The future is fertile soil

09 December 2021

“When I was 23 I already 14 employees. Working in hospitality I understood that receiving orders is much more simple than giving them. Now it often happens that I work alone all day, not speaking to anyone. I really like life in the countryside, I really like what I do, and I’ve been able to turn my dream into a job.”

Marco Minnucci has just begun to write the story of his vineyard, Cascina San Michele, in Costigliole d’Asti, Piedmont. Yet Slow Wine has already recognized it as such, giving it the coveted snail symbol in the 2022 edition of the Slow Wine guide. We’re happy to explain why, and to go beyond the space afforded the vineyard in the guide.

As you’ll have grasped from the opening quote, Marco is now based at Cascina San Michele, but he arrived here from the world of restaurants, from Lake Maggiore, specifically Canobbio, the last town before the Swiss border. “A very beautiful place, where agriculture and farming leave space to a landscape of flowers and domesticated plants for tourists. But of working the land I knew little.”

That was until 2009, when he arrived in La Morra to work with Roberto Voerzio, taking his first steps in the world of wine and beginning to appreciate country life.

Respecting the land, a question of sensibility

After a year in the Langhe, Voerzio suggested to Marco that he open his own business in Costigliole: “At the beginning I tried to apply what I’d learned in La Morra. With time I found my own path. I didn’t have an agricultural background, but I built it while understand that there are no hard and fast rules, besides one: you’re the one who has to look after the vines, and not the other way round. But working while trying to maintain the fertility of the soil became a natural way forward. I’m convinced that it’s the future. I can’t understand these people who were born here but use herbicides on their land. People who live on this land but don’t respect… they surprise me.”

Ecological agriculture

“When I got organic certification in 2013 people called me crazy. The phrase I heard most often was: “If you go organic you won’t harvest.” I think it was because of hearsay more than any real knowledge. Yet there were people who chose not to rent their vineyards to me because I left the grass untouched.”

We know very well what this need to try and control nature has resulted in, and it seems almost unnecessary to repeat it, but it also seems that the message hasn’t been received. The difficulties that Marco faces are the same as others who’ve chosen ecological agriculture, and they’re more relevant than ever. Starting with the institutions that should be supporting farmers who care about conserving the environment and the soil, but aren’t doing nearly enough.

It’s not the first time we underline the paradox for those who cultivate their farms naturally and are thus subjected to extra controls and bureaucracy, while those who use excessive chemicals are not. We want rules that mean farmers have to declare what chemical substances the use on food labels, instead of a system that obliges those who work harder to save the environment and the soil to spend more time and money just to be able to say that they do so.

But this isn’t the only distortion.

Cascina San Michele at Slow Wine Fair 2022

Cascina San Michele will be at present at the Slow Wine Fair with their wines. Come and check out their products for yourself!

Improving the rules for organic certification

“I converted to certified organic in 2013. I didn’t own my own vines, but rented them. So of course every time I rented a new vine I had to start from scratch. As if that wasn’t enough, in order to get the green sticker on my label I had to make sure that all my grapes came from rows which stood next to other organic-certified rows. It meant I was making nine wines with organic certification and nine without: madness!”

Unfortunately this isn’t the only point: “Let’s start with the fact that I have organic certification, for which the controls are rigorous. The problem is that the certification of organic wine because we can’t simply reduce the process down to verifying stamps and paperwork, it should include an analysis of the wine, otherwise those who say “organic wine doesn’t exist” will feel vindicated. The rules are wrong, I think; it’s as if one certified that a wine was a Barbera without analyzing the wine. Now I’m working on a new project that will include QR codes on the label so customers can see an analysis of the wine that highlights the absence of chemical substances. I think it’s a sign of respect for our clients and a way to strengthen organic agriculture.”

Working group

Marco’s nature is reflected in his relationships with his collaborators: “At the beginning I did everything alone, bringing in help just for the harvest. Then in 2015 I started a business with some others who’d bought the winery where I was working, so we increased the area harvested and the number of bottles produced. I realized then that doing everything alone would no longer be possible. I didn’t want to work with cooperatives: those who work that way work in different wineries and do different jobs on different days, and rightly so. I wanted continuity, and I wanted my collaborators to feel like they were part of the project. So then I met Suzana Todorova and her partner Boian Malinov. I’ve been working with Suzana since 2015, and together with Boian they do a lot of manual work on the vines. We manage everything together, and when we’re all happy that’s reflected in the results. I feel very lucky to have found them.”

Shopping advice

For those who’ve been following our work who are still in the process of refining their palate, what can we do to go beyond the supermarket shelves? As Marco puts it: “Don’t have prejudices, taste everything, listen to everyone and decide with your head. There must be respect; the important thing is sincerity. I believe that if you let your work be tasted and you tell its story with sincerity that people will be excited about it.”

The result of all this work is a collection of wines that are truthful and without filters, sometimes exuberant but always balanced, fruit of spontaneous fermentation and long maceration, moderate decanting and low amounts of sulfites.

Marco has signed the Slow Food Manifesto for good, clean and fair wine and will be present at BolognaFIere from March 27-29, 2022 for the first edition of Slow Wine Fair. If you want to learn more and see Marco’s vineyards for yourself you can watch the video interview filmed in the spring of 2021 below (in Italian).

by Michela Marchi, info.eventi@slowfood.it

Slow Wine Fair, from March 27-29, 2022, at BolognaFiere, is an international event dedicated to good, clean and fair wine. #SlowWineFair