For the 17th consecutive year, the Casanova Premio once again brought the Collio’s rolling hills to life with a splendid evening of cultural exchange and debate.

As always, the Castello di Spessa Resort in Capriva del Friuli provided the inspiring backdrop for this years event, the 2019 winner being the outstanding Stage & Cinema actor Giuseppe Battiston.

Amidst the al fresco charm of the Castle grounds, it was however, the Prelude to the award ceremony that capitivated our viti-cultured mind.

As Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik lilted in the cool of the evening sun, Daniele Cernilli (aka Doctor Wine) took the chair to lead an impressive panel in a discussion entitled “Wine, Climate, Migration: The Challenge and the Seduction of Sustainability”.

Panel members included the acclaimed Climatologist, Nobel Prize winner and author Prof. Filippo Giorgi, University of Milano Professor, Viticultural historian and author Prof. Attilio Scienza and Dottoressa Mariella Trimboli, director of Eco-Sustainable journal, Top Taste of Passion.

‘Climate Change’ and its evident impact in winemaking circles has increasingly become the buzz amongst the local regions vineyard rows. Indeed, deafened by the alarming absence of bees, it was Mariella Trimboli who brought a degree of positivity to the discourse. She explained how region wide programmes to re-populate the countryside are expanding and how the “EnoBee – Api in Vigna” project at the Castello di Spessa resort is noteworthy among them.

In itself this is promising news. But much, much, more needs to be done according to Prof. Filippo Giorgi.

The pace of our reactivity needs to adjust much faster than heretofore. He reminded us how June 2003 was the hottest recorded in Italy. It was, he calculated, “a one-in-10,000 year-event”. That of course was until some weeks ago, when at the end of June 2019 that record was broken. A one-in-10,000 year event, happening again, after just 16 years. For whom does this alarm bell toll?

Prof. Giorgi explained we are in ANTHROPOCENE era. The current geological epoch in which humans are the primary cause of permanent planetary change. In other words, it is time to Wake Up people… Soon we might NOT be able to smell the Coffee or the Vino! We are moving the planet outside its known natural limits.

Prof. Giorgi outlined how we are already facing global fresh water shortages, rising sea levels and rising temperatures leading to forced mass migration. People will be forced to migrate away from hotter inhospitable equatorial climes in search of cooler, life supporting climates. And with such movements will come every kind of social and cultural issue imaginable. For the first time in planetary history, this is happening because of our activity. HUMAN DEMANDS and CHOICES. We are responsible for this. The question is what can we do?

Simply put, any and every little change that each of us makes will make a difference. Of course the choice is ours, the result can go either way – positive or negative. To swing the balance back into the planet’s favour, it will doubtless require a marked shift in our thinking and our behaviour. According to Prof. Giorgi, humanity has on many occasions demonstrated its capacity to survive in the face of incredible adversity. But we need leaders and leadership to both guide and allow common sense to prevail. He praised young swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg for her activism and his eternal hope is that the world’s youth will follow her, and others like her, toward a genuine Green Revolution. In his view, no time will be too soon.

Prof. Scienza sees Climate Change as a cultural issue.

At its root, he sees it manifesting itself in two ways. On the one hand, he perceives an underlying ‘popular rejection of Science’, which is perpetually stalling progress. On the other hand, he sees the paralysing effect of good old-fashioned human ‘Fear’. Fear of the unknown.

To expand his argument, he eluded to the last 2000 years as being the ‘Era of Anxiety’. With the Fall of the Roman Empire, social uncertainty and fear grew from its demise. He outlined how the peoples of the Mediterranean and mainland Europe, sought solice in religious gathering and in particular, christian worship. Religious beliefs appeared to soothe the social soul. They became the proverbial shoulder to cry on as humanity paid the price for the Sins of Man. A sense of order and balance returned to the world.

BUT no sooner had it done so, when along came the Little Ice Age from circa 1300 to the late 1800’s. Cultural balance was again quickly upset. Wars, disease and massive loss of human life were the significant effects of this mini glacial expansion. With it a new Era of Anxiety was born. Prof Scienza’s view is that, in the face of such adversity, humanity always turns to the Earth for aid. And today as we face the latest Era of Anxiety – ‘Climate Change’, he implores us to do just that, to return the earth to seek new solutions to avert further irreversible damage, solutions that also include genetic ones.

Let’s face it, the wine world is unlikely to have the capacity to save the planet on its own. But in Scienza’s eyes, it can definitely play a leadership role. He spoke of how modern day science offers genetic editing possibilities. He voiced his belief that either we find new rootstock that can cope with increasing hydric stress or we find completely new vines that can cope better with the worsening conditions.

Curiously it was at this point that his initial optimism gave way to a less positive vision. His experience within political and commercial circles is that people really don’t want to change. He says they have made critical investments in mythical values and consequently continue to reject best scientific advice. To support his claim, he suggested that genetically within 6 years, science could arrive at a point of editing grape varieties to serve our future needs. He is adamant that humanity needs to intervene to avert the risk of losing everything. But he says cultural FEAR is promoting anti-scientific discourse among many western european political and social forums. He is confident that the faculties of science, who have developed significant knowledge in the field of DNA sequencing [i.e. CRISPR – clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats] stand ready to provide practical solutions in the viticultural world. But as yet his firsthand experience in Italy and Europe is one of impassive reluctance. In his view everything goes back to an issue of culture. “We humans tend to refute and reject what we do not understand,” he said, concluding that nothing can escape the fact that we need solutions connected to our culture.

The Climate Change debate is a global one.

With media forums, especially social media channels, providing up to the minute feedback, one still can’t help but surmise that commercially-focused political interests will opt for quick fixes. Human history is littered with examples of how such measures often lead to unforseen and unpalatable consequences.

Prudence is advisable when it comes to genetic intervention. While taking on board Prof. Scienza’s assertions and agreeing with much of what he invokes, the proposed idea of selecting a limited number of vines as the ‘future commercial performers’ is where our ‘what does nature intend’ gears begin to grind.

Between 1847 and the early 1900’s, as the deadly blight of Mildew and Phylloxera swept through European yards, similar suggestions were made. What did they achieve ? A dramatic loss of natural biodiversity coupled with the relative homogenisation of wine output. In a recent encounter with agronomist, historian and author, Enos Costantini, his suggestion is that the loss of biodiversity wasn’t all a direct consequence of Mildew and Phylloxera’s arrival. Nature isn’t all to blame. We humans played a supporting role. Let’s not forget the input of the Vivai (aka the Nurseries), who grafted the new vines onto American rootstock. They made significant choices about what was to be grafted. It’s not by chance that today few more than 12-13 grape varieties constitute 50% of the viticultural landscape globally.

Okay, so let’s ask the burning question: With +/- 10,000 grape cultivars to choose from, who is to say that our beloved Earth hasn’t already provided us with the answers we’re looking for? Are we looking in the right place?

Prof. Scienza is correct that we should turn to Earth in this time of need. Sceptics will surely question whether scientific minds are interested in considering all the ‘natural’ available solutions ? Perhaps some will view scientific intention as simply being to genetically edit the few for speedy financial returns? This may well be what is at the root of Scienza’s suggestion of a prevailing anti-science feeling.

Whatever it may be, in the end, humanity will eventually ask and it will want to know if the solution-searching is genuinely for long term environmental and cultural benefit? Or if again, the planet will be subjected to short-term, commercially driven ventures from which only the wealthiest few will benefit while the rest will face a lifetime of consequences that no-one accounted for?

In a world bloated with uncertainty, the one certainty is this: our own behaviour remains within our control. We can begin to bring our uncontrolled dependence on fossil fuels to an end. We can end the production and supply of single-use plastics and we can return to the Earth without the use of chemically synthesized pesticides and fungicides. Those that have ravaged plant, insect and wildlife have created more harm than good, more dependence than freedom. We can re-populate our neighbourhoods with bees. And believe it or not, we can lower our demand and consumption levels and STILL live a life that will sustain us and countless generations for milennia to come. New behaviour is both attainable and sustainable.

Are you seduced or challenged by such thoughts?

Whichever way any of us see it, the reality is surely this: if we don’t change our ways, Nature will resolve everything for us in ways that we might not find quite so pleasing…

Sincere thanks to Premio Giacomo Casanova, Loretto Pali & Barbara Borraccia of Castello di Spessa and all who contributed to making this a very necessary WAKE-UP CALL… and chapeau Giuseppe Battiston !


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