By Frank Cipparone
Slow down, you’re moving too fast.” That lyric from an old pop tune could serve as the theme for Slow Food. Founded in Piedmont by Carlo Petrini in the 1980s, the goal is to counteract the frantic pace of globalization and industrialization in the food industry through a simple philosophy — agricultural products should be good, clean and fair. Those three words form the basis of a farm-to-table movement, a sort of back-to-the-future way of thinking about what we grow and consume:
Good — not just quality, but how food represents local gastronomic culture, the use of traditional preparations, and sustainable farming methods.
Clean — agriculture that respects the environment by not using herbicides, pesticides, or over-consumption of water.
Fair — as regards pricing and value, but also in assessing food and wine based on the first two points.
There’s an obvious message in these guiding principles. We are what we eat and drink, and how we go about it effects the environment and those who produce food.
An outgrowth of Slow Food is Slow Wine, which supports and promotes the labors of small-scale Italian winemakers who are the caretakers of Italy’s wine heritage. Wineries can achieve Slow Wine status and display the lumacche (snail) symbol for demonstrating commitment to the land by:
- Using fertilizers that are biodynamically prepared, natural manure, organic minerals, or composted waste.
- Protecting vines and surrounding plants by not employing copper, sulfur or other chemicals.
- Using selected or native yeasts.
- Making wine only from estate grown grapes.
- Being organically certified or converting to organic practices.
The impetus for Slow Wine was the negative impact on Italy’s wine industry of mega-producers churning out reservoirs of low quality wine to meet worldwide demand. The resulting expanded production of familiar grapes did not give a true picture of Italian wine and the diversity of its native varietals. It would not be inaccurate to state that the recent interest in indigenous grapes is an indication of Slow Wine’s influence.
The 1990s were a financial boon for Italy as wine sales soared. That windfall led to a deficit in the number of bottles that estates kept around for aging and future analysis. As part of its mission Slow Wine created the Banca del Vino in the Langhe area of Piedmont.
Over 100,000 bottles are cellared with the purpose of telling the story of the people, the territory, and what the wines reflect of a point in time. Producers can store a specified number of wines in multiple vintages. Housed in the magnificent Agenzio di Pollenzo in Bra, the collection is not some musty museum. The wines are preserved as an educational tool, to showcase them as not just something to drink but as a truly liquid asset that is tangible evidence of a cultural history worth sharing.
In addition, Slow Wine publishes a bi-monthly online magazine and an annual Slow Wine Guide reviewing thousands of wines and hundreds of producers to give a comprehensive outlook of the current state of Italian wine. The most important aspect of the group’s international scope is a tour that visits the United States, Germany, Hong Kong and other nations. At each stop, those who attend can taste, discuss and learn from upwards of 80 producers.