INTERVIEW WITH ANTHROPOLOGIST ERNESTO DI RENZO
REGARDING THE SECRETS OF THE WINE LANDSCAPE
By Emanuele Cenghiaro
Beauty, colors, harmony, history, culture, symbolism: there are a thousand fascinating aspects within a wine landscape. A richness that has also caught the attention of Unesco.
Prof. Di Renzo, what is a landscape?
The landscape is a “category” of culture. It is not nature itself, it is not a simple physical space but how man works on these landscapes, transforming and bending them to meet his needs. It is always the result of a dialectical relationship that becomes structural over time.
Is this why wine landscapes have aroused the interest of Unesco?
Let’s clarify that talking about landscape in the context of Unesco means referring to an agreement drawn up in 1972, aimed at preserving and enhancing all the aspects that concern heritage, or rather, the world heritage of humanity. This is divided into a cultural heritage, a natural heritage and, since 1992, also in a “cultural landscape”, a category that implies a constant and joint cooperation between nature and man. That is, something in which culture is the “agent” element, nature is the “medium” and cultural landscape is the “result”. Wine landscapes also belong to the “result”.
Can you provide some examples?
So far, Unesco has recognized a dozen sites, the first being the wine-growing landscape of Saint-Émilion in the Dordogne valley, in 1999. In Italy there are two registered sites, the wine-growing landscape of Langhe Roero and Monferrato (2014) and that of the Prosecco Hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene (2019). Then there is a third Italian main character to mention, the cultivation of sapling vine in Pantelleria. This is however included in another list, the one representing the “intangible cultural heritage” of humanity, which is the object of another convention signed in 2003, concerning everything that refers entirely to the intangible aspects of human culture. In this case the different techniques, and the combination of material and immaterial skills behind that particular type of winemaking, are enhanced.
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What differences do you notice between the two “cultural landscapes” of Italian wine?
They are two very different landscapes, in terms of both the purely visual and landscape aspects and the material culture and traditions. The Piedmont area, undoubtedly, has harmony, sweetness and visual continuity as its main characteristics, that conform to the ideal image of a “scenic” rural landscape, alluding to the picturesque and the capacity of evoking serenity, quiet and balance. The landscape of the Prosecco Hills is more impactful, uneven, discontinuous, irregular, mosaic-like and heavily fragmented. It gives more the idea of the arduous human effort to snatch vital spaces from nature, in order to exist. If we were to find ourselves in front of two paintings, I would say that the first one would strike us with the perspective view, as a whole, while the other would strike with its strong and determined brush strokes, which resemble an Impressionist painting.
Why is the interaction between man and landscape so strong in the world of wine?
Because viticulture is not an agricultural practice like any other. It doesn’t “cultivate”, it “breeds”, and at the same time requires a long duration, an “investment in history”: being a winemaker means engaging a relationship with the territory, whose course can go even beyond the life of the individual himself. This requires the structuring of very deep and engaging relationship with the land and a considerable cultural, and even spiritual, background. It concerns, therefore, the world of beliefs, values, religion: viticulture is liquid culture, it is the trait of agricultural activity on which man has invested more in terms of symbolic values.
Shall we talk about wine landscape and tourism?
Wine can play an important role in planning and enhancing tourism of the territories, not only for its historical and imaginative significance but also for what it can offer to people in terms of complete usability of the places concerned. Wine tourism is, in fact, a type of experiential tourism and promises great development opportunities, because it is linked to a multimodal sensorial experience. Therefore, it can offer to tourists levels of satisfaction that involve not only sight but also emotions, hearing, smell – the smell of musts and of cellars – in addition to the more strict sensation of the particular taste of a connoisseur.
Certain landscapes attract tourists just by playing on colors. Can wine do this?
That is true; colors exert a very strong visual attraction. I believe that an area that is still undervalued, as regards wine, is that of foliage: I am thinking of the spectacular moments following the harvest, when vineyards veer towards yellow and then red. It seems to me that the world of wine hasn’t thought of enhancing this aspect yet as a tourist product, which should obviously be combined with the experience of tasting, knowing and, why
[su_box title=”Who is Ernesto Di Renzo?” style=”noise” box_color=”#5e0230″ title_color=”#fff”]
Ernesto Di Renzo teaches Anthropology of cultural and gastronomic heritages, Anthropology of tourism, Anthropology of taste at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, where he is also the didactic coordinator of the Master’s degree in “Food culture and food and wine traditions”. As an expert he takes part in radio and television programs (Rai1, Rai3, Rai Italia, Rai news24, tv2000), where he discusses topics concerning the social and cultural practices of contemporary eating. In 2018 he was awarded the prize as best popularizer of food culture by the Foreign Press Association in Italy, and the national prize “G. Merli” for the Environment.[/su_box]