Carlin Petrini: «Wine Does Not Fear Hierarchies and Scores»

Carlin Petrini: «Wine Does Not Fear Hierarchies and Scores»

While waiting for the latest edition of the Atlante delle Vigne di Langa, the founder of Slow Food talks about the beginning of a book that has made history and calls us to not to be afraid to analyze, review and classify vineyards and wines.  

This coming March 2023, the new edition of the Atlante delle Vigne di Langa: Barolo e Barbaresco will be released. The book’s first edition, published in 1990, was ground-breaking. It was one of the first attempts to “depict” the great Langhe vineyards using accurate morphological and pedoclimatic descriptions. Aside from the technical and geographical information, the Atlante added an anthropological narration that resulted from hundreds of testimonies collected from producers and winemakers who toiled the very rows every single day. The analytical approach and human touch elicited by the book are still a beacon for people who deal with crus, the fascinating convergence of artificial and natural, of cultivated and naturally spontaneous.  

To understand how the Atlante came to be and its significance, we interviewed Carlo Petrini – known as Carlin – founder of Slow Food and curator of the book’s first and legendary edition.   

Carlin Petrini, how did a book like the Atlante delle Vigne di Langa come about? 

Each book has its prominent ancestors. In this case, we can mention Renato Ratti, whose «Mappa» of 1971 constitutes the first attempt to identify the great vineyards of Barolo. Ratti’s work was based on wine, comparing vintages and their characteristics: he applied the French zoning method based on the quality of wine tastings. Our Atlante revised that vision and completes it. Alongside wine, the book contains information from interviews and oral testimonies that I personally collected while working on the territory for more than a year. The book offers an anthropological analysis of the vineyards, one that is based on the stories and the experience of the people who have lived and worked among these rows all their lives. We could say that the Atlante gives readers a “popular vision” of the great Langhe vineyards.  

And what does that memory tell us? 

It tells us that, often, the real experts of the Langhe were the grape intermediaries, or the people who bought grapes for the wineries. Up until the 1990s, the most important wineries produced Barolo blends obtained from grapes that came from different vineyards. These intermediaries knew the best vineyards, which locations enjoyed the most amount of sunlight and the rows that produced the essence of the territory. These legendary characters no longer exist today, but they have contributed to foster awareness of the contemporary MGAs. Then came the producers who acquired those bountiful plots and valued them by putting the name of the vineyard on the label. 

While writing the Atlante, were you aware that you were somehow creating a hierarchy? 

We did not want to create a registry of the Langhe vineyards because we were not in need of a mere list. We wanted to identify the great vineyards, talk about them, try to establish their boundaries and give them a specific identity based on the people who worked them and their production. Sure, our choice has created a hierarchy of the vineyards simply because history unfolded in this manner: it has selected the best rows through memory and experience. You don’t have any idea how much pressure we receive to expand some territories, with producers asking us, for example, to include in Cannubi vineyards that are outside of it. But the people who were asking for these things are missing the point. 

Which is? 

That these evaluations are good for wine. In the long run, analyses, reviews and hierarchies serve a common good: they increase consumer awareness, urge producers to learn from the best and give meaning to the essence of the great vineyards. I remember the numerous criticisms against the Guida ai Vini d’Italia published by Gambero Rosso and Slow Food, whose first editions came out starting from the late 1980s. If you want to reap the benefits of an evaluation for purely commercial purposes, then you have not understood that it actually is an advantage for the whole territory.  

What is wine for you? 

Wine, just like food, is «pleasure». And «pleasure» has a very strong political aspect: it entails rights and duties. If we consider its most noble meaning, it is not the opposite of health, an enemy of the economy nor of ethics. As Folco Portinari, a friend, an intellectual and the editor of the Slow Food Manifesto, said: «I’m not a religious person, but if I had to believe in a religion, I would do it for one sole reason. And it would be because God has instilled pleasure – the real one – in the only two activities that serve to keep humanity alive: eating and making love».