Italy, January – February - March 2016

“The quality of wine. Chapter XV”

The season has been wet and warm and even pruning was affected, which began on 8th February; the temperature dropped at the start of March and we hope that bud development will be delayed.

This year I replaced the dead vines in one vineyard; this is a very complex operation which involves digging deep down and removing the soil during the hottest period of the season and subsequently replacing it in November when planting the new vines: I am very pleased with the work and always more and more convinced that in order for a vineyard to make really great wines, it must have the following features: poor topsoil; good drainage; rich in composting organisms; rich in minerals; the vine must suffer from superficial water stress in summer, forcing it to search for water deep down, so that it also absorbs minerals with the water; looking for land not planted with vines in particularly suitable winegrowing areas, in order to study the soil, subsoil, exposure, possible pollution, the winds, the climatic situation, the light, frequency of hail and nearby woods in-depth.

At this stage, quality imposes a strict soil preparation, therefore: it is absolutely forbidden to use weedkillers, but only surface work to pull up weeds; manuring supplemented with minerals (if necessary); mixing it into the soil; sowing cover crops also as soil amendments; breaking up the soil with diggers with the manual removal of stones at the same time, to be done during the summer heat, or in any case when the soil is absolutely dry; levelling off the surface with suitable means for that soil, with the relative manual removal of stones again; we must bear in mind that a vineyard must last for over fifty years and any mistake in preparing the soil jeopardises the duration of the vine and therefore lowers both grape and wine quality.

The planting, another central and very important theme: studies on the best rootstocks for that particular soil, depending on the specific habitat and final quality of the grapes, and therefore quantity, weight, bunch and berry shape; scions of native varieties acclimatised to that microzone with that microclimate for many years; to bear in mind that any product that is made everywhere, that is not affected by climate-soil variables, that can be imitated and is always the same, is undoubtedly a low-quality product and totally lacks the necessary requirements for a great value product, which are rarity, uniqueness, diversity, typicity and identifiability; preparing the holes for manual planting of rootlings is another very delicate operation, which significantly affects the duration, strength and health of the vine and grapes; the composition of earth/manure, the drainage and friability of the soil underneath and surrounding the planted vine are essential and require skilled, concentrated labour and, above all, the attentive and constant presence of the owner and vinegrower; of course the cost of these operations is about 10 times higher than planting with machines.

On 27th February 1960, Adriano Olivetti died. He was an exceptional scientific man, industrial visionary and innovator. To his Olivetti company we owe the P101 (also called the Perottina, after Pier Giorgio Perotto, the engineer who invented it), which brought the future personal computers forward by over ten years: “of the Olivetti company,” wrote Perotto, “before frequenting Ivrea, I had known only the most outer or the most recently acquired circles, such as those that gravitated around the electronic laboratory, made up of scientists, physicists, engineers, strange personages classifiable as philosophers (who dedicated themselves to conceiving something that didn’t have a name then and that would later become software), architects (like Ettore Sottsass jr., with his first experiments in industrial design), intellectuals and poets, recruited to describe and persuade the public about the tedious and muddled performances and functions of the calculators, but I never imagined how strange and unique the historic nucleus of the company in Ivrea was.” Stranger and more unique still was the group of electronic engineers that Olivetti had marginalised and then turned to (practically in secret) for the conception of the P101 and the dawning digital revolution.

It was an extraordinary success and for Olivetti (as well as for Italy, where the boom was on its last legs and the period of public debt was starting) the most extraordinary of missed chances. When the P101 was presented to the public at the fair in New York, in 1965, the Olivetti stand was mobbed and all the newspapers talked of the Perottina, from coast to coast. Awards and acknowledgments rained down. There was a P101 on the desks of NASA during the Apollo mission. Never had an Italian industrial product, including typewriters, had such a huge success in such a short time, and never was it so quickly forgotten, either.

The history of the times tables is very enlightening (I don’t know if they are still learnt by heart at primary school, but in my memories of primary school, the times tables were studied by heart and I can still remember them after over seventy years): well, an Indian called Brahmagupta wrote a treatise on arithmetic in 628 A.D. where he introduced the decimal system and the number zero (neither the Egyptians, the Greeks nor Romans knew the number zero). With zero, everything would be more simple. It was invented by the Indians (from India) and not the Arabs. With the numbers from one to nine, and adding zero, it was possible to write every single number possible. In his treatise, Brahmagupta demonstrated how to do arithmetical operations with only ten figures. The only thing that you needed to know was the tables, from zero to nine. If you know them by heart, you are able to multiply any number, because the system entails multiplying two figures at a time.

It was a revolution and, as such, it was opposed. The study of the times tables and of the decimal system was immediately introduced to Indian schools, then towards the ninth century the Persian court made the whole of the Arab world adopt it. And finally, last but not least, it arrived in Europe, thanks to the Tuscan mathematician Leonardo Pisano, also known as Fibonacci.

It received a lukewarm reception. Scholars were divided between supporters of the new method and defenders of the old abacus. The diatribe went on for two or three centuries, to the extent that in 1499 in Florence, a decree was issued which banned the use of the decimal system in the area, because the number zero could be falsified! It could be turned into a six or a nine with a fraudulent small addition, and therefore they considered it unsafe for bookkeeping. But, with the arrival of printing, from the sixteenth century onwards, nothing could stop it: the times tables became a pillar of education in every school. They need to be learnt by heart, there is no other way.

In October 1913, Henry Ford introduced a new working process that reduced car assembly times and improved the operators’ work: “The assembly line”. Ford’s aim, right from the start of the century was to lower the prices of his vehicles and to increase the salaries of his workers, so that, with a month’s salary, they would be able to buy one of the economy cars that he produced. The number of hours needed to assemble a car in the Ford factory went from twenty, before the introduction of the assembly line, to just  three – the cost of a Model T in 1908 was 850 dollars, (worth) 260 dollars in 2016 – not only did he increase salaries, but he reduced the working day to eight hours and the working week to five days.

The drama of the Banca Popolare di Vicenza, chaired for 19 years by a well-known representative of the wine world, has come to an end: the shareholders lost about 95% of the value of their investment, analysts estimate the immediate loss at five billion euros, the partner’s meeting established the transformation of the bank to a limited company and subscribed to an increase of over 1.7 billion euros.

The considerations that spring to mind are: how is it possible that the current Board of Directors is still made up of the 12 people who made up the old Board that handled such losses?; how is it possible that the supervisory council is the same?; how is it possible that the supervisory authorities were not aware of such huge losses?; how is it possible that so far there have not been any actions of responsibility against those who administrated, controlled and managed the bank?

The enormous media impact stirred up by the compulsory administration of the Banca Etruria (with much lower losses than the Banca Popolare di Vicenza) is emblematic, as is the practically inexistent one for these losses, involving 117 thousand members: perhaps the difference lies in the political struggle against Renzi’s government.

ISTAT data for 2015 report: there has never been such a low birth rate since the Unification of Italy; 100 thousand Italians have disappeared from the register office to move abroad and become citizens of other nations; so the population in working age is going down (from 15 to 64 years old = 39 million, equal to 64.3%); as well as up to 14 years of age (= 8,300,000, equal to 13.7%); also life expectancy has dropped: for men from 80.3 in 2014 to 80.1, while for women, from 85 to 84.7 respectively; migration of Italians abroad has risen 12%; there are 55,602,000 Italians, down 179 thousand compared to 2014.

A British medical study, published in the Journal of Gerontology, claims that reading every day makes you live longer: “quality fiction” increases your skills in understanding social relations, insight into feelings, thoughts and relationships with others; in fact readers put interpretational resources into play in order to understand the characters’ frame of mind and way of thinking, stimulating sophisticated functions, therefore a good novel “massages” the neurons.

I believe that listening to music, talking, writing, admiring nature and art are also important for living well.

One of Enzo Ferrari’s maxims is “In Italy everything is forgiven except success”…I think it is still very relevant today.

What do you think?