Have you heard about PIWI?

First of all, according to PIWI International, PIWI is a German acronym for Pilzwiderstandsfähige Rebsorten and stands for fungus resistant grape varieties. These were created by crossing European grape varieties and American fungus resistant varietals.  Most of them still are known as hybrids or interspecific varietals and were first used in France from 1880 to 1935.

The aim was to combine the good resistance to diseases and phylloxera of the American grape varieties with the high quality of European varietals. Unfortunately these new varietals were not able to survive on their own root. Today there’s a whole new generation of PIWIs, the result of decades of crossings created since the 1950s, some of which are showing real promise.

So, why PIWI has been called as “the wine of the future”? Because these grapes are resistant to the two main diseases: the downy and powdery mildew. This is the reason why every year traditional grape varieties have to be treated chemically 6 – 16 times, depending on weather conditions. Originally these fungus illnesses were not a problem in European viticulture, since they were not native. Every time a wine grower treats his vines, he sprays chemicals on them and this is how theses substances end up in nature.

Currently there are 550 PIWI winegrowers with vineyards in 9 countries in Europe: Belgium, Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria. The environmental benefits of PIWIs are not in doubt. The key question will be: how well do they stack up on the taste front? PIWIs are definitely having a moment…coming soon to a vineyard near you.

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Climate change and wine quality

Sometimes I hear around that higher alcohol level means a high quality wine. I really don’t know where, who and when this came from. So far, after some experience tasting wines I have never seen any correlation between quality and alcohol level. So let’s try to discuss it.

Before trying to understand the consequences of global warming and climate change on wine, we must first understand and define what factors influence the quality of wine. While grape quality and climate play a significant role, post-harvest winemaking techniques such as maceration, fermentation, extraction, and aging also influence wine flavors immensely. But here lets focus on grape quality.

With the gradual increase in temperature and changes in the periods of rain and drought, we have also seen a significant change in the grape ripening time and consequently in the harvest period. As the ripening time decreases, we can also observe a change in the organoleptic composition of the must, which may affect the expected characteristics of certain terroirs.

Another considerable factor is the increase in sugar concentration in the grape and the decrease in acidity. Increasing sugar concentration causes an increase in alcoholic gradation at the end of fermentation. Often alcohol volume reduction techniques need to be used to maintain the characteristics and style of a particular type of wine.

So when we get into a quality discussion we need to understand that some factors resulting from global warming can cause a very significant change in the taste, aroma and texture characteristics of wine. In order to build an assessment that gives a sense of the changes that are taking place, it is very important to perform vertical tastings or even to take notes of your tastings over the vintages for a comparative study.

As a direct result of climate change we are already seeing drastic changes in some producing regions. Can you imagine a Portuguese grape variety as part of the Bordeaux blend? The wine world is changing very fast.

The real influence of a digital wine influencer.

The term influencer has never been so trending as it is today. Simply browsing unintentionally on social networks like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram you will be bombarded by suggested content from what analytic data processing engines have defined as your interest from your web behavior.

Over the past few years, no more than five or six, we have seen stories of ordinary people who, by documenting and recording their daily lives, have accumulated a legion of followers. The marketing industry quickly saw this as a good way to promote products and services. But why this organic micro blog interaction became so important to promote brands, products and services? A fact about humans is that by empathy we tend to copy the lifestyle of those with whom we identify. Thus, seeing a person using a product or consuming a service influences us to do the same. Promoting content from a truly organic audience is much more genuine, authentic, and effective than a banner ad on a web page.

As in many businesses, this new way of promoting products and services has also come to the wine market at some point. Until then, the advertising campaigns in the area of alcoholic beverages was based on artists in moments of pleasure tasting a glass of wine. Mostly older men flirting or accompanied by beautiful attractive women in a classic bar scene. This is not effective anymore. From the rise of Generation Y onwards, the optics of consumption have changed and the concept of lifestyle has had a much greater influence on consumer relations. The optics of property have been continually replaced by the optics of use. Having a car has become less relevant than getting around with the comfort of a car as we see in the example of Uber.

From this, people have developed a lifestyle identification with relatively anonymous characters on social media. Ask yourself why do you follow and give likes on photos of a unknown sommelier from a Hong Kong restaurant that you have never heard of, had the first contact from a content search engine on Instagram and thereafter followed him. The question we need to think about from this is what is the real influence that such people have on our action to choose a product or service? Another important question is what would be the impact if you knew that the photo you are viewing on Instagram is a paid ad for a product or service?

Precisely the answer to this second question has changed the way digital marketing has taken place after the first move. In the specific case of wine, biased posts have not been very well accepted by the audience. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that the public that consumes this kind of information is usually an audience that cultivates a passion for the product itself and, as a result, usually tends to have a greater knowledge about it.

By observing how certain content has emerged promoting major brand products and services we can understand that the main focus has been to use social media profiles with less followers and that do not have a behavior visibly associated with paid or sponsored content. This behavior change has been observed mainly in the wine market and one of several possibilities for this change is related to the credibility and authenticity of the social media profiles of the so-called digital influencers.

In countries where wine is not a traditional and widely consumed product like Brazil, this change is even more profound. Wine consumption in Brazil is restricted to the wealthier social classes and is associated with social status. The wine consumer in Brazil is highly educated and tends to devote himself to the study of wine in tasting groups with friends. Thus, content related to this audience is expected to necessarily have credibility.

From these observations we can draw as a possible conclusion that the audience perception for paid social media content for the wine market is not the same as that observed in mass product markets. Marketing promotion strategies have been undergoing considerable changes since their emergence in order to adapt to the concept of influence in this specific market.

Protect the artisans, said Angelo Gaja.

“An artisan does what he does for passion and not to please the market”

Angelo Gaja

On July 15 2019 my classmates and I were received by Angelo Gaja at the Cantina Gaja Barbaresco headquarters, the Castello Palazzo dei Galleani built in 1695 by Giovanni Galleani. He greeted us all with a brief and firm handshake and gave himself to each of us his business card. Angelo was accompanied by his kind son Giovanni Gaja.

Angelo began with a brief explanation of the castle’s history and restoration while introducing us to the Riedel wine glass and decanter room.

Then we went to the tasting room where Angelo told us about his family history, his winery history and also a bit of what he thinks about global warming and climate change. Angelo made a passionate defense of the artisan producers and explained to us what it means in terms of innovation in the world of wine. According to him the artisan production is fundamental to the preserve traditions and also to have new approaches to production as a counterpoint to the mass industrial production.

About climate change, Angelo said it is impossible to deny climate change and global warming because changes are visible not only at the vineyards but also in the wines. With climate changes the grapes have matured prematurely causing a change in the volatile compounds present in the must. In addition, the sugar levels in the grape have risen bringing as a result wines with an alcohol content about 2 or 3 degrees more than 40 years ago.

It is a fact that global warming has caused great changes in the viticulture profile not only in Barolo and Barbaresco. Winemakers have sought to adapt to this by planting vineyards in higher altitude plots to maintain the ideal temperature or even seeking to exchange varieties of grapes looking for others that best suit the new conditions.

For me personally it was a great experience to listen to Angelo Gaja’s words. I was very surprised by their political view and thoughts. Also how he have been facing the need of changes. I know a lot of new people who do not have a third of the joviality and energy of Angelo Gaja.

Words that I recorded well:

“Fare questo lavoro ci permette di avere un piede nella natura e un piede nel mondo. E in futuro diventirà sempre più importante avere un lavoro per cui si ha passione”

Angelo Gaja

Production of fine wines in the Brazilian semi-arid region

Brazil produces wine since the beginning of its colonization. But was the arrival of the first Italian immigrants in 1875 that brought importance to the activity. Currently the production of fine wines in Brazil reaches 10,000 hectares of Vitis vinifera grapes, divided mainly among six regions: Serra Gaúcha, Campanha, Serra do Sudeste and Campos de Cima da Serra, in Rio Grande do Sul, Planalto Catarinense, in Santa Catarina , and the São Francisco Valley, in the Northeast of the country.

There are approximately 150 wineries making fine wines scattered throughout the country. The Brazilian wine industry is still formed by about 1,000 other wineries, most of them installed in small farms (an average of 2 hectares per family), dedicated to the production of table wines or artisan wines. In all, between vitis vinifera and table grapes, the area covered by vineyards in the country is approximately 89,000 hectares, in poles located from north to south.

In the São Francisco Valley, 15% of Brazil’s fine wines are produced – only Vale dos Vinhedos, in Rio Grande do Sul, has more expressive numbers. Wine production in the region began during the colonization, but gained importance in the 1970s.

With stony soil, few rainfall (less than 400 mm per year) and lots of sun and heat, the Brazilian semi-arid is not the typical place where you would expect to find wineries. But it is precisely the combination of climate and irrigation that allows grape maturation to occur more rapidly and several times a year. With the most modern techniques of pruning and irrigation allied to the climate of the region it is possible to have harvest several times in the same year.

Centopassi, wines a hundred steps from Mafia.

I cento passi (The hundred steps) is an Italian film released in 2000, directed by Marco Tullio Giordana about the life of Peppino Impastato, a political activist who opposed the Mafia in Sicily. The story takes place in the small town of Cinisi in the province of Palermo, the home town of the Impastato family. One hundred steps was the number of steps it took to get from the his house to the house of the Mafia boss Tano Badalamenti.

In April of this year I had the pleasure of visiting the Centopassi Winery situated on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily. It was an amazing experience. We visited the facilities of the winery, tasted several wines and had the pleasure of listening to the history of the winery.

Centopassi is manged by Libera Terra, a cooperative created with the aim of developing stunning but historically “difficult” territories. After a social and productive rehabilitation of assets freed from various mafia groups, the organization aims to obtain high quality products, which respect both the environment and the dignity of its workers.

The mission of the Libera Terra project is to give dignity to territories with a strong mafia presence through the creation of autonomous and cooperative farms that are self-sufficient, stable, and that are able to create work places, thereby establishing a moral economic system based on legality, social justice and market.

Tasting the wines listening the history of that land, people and vineyards brought different notes and perceptions. Is impossible not to relate the fear and the violence of Mafia with the wines. The most impressive note for me was the iron, ferrous aroma from the Nero d’Avola that made me remember the smell of blood. I was impressed by the quality, richness and personality of the wines. The initiative is beautiful and worth the visit.

What is a Wine Teller position?

Have you seen the professions related to the wine world? Well, I believe there is no doubt about the most common ones like those related to the production of grape and wine such as wine grower and winemaker. But what is a Brand Ambassador in the wine business? I’m sure many know how to define the role of a Brand Ambassador. Now, what does a Wine Teller do? Have you seen this position somewhere like LinkedIn for example?

If you do a quick search on LinkedIn using “wine teller” and select the criteria box “People” you will see a list of people that works as a Wine Teller position in wineries, distributors, importers, wine stores, hospitality business and also blogs, specialized magazines and editors. But what they do in fact?

If I taste wines and I write about my personal experiences tasting them in a blog or a micro blog like Instagram can I nominate myself as a Wine Teller? For me the answer is yes but you can also self nominate as a Wine Influencer (topic for new post). But I would like to discuss what a Wine Teller does inside a business, a company. What is the role itself? What do I need to study to apply for a Wine Teller position?

Well, I am finishing up a master’s degree in Wine Culture, Communication and Management at University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo and at the end of this course is expected of me to have the skills needed to be a Wine Teller. I have classes and activities related to marketing, business and management, oenology, viticulture, law and legislation, wine production, wine business, wine tasting etc.

After a while a Wine Teller in my humble opinion is someone that can increase the value of a brand by understanding the market and managing how to explore the relation between the products/services and the reason why people consume them. So a Wine Teller is one important link between the brand and the consumers digitally on social media or in person interacting with people on site.

The standardization of taste – Part 2

Do you think taste is something shaped by experience? Maybe by market? Habits? Family? Tradition? Well, I think taste is shaped by all that together. So, let’s talk a little bit about what is consider a good wine.

I’m really intrigued. I am currently finishing a master’s degree in Wine Culture in Piedmont at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, the headquarters of Slow Food. It is true that we have a taste pattern for wine. Among connoisseurs is sought a balanced pattern between acidity, tannins, body, structure. Anything that differs from this pattern these same connoisseurs call a defect.

The reaction of people to the different of this pattern bothers me. Some even say that natural wine does not even exist. I agree that a wine has to be pleasant to the palate and needs to generate pleasure in those who drink it. For the same reason I tried during childhood to tell my mother that Brussels sprouts did not please me and that, therefore, I did not want to eat them.

Another very important part is to see the impact of the old world wine culture generate a pattern that puts everything that diverges out of what is considered good. I have observed that those wines of the new world that resemble or seek a pattern similar to the great schools of French and Italian wine are exalted while those who seek an expression of their own terroir are left behind. Of course for those who came from the Old World

Well, we can not say that wine that does not please us is not good. We must say we do not like it. Taste is something very personal and there is space for a whole diverse universe of preferences.

Lodi Wines in California

In the last week of June I was in California on a study trip with my classmates of my Master in Wine Culture at the University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo. We visited UC Davis, several wineries and vineyards plus some breweries. Particularly I was not very excited, since I’ve been there a few times. Surprisingly there was in our program a visit to a region that I had never been to. I did not expect much because I had never heard of the wines there.

When we arrived at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center we had a good conversation with Randy Caparoso, editor of lodiwine.com, about the region, the grape varieties grown and the wines from Lodi. So far nothing very different from what we normally see on our visits.

For my surprise Randy invited us to taste some wines at some vineyards with the producers. When we got to the first vineyard and had the first tasting I could not believe what was in my glass. The first wine we tasted was a fresh, vivid Cinsault produced by McCay Cellars. I didn’t expect to taste a wine at this level of quality in Lodi. It was a big surprise.

A very cool project we met in Lodi was the Lodi Native. In recent years Lodi Native – where groups of Lodi winemakers have been producing single-vineyard  Zinfandels following the exact same, native yeast/neutral oak protocols – have been proving something that old-time growers and vintners have known all along: that there are differences among Lodi Zinfandel plantings grown in different parts of the Lodi AVA.

I believe if you are planning a visit to the vineyards of Napa Valley and Sonoma you should include a visit to the vineyards of Lodi. It is just over 1 hour drive from San Francisco and also from Napa.

The standardization of taste

“People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.”

Michel Foucault

How would you generally describe a good wine? Do you believe this definition is personal or can it be considered universal? Simple questions and complex answers. As wine consumption is commonly associated with social status, several constraints lead ordinary consumers to choose their wines in restaurants and markets world-wide. Unfortunately the main one seems to be price and another famous is origin as if all expensive French wine was good just because it is expensive and French.

Why do I think this discussion matters? In my humble opinion, we are living a standardization of taste. It’s a fact. People seek tannin, acidity, structure, color and method without having any idea of what it actually means. Consumers read fabulous descriptions in assessments like those of Robert Parker and understand that there is in that ranking the supreme primary cause of all things. But the truth (at least to me) is that this standardization has affected the wine market and messed up the traditions.

“A critique does not consist in saying that things aren’t good the way they are. It consists in seeing on just what type of assumptions, of familiar notions, of established and unexamined ways of thinking the accepted practices are based… To do criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy.”

Michel Foucault

Having a winery before anything else is having a business. Whether it is familiar or not, this winery must support its owners and the families of its employees. For this, obviously the wine needs to be bought. Based on this basic premise, it is easy to perceive a simple relationship between supply and demand in this case. That is, producers want to make wines that please consumers. This link has caused producers to abandon varieties of native grapes and to start producing those that, today, produce better accepted wines.

The effect of this long-term market practices seems to be devastating in countries such as Italy where there are more than 300 different denominations of origin and more than 400 indigenous grapes (over 2000 if sub-varieties are counted). Some varieties of native grapes may even disappear and some traditional wine styles made from them as well.

Let’s get back to the heart of the matter. Is this preference for a particular wine standard real or artificial? How do people shape their tastes and preferences? I ground my taste and preferences from my experiences and, as a social animal, my choices are influenced by the environment in which I live. This is where we enter into what we call the preconceived concept. Have you ever taken a bottle of an unknown wine to taste with people who are now entering the world of wine? When the bottle appears on the table what do these people do? Well, in my previous experiences they will asap search on Vivino how much it costs and how many stars they have. Others are already looking for whether the wine is ranked by Parker or Decanter. Now try saying that it is an organic wine, biodynamic or even an orange wine vinified with an ancestral method.

I do not intend to devalue wine reviews like those made by Robert Parker nor even deny its value. What I want to put here is why do people close themselves to the new and instantaneously classify the unknown as something bad or potentially bad? As my mom use to say to me ‘how can you say you don’t like if you didn’t even try it?’