Critical Wine

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= group of progressive Italian winemakers who aim to change the way wine is produced


By Alan Toner [1]:


Critical Wine’s public debut took place in December 2003 in Leoncavallo, Milan, involving renowned producers and agronomists in a three day tasting and happening. This first event was attended by 160 winemakers with a further 150 on a waiting list due to space restrictions. Since Veronelli’s death in 2004, participation has contracted to around 60 producers. Some of the celebrity producers who brought a certain glamour to proceedings have also departed, such as Joska Gravner (the Friulian practitioner of biodynamics using terracotta amphora for his fermentation), Academia degli Racemi (instigators of the quality revolution in Apulia). Others, such as Bartolo Mascarello (icon of traditionalist Barolo) have died.


Given Italy’s intensely political and factional culture, it should come as little surprise that some commentators would have ‘issues’ with the involvement of spaces and social networks connected to the radical left in wine culture. Whilst Veronelli remained alive, however, such attacks were apparently scarce on the ground, or at least left no trace on the internet. Earlier this year however a couple decided to have a shot, careful however to prefix their assault with an appropriately pious nod to the venerable Veronelli, puzzling over the support of a great man for such a diabolical project (‘…forte dell’inspiegabile adesione di un grande come Gino…).

Criticism of CW is organised along two axes. The first alleges a contradiction between participating winemakers and political positions they are imputed to be representing. Essentially some commentators took umbrage (in Italian) that producers of top class wines, often commanding up to fifty euros in the shops would associate themselves with a network that represented itself as ‘critical‘ and held its fairs for the public in squatted social centres. Really this polemic says more about the stereotypes at work organising public discourse in Italy rather than anything of substance. According to this reasoning, leftists are supposed to steer clear of elitist stuff of quality, and stick to whatever is cheapest, rolled cigarettes and Tavernello…

Biodynamic wines are expensive to make, and Josko Gravner can sell as many bottles as he can produce at whatever price he wants. So what? Critical Wine’s reason for existing is not to promote cheap wine or beverages for an imaginary ‘mass’ ‘people’, but is rather intended to be a space where producers of quality wines, who work in a way respectful of the land, can meet with their drinkers, sell them bottles at a discounted price and talk about their wines to a public who cares.

Recently the practice of selling wine to the public at ‘cantina price’ has comeback under discussion due to the practical difficulties such a policy creates in terms of dealings with wine shops and distributors. Yet the wines of some producers purportedly following this approach can be found online at the same price as at the fair. Apart from being disingenuous, this generates considerable confusion for wholesale purchasers.

Political Polemic

The second set of criticisms (both in Italian) regard aspects of CW’s Manifesto, the twelve acts for a planetary sensibility (link to the Italian, see below for some translated extracts). This planetary sensibility is understood as a type of global consciousness allowing fruitful coexistence with the earth and rejection of practices harmful to its integrity. Paragraph two argues that the demented nature of modern life should be understood as not only deriving from the loss of meaning but also the dimming of the senses, and contends that sensory lucidity impacts directly on the ability to act meaningfully and sensibly (4). Whereas in this case the criticism appears to target the prosaic and generalist language of the manifesto, the real wrath is saved for the section dedicated to the necessity to oppose the spread of Genetically Modified (GM) crops, a programme spelled out in clear and uncompromising terms, advocating both legislative change and direct action against the products of the GM industry (5). Predictably, it is the scandalous suggestion that property destruction (crop destruction, product spoilage) should be undertaken to provoke the ire of conservative wine writers.

For Veronelli however, the law never delineated a border not to be crossed when the issue demanded it. In fact he was accustomed to suffering the consequences of his cultural and political commitments. On two separate occasions he was imprisoned: first, in 1957 for having translated and published “Historiettes, contes et fabliaux” by the Marquis De Sade, defined as an ‘obscene publication’ and publicly burnt in Varese. In the 1970s he was incarcerated again, this time for inciting small winemakers to rebellion against changes in the system for wine production introduced at the behest of industrial interests, and detained for six months. Specifically he was involved in the occupation of a train station at Santo Stefano Belbo as part of the protests. In addition Veronelli was a declared anarchist and sometime collaborator left-libertarian publications.

A Complex Mozaic

Today’s Italian wine landscape is quite fragmented, composed of groups united by technical style/sensibility and the need to acquire market visibility. The proliferation of parallel events during Europe’s biggest wine-fair Vinitaly is a document of this. Most recently there has been a parting of the ways in the Viniveri group led by Teobaldo Capellano, with the departure of Angiolino Maule who has now set up another platform, VinNatur. there’s also the Vini di Vignaioli network which holds an annual event in Parma and functions as a bridge with comparable French producers. Political discussion within Critical Wine is withering as well, and now some of the more motivated discussions amongst producers have shifted to the Associazione Agricoltori Critici, leaving CW to be used more as an interface with the public and those producers now inactive. Quite a kaleidoscope of groups thus, and that’s just the hazy world of wine-making influenced by organic and biodynamic practices…" (