Along the Vinitaly on Tour, we met Celestino Gaspari, founder of Azienda Agricola Zýmē, based in the heart of Valpolicella, and talked with him about his far-reaching experience as regards sustainability. We initially thought about just having an interview with him - but the engaging way in which Celestino expresses concepts related to his passionate search for equilibrium in the land, meant that his way of thinking broke the bounds of a classic set of questions. As the title of his book - "Natura Alchemica" - highlights, the vision of sustainability he talked about with us is inextricably linked to the rhythms of nature, a bio-dynamic vision of processes involving necessary expectations, listening to the vineyard and prevention rather than cure. Sustainability is a question as complex as it is urgent to implment. There are companies like Zýmē which have made the concept of sustainability the backbone of their mission, even when no one else talked about it.
The name Celestino chose for his company is Zýmē, from the Greek for “yeast” - an essential aspect in wine-making work and a symbol that recalls the natural rhythm of fermentation sustained in nature for thousands of years. An image of constant transformation that is life. In line with this philosophy, the company logo consists of a vine leaf containing a pentagon, an emblem of the five vital factors for making wine: man-vine-earth-sun-water in perennial and harmonious interaction with each other.
So, let's allow Celestino Gaspari explain to Vinitaly how sustainability is managed in a wine cellar for it to be truly defined as sustainable.
We inevitably start from the fields, from the countryside. I have always excluded the possibility of achieving miracles in the cellar. Experience in the countryside is the formula for success in avoiding mistakes and achieving goals. We began to breathe work in the fields even when were children in the name of natural dynamics supported by traditional techniques. Alongside the gradual advancement of technology, I have experimented with the innovations proposed by the chemical and bio-technology industry and these experiences taught me that the right synergy does not always exist between the land and new technologies. I have witnessed a gradual depletion of the soil. To mention just one example, esca vine disease is the biggest problem we, as a company, have to tackle in the vineyard. It is a spore, a fungus that develops inside the vine stock. It was once treated by splitting the vine to aerate the fungus which, in being anaerobic, dies. This meant the vine could be saved. Today there is a French chemical treatment which is brushed over the lesion. It is assumed that chemistry helps us save time and effort, but the vine, like people, has to create its own self-defence to protect itself and become strong. If we become weaker with the passing of time, we will have to resort to such treatment all the more, with the risk of manipulating the land in a harmful way. Nature has developed a perfect metabolic process that must be valued and not domineered, because when we push a life process too far - be it human, animal or plant life - we reduce the physical time needed to combine these elements. The more respect we have, allowing things to take their own course, the more nature pays us back with quality. However, we must allow all the time needed for this to take place within the time required by nature.”
An approach to farming that seeks to make the most of the wisdom of the past, in harmony with modern technologies. This is the only way to develop deep knowledge of the land, learning its rhythms. This is true bio-dynamics. This is the concept of sustainability according to Gaspari. A natural alchemy wherein we know how to manage the vital process of aspects we are aware of in order to interact with nature, so that it yields certain results to us, hallmarked by excellence.
Zýmē's effective contribution to sustainability and making the difference in the local area.
Treatments are calibrated in relation to the seasons. Winter and spring is the time for pruning, tying, topping and suckering. Summer and autumn also see some treatments, the grapes are harvested and left to dry, followed by pressing, refining and bottling. Furthermore, while the vegetative cycle rests in winter, staff at Zýmē work on the ground with natural fertilization with organic substance, looking for the most suitable type depending on what the animals are fed. If it is not consistent and the lands needs potassium and iron, we can intervene to boost it with mineral fertilization. "Not everything that chemistry has to offer should be banned. We must know how to make choices and wise application in seeking equilibrium for the plant so that it generates natural defences, depending on micro-climatic conditions." So, during a drought, it is pointless to treat vines to prevent late blight (downy mildew). “I am sustainable when I meet the needs of the plant, over and above what it yields."
Celestino Gaspari was one of the very first in the Verona area, specifically in Val d'Illasi, to use the Guyot training method known for international varieties. It was 1985 and the intention was to limit the vigour of the vine while increasing its productivity. The Pergola Veronese overhead method forces the lymph over too long a journey. "The lower the plantation, the more you can exploit overnight humidity without wasting energy and obtain a quality product." Today, however, almost forty years later, the overhead Pergola training method has been re-introduced. Gaspari started off from the awareness of the adaptive capacity of vines to heavy and clayey soil such as volcanic terrain. Since it retains humidity, this method ensures a great boost in terms of vigour, and allows the vine to extend a very important root system, reducing the planting density and developing the above-ground part more extensively.
“Pursuing the Guyot approach would have been like locking a giant in a cage. Either the giant dies, or the cage breaks. Rest assured that in wine-growing the giant dies."
You may be wondering which markets most appreciate Celestino's wines. Well, you should first know that behind this rural wisdom there lies a life dedicated to listening to the land. Zýmē defends local identity taking its name around the world through export business taking 90% of sales. In terms of volume, the most important market is Switzerland. Followed by Canada, United States, China, Russia, Europe and Africa.
What has to be conveyed to consumers?
In a word, identity. Historically speaking, Valpolicella wines express elegance, with hints of red fruit such as marasca or morello cherry, red cherry and raspberry. If I don't recognise these bouquets, it means I am not respecting my grape varieties. A great wine is like a page in a book: it expresses clarity through balanced concepts and discourse. If I find it hard to read, then the wrong words have been used. If the wine is too muscular, if there is an excess of extract and the colour is impenetrable, I am not making wine in keeping with the dictates of Valpolicella. And it is here, as constant as above, that the concept of equilibrium returns, in the name of searching for excellence that can only be achieved through the dictates of nature.
Would you like to learn more about Zýmē? Take a look at the company data sheet on Vinitaly Plus and discover all its products!