or decreased, a sparkling wine is introduced along with a still wine. That is, they are all things that need to be normalized within that specification.
Stevie: There was…because, I was down with the guys, there was this discussion between them, about how come there’s only one DOCG in all of Sicily?
Scienza: Eh… it is a matter of a request, then among other things of a not so important wine.
Stevie: Yes, Cerasuolo di Vittoria.
Scienza: Exactly, that is not a wine at all…Mah because in fact…
Stevie: It’s also little known! I dare say.
Scienza: In the past, it was thought that DOCG was a communication tool and instead it is the beginning of a path. If you introduce a DOCG you introduce much stricter rules, because while in the DOC the tasting, for example, is done only to ascertain that there is a certain correspondence between the type of wine and territory, DOCG requires a comparison of quality. In other words, in DOCG the judgment is much more rigid, the norms are much stricter. A particular back label is affixed, which has its own cost, you know? There are some complications that very often do not give an economic advantage. Because now, if you look there was a moment when they asked for DOCG but now there is no one who asks for DOCG, (laughs) because…
Stevie: It’s because it’s too expensive!
Scienza: No, it’s a complication, it doesn’t give the expected results. Because the DOCG is more of an act of, shall we say, self-education on the part of the producer. A producer from a territory where the DOCG is made feels much more…
Stevie: …superior in a way, right?
Scienza: No, much more constrained, much more involved in production. I mean it’s a very strong act of responsibility, the producer is much more empowered.
Stevie: They also feel a little bit more superior though, don’t you think? I mean there’s this side and this word “Guaranteed”?
Scienza: Sure. This is of great use abroad, especially. I have to say that’s a value that has value especially abroad.
Stevie: Yes, it can be.
Scienza: For example, I don’t know, “Guaranteed” serves a lot in Germany, it serves a lot in the Swiss market. There are some markets that need that word “Guaranteed” because there’s the state stamp on it.
Stevie: That’s right.
Scienza: This certification of the state that gives an extra guarantee, you know? But I see that now there is not a great demand for DOCG, because… It takes a wine of a certain weight, I do not know to make a Brunello, to make a Chianti Classico, you can make a Barolo, a Barbaresco, a Roero, there are many wines that… Well, in Trentino there is no one who has a DOCG, in Alto Adige there is no one who has a DOCG. That is, there are areas that want it but others that do not believe it is an important commercial or communicative strategy.
Stevie: I got it. All right. Okay, I think you need to go because you’re the guest of honor. Okay, let’s say goodbye then to our students. Congratulations again, I thought you were retiring then you had less to do so you could devote more time to Vinitaly International Academy….
Scienza: I have hope…
Stevie: What do you mean?
Scienza: That comes from my own experience. I’ve always put a lot of work into others.
They both laugh.
Stevie: All right, with that…that is a wrap and again man of the hour Professor Attilio Scienza! And this is Everybody needs a bit of Scienza series for Italian Wine Podcast. Ciao ragazzi!
Stevie: Ciao, ciao!