The Renaissance of Italian white wines

Things often happen when a man has an idea at an auspicious moment in history. This man, himself the son of innkeepers, was called Mario Schiopetto and the favourable moment in history was the great Italian economic boom. This was in the 1960’s. The idea, which was simple but ambitious for the time, was for a non-oxidised white wine which would preserve the fragrance of the grape in the bottles. We should remember that Italian whites at the time were almost universally oxidised. Produced using the alzata di cappello method, or rather a brief maceration of the skins until a cap forms, the skins began to ferment alongside the must which released oxidizing agents which destroyed the fragrances of the grapes.

Mario started to cast around, and, knowing about the great German Rieslings, began to travel widely and made friends with Müller-Späth who was working at Seitz, the industry leader in the production of wine-making technology. In a certain way, the Collio began to speak German once again.

Mario revolutionized the way in which wine was produced and sold. He introduced a white wine vinification technique where the must is separated from the skins by a gentle pressing before fermentation commences. He introduced low-temperature technology to preserve the fragrance of the grapes during fermentation. He took his wines to sell in the great centres of the Italian industrial triangle – Milan, Genoa and Turin - having understood that the wine only becomes great if its buyers are far away.

Almost simultaneously, in 1964, a son of an old Gorizia family, Count Sigismondo Douglas Attems of Petzestein, after having lost most of his lands in Yugoslavia in the recent war, understood the need for change and gathered together a mixed group of Counts and farmers and founded the Consorzio di Tutela Vini del Collio (Consortium for the Protection of Collio Wines), having understood with great foresight that a winning product which is destined to be sold afar must have a name which renders it recognizable as unique. Here we have another character who speaks perfect Italian but who definitely thinks in German. The Count took on a young, enthusiastic Sicilian who had gained his diploma in Conegliano; his name was Gaspare Buscemi. Enology, for the first time ever, was about to enter the dark, pokey bare earth cellars and small barrels of the members of the Collio Consortium.

Revolutionary ideas were beginning to spread. Every revolution has its storytellers; the Collio revolution found its own in certain intellectuals who lent their support in print. We can here mention two from their number: Mario Soldati and Luigi Veronelli. A new idea was emerging in Italian culture; that wine can actually be good. Until that time, Italian writers, with the exception of Tomasi di Lampedusa (who gave his Prince strictly champagne to drink), wine was first and foremost a psychotropic substance. It was the drug of the poor, as it was for Renzo Tramaglino in Alessandro Manzoni’s “The Betrothed” (I Promessi Sposi), who after his third glass forgets what happened with his problems. Good wine thus became the emblem of a new manifesto for the good life. Locally, the journalist Isi Benini founded Il Vino, an important magazine with a countrywide readership which was published in Udine. The revolution went mainstream and the Collio became the region of “The Great Italian White”.