VIA Community Guest Blog: Autochthony by Producer J

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VIA Community Guest Blog: Autochthony by Producer J

Every grape variety is the culmination of a longstanding rapport involving cohabitation between humans and the place of origin of the vine. It’s linked to myth, to the customs of that people, that place.

Professor Attilio Scienza

Hello, Producer J here, stepping in to try my hand at translating the banter between Stevie Kim and Professor Attilio Scienza in Episode 303 of the Italian Wine Podcast (gotta earn those brioche all’albicocca)! This edition of Everybody Needs a Bit of Scienza featured a question from Alice Wong, Italian Wine Ambassador in Hong Kong.

First off, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Alice for taking the time to submit a question to the professor. The Everybody Needs a Bit of Scienza segment would not work without the input for our Vinitaly International Community around the world. We hope the arrangement is mutually beneficial - the variety of questions provide interesting content for the Italian Wine Podcast and, hopefully, our VIA folks glean some good information from this interaction with our beloved professor.

Besides, all of the VIA folks around the world are downright interesting, kind, generous with their time, and they’re fighting the good fight, spreading knowledge of Italian grapes, wines, and vines on a global level.

OK, so let’s get into that translation. As the tag line says, we record the Professor’s answers and Stevie Kim tries to keep him in line (sometimes it works)!

Actually, from the perspective on the other side of the microphone, it usually does work. Stevie and the professor produce some great banter and they are so much fun they have the rest of us ROTFLing and LOLing. Who knew wine geekery was so entertaining?

Oh, one more thing: respect to our musical guests each week! These folks are real live artists that have agreed to let us insert clips of their music into our little podcast. We think they really provide an added dimension to each episode and we’re happy to follow them on their path to stardom!

And here, I’ll skip over the bits in English and get straight to the Italian parts, in case a direct transcription can help any attentive listeners following along with the recording. Note: there is some talk of Davide’s grandmother’s cake providing some uncanny foreshadowing (Stevie chokes on the cake - and survives - in a later episode).

Begin Translation of Episode 303

Stevie: (01:57) ...What’s the problem? What exactly is it you’re allergic to?

Scienza: Milk [duh]. Not allergic. Intolerant. It’s different.

Stevie: So, what happens [if you consume milk]. Will we have to send you to the hospital, let’s pass for now…

Scienza: It means… No, no no! It means I lack the enzyme…

Stevie: QUIT BANGING ON THE TABLE!

Scienza: I no longer have the enzyme that converts lactose into glucose and galactose. As such, when milk shows up in the intestine, it undergoes an abnormal fermentation. It doesn’t get digested…

Stevie: So, all dairy products like cheese…

Scienza: Right, I can eat cheeses that are aged at least a year, or cheeses that are obtained through processes (such as emmental, for example) with a…

Stevie: What the?! Emmental too, come on! You can eat it or you can’t eat it?

Scienza: Emmental yes, gorgonzola yes…

Stevie: Are you kidding?! Gorgonzola?

Scienza: It doesn’t contain lactose, because the fungi have eaten it.

Stevie: Aaahhhh.... Yeah, yeah fungus. That’s interesting...

Scienza: All of the lactose is consumed by the fungi that they add to the cheese. Similarly, I can eat, I don’t know, parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano), for example, because it is subjected to pressure (and treated with rennet) so that the lactose leaves (thanks to the rennet); and then they are aged over a year. Even pecorino, for example, I can eat if it’s at least a year old because, during the cheesemaking process, the bacteria that live in the cheese consume any remaining lactose over the course of a year.

Stevie: OK so we now know that Attilio is allergic to dairy products. But, if it’s aged for a year or longer, then he won’t die (so that’s good).

Scienza: I can also eat Mozzarella…

Stevie: OK we get it! That’s enough because otherwise we won’t have time for our question.

Scienza: Well, you asked so…

Stevie: Let’s get to the question! First of all, every session we have to say…

Scienza: I salute and thank our friend Monty...

Stevie: Exactly! I think we’re going to get this down…

Scienza: Monty who is our spiritual guide…

Stevie: Yeah, well, let’s not exaggerate. Spiritual guide? It’s a tall order.

So, listen, this is the Everybody Needs a Bit of Scienza session and today’s question comes from Alice Wong of Hong Kong who is our Italian Wine Ambassador and Certified Educator.

Dear Dr. Scienza (it starts with "dear," she is so charming), I’m reading - this part here [highlighted in green] - I’m reading with pleasure your book, Sangiovese Lambrusco and Other Vine Stories.

Scienza: She’s the only one! Thankfully there’s someone out there!

Stevie: Bravissima! She’s the only one to read it. Alice you’re the only one! We love you.

Many [wine] producers are proud of the heritage of their vines. For example, Etna Rosso, has been nicknamed the Borgogne of the Mediterranean. This was supposed to be a compliment but some Etna producers felt peeved (did I say that right?), peeved.

Scienza: Brava, perfect.

Stevie: These producers maintain that their wines are unique and special (possibly even superior)?

In your opinion can we make an analogy between any autochthonous Italian grape variety and one that is not native - a comparison that praises and celebrates both? If so, which ones?

Hold on, I’ve gotta read it in English too.

[Stevie rereads the question in English].

OK, go so that I can eat [torta della nonna]!

Scienza: It’s difficult to provide a convincing answer to this question.

Every grape variety is the culmination of a longstanding rapport involving cohabitation between humans and the place of origin of the vine. It’s linked to myth, to the customs of that people, that place.

The concept of the autochthonous vine comes about in the era in which we live, the era of genetic research, in which vines have been profoundly modified.

Because the number of vines that we’d define as autochthonous - that is, derived from the selection of wild vines - we can count on two hands.

For the most part these vines are the result of numerous crosses - look no further than Chardonnay or Sangiovese - that from their points of origin have been transported to new lands where they subsequently express their best qualities.

Currently, we can define as autochthonous the vine that in a particular place expresses its best qualities. Sangiovese, for example, in Montalcino, or Pino Nero in Bourgogne - are examples of how these grape varieties born far away from where they’re currently cultivated - only in these places produce a high quality wine.

So autochthony doesn’t necessarily define an origin but a place of interaction, the place where that vine best expresses itself.

I’ll give an example of some varieties that are somewhat chameleon-like, that behave differently from place to place. Consider Garnacha or Grenache or Cannonau or Tocai Rosso. They’re the same grape variety but cultivated in very different places they produce wines that are completely different.

So they’re vines that show plasticity - they’re not so rigid in their rapport with the environment in which they’re grown.

Another example: French vines (or so-called international varieties in any case) are vines that get on well all over the world because they produce wines that are recognizable in faraway places.

Think Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon, even Pinot Nero on occasion (though somewhat less so).

Italian Vines, outside of the places where they’re customarily raised - of their origin - haven’t been able to produce quality wines at all. Think Sangiovese grown in the United States or rather Nebbiolo grown in South America - they give wines that are absolutely unrecognizable. They make no reference to the wines of Italy at all, where these vines were born.

The same goes for Nerello Mascalese from Etna. Removed from Etna, this Nerello does not lead to wines of great quality. They’ve tried to transplant it to warmer, more Mediterranean places but it wants that soil and that climate found at that specific altitude on Etna. Only there is it able to express its important characteristics.

Stevie: Are you finished? OK, so let’s say goodbye to Alice. She comes from Hong Kong where they seem to be making progress in limiting the spread of [Coronavirus] in one way or another they’ve been very good at…

Scienza: It’s an island.

Stevie: It is an island and they’ve been able to…

Scienza: On an island you close all the ports then nobody comes or goes.

Stevie: Yeah, like Alcatraz.

Scienza: Alcatraz would be the perfect place to impose a quarantine.

Stevie: OK so we’re all moving to Alcatraz, basically.

So, listen, everybody. Until next time. Alla prossima! Thanks for listening to the Italian Wine Podcast and this special segment of Everybody Needs a Bit of Science (Scienza).

Here Stevie and Scienza sign off with the usual information on social media channels plus a characteristic salute to fearless leader Monty Waldin. Hence, another episode of the podcast concludes without disaster (for now). And the torta della nonna waits to strike...

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